Mark Miller: Farm Winery Act of 1976

 
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Mark Miller studied art in California and upon graduation became a costume designer in Hollywood. While in the Golden State he developed an interest in wine and winemaking. Later, coming to New York City, he was a professional illustrator for publications such as The Saturday Evening Post. He was an amateur home winemaker for years. A story often related about Miller's amateur winemaking days was that he had capped a five gallon glass bottle too tightly during fermentation. The pressures built up eventually breaking the vessel, dumping five gallons of red wine on the living room's white carpet. This was the final catalyst to start a real vineyard. Miller bought forty acres of vineyards outside of Marlboro on the west bank of the Hudson. Parts of the estate had originally been planted in the mid nineteenth century by the pioneering hybridist, A.J. Caywood.


To continue to pursue his illustration career, Miller moved to Europe in the 1960's. While there he spent considerable time in Burgundy learning French wine growing and making techniques. Returning to Marlboro he replanted his vines and applied what he learned in France. He selected elegant French American hybrids for flavor characteristics as well as their cold hardiness, disease resistance. Miller operated Benmarl until he retired in 2003. The winery boasts the oldest vineyards in the United States.


Miller's passion for making wine led him to work for the reform of the laws related to farm wineries. There had been a long and painful decline in New York wine making since the late 1960's. The Hudson River Valley industry was on life support and the Finger Lakes were not far behind. The big wine makers in the state were moving towards reliance on cheap California juice to support their former New York brands. The remaining Hudson Valley wineries were predominantly making sweet sparklers and fortified wines and the idea of quality table wines was rare. To address the treat to the economic viability of the region's wine industry Miller developed a vision of small family wineries that produced high quality artisanal wines. Working with the Commissioner of Agriculture, John Dyson, himself a wine aficionado, Miller helped craft and drive for passage of the New York Farm Winery Act. The act was signed by Governor Cary in 1976. The act reduced fees and provided other tax and marketing advantages to small New York wineries. In recognition of Miller's efforts Benmarl was issues Farm Winery License No 1. Due in part to his efforts, the Hudson River Valley survived as a wine growing region and is now beginning to thrive again. Miller's emphasis on production of quality table wines helped move the region away from cloying sweet wines and towards the development of more refined table wine products.

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