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J. Stephen Casscles Receives Prestigious Award


Atlantic Seaboard Wine Association Presents Birchenall Award 2023 to J. Stephen Casscles

ASWA Board Member Steve DeFrancesco presents the Birchenall award to J. Stephen Casscles

March 26th – Stephen J. Casscles is a viticulturalist based in Athens, New York. He is the author of the seminal work, Grapes of the Hudson Valley and Other Cool Climate Grapes, as well as an accomplished grape hybridizer and winemaker. The Atlantic Seaboard Wine Association is pleased to recognize his contribution to promoting knowledge of the East Coast wine industry.

Grapes of the Hudson Valley and Other Cool Climate Grapes 2nd Edition, now considered a classic, was the first book to correctly identify the parentage of hundreds of hybrid grapes, dispelling more than 100 years of faulty information, as well as explaining the optimum growing conditions for each, and including historical profiles of the breeders themselves. The book can be found in the libraries of every major winemaking university programs from New England to Michigan and beyond.

The Casscles family dates back generations in the Hudson Valley. Steve learned to make wine while in high school, working at Benmarl Winery for Mark Miller and his son Eric (future founders of Chaddsford Winery, PA). From there, he earned a law degree from Northeastern University School of Law. He was counsel to various New York state senators for more than 25 years.

In that capacity Casscles became the senior writer or editor of almost every liquor authority legislation enacted in New York state over the expanse of his career in state government. In 2005 he co-authored, with State Senator William J. Larkin, Jr., the report A Proposal For Renewed Growth of the Hudson Valley’s Grape And Wine Industry, which suggested remedies and proposals to improve the wine industry in the Hudson Valley and around New York. Many measures in the report were eventually adopted and helped turn around the Hudson Valley wine landscape. He authored several papers on increasing wine tourism, and helped to shape the language of the laws, allowing for Beverage and Cuisine trails around the state, and improving farm winery laws, which allowed those businesses to operate with more flexibility. Many of these laws have since been adopted by other states.

At his experimental farm, Cedar Ridge, Casscles brought back dozens of heirloom grapes, originally bred in the Hudson Valley, for use in commercial products. His wines and work have been covered by Forbes and he was featured in Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Book of Wine. He reintroduced the grapes and history of Massachusetts breeder E.S. Rogers, and currently has his own nursery, where he sells vines of these heirloom and hybrids, and develops new varieties. He shares his knowledge through lectures at venues such as Harvard, the Eastern Wineries Exposition, and numerous horticultural societies from Long Island to Massachusetts.

Stephen is also a winemaker. Later in life, he became the winemaker at Hudson-Chatham Winery, where his Baco Noir Middlehope Vineyard became the first red wine to earn a score of 90 points or better from Wine Enthusiast, and was the first dry red hybrid varietal wine ever to earn such a score from any major wine publication.

Perhaps no other individual on the east coast has had so much impact, through so many different points of entry, as Stephen J. Casscles, through his multitude of writings for growers, winemakers, and lawmakers, as well as his nursery work and winemaking. Steve’s writings and lectures have been highly instrumental in how wine is grown, made, and sold on the East Coast.

The Birchenall Award is given to members of the wine media for providing insight into the wines of the East Coast wine industry. The late Michael Birchenall founded the trade publication Foodservice Monthly in 2002, just as the restaurant scene was beginning to take off in the Mid-Atlantic region. “The local wine industry was growing at the same time, and Birchenall’s publication helped foster a sense of community among the various parts of the food and wine industries,” according to Dave McIntyre, noted wine columnist at The Washington Post.

Past winners of the award include Richard Leahy, lead organizer for the Eastern Wineries Expo, Virginia wine writer Nancy Bauer, creator of the Virginia Wine in My Pocket app; Lenn Thompson of The Cork Report; and Paul Vigna of PA Media Group, which includes PennLive.com and The Patriot-News.

Biographical information supplied by publisher Carlo DeVito.

The Atlantic Seaboard Wine Association promotes American wine produced in the seventeen eastern states: all those that touch the Atlantic Ocean plus West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Vermont. This trade organization was founded in 1973 as the Vinifera Wine Growers Association, and renamed in 2008 to reflect an expanded regional focus.

ASWA’s mission is to increase awareness of the fine wines of the Atlantic seaboard through trade and consumer education. Members liaise with national, state, and regional wine organizations to identify opportunities to highlight the wines and winemakers working here.