The Right Place at the Right Time

Malou Despoux believes there’s a time and a place for every wine, whether an easy-drinking Piquette, or a high-end Bordeaux. We sat in her cozy kitchen talking wine, gray cats (her Mimi and my Frida Calla), and future plans on a cold day in early December. 

It’s obvious the Hudson Valley is having a moment. Pick up a magazine, read an online guide, newspaper, or travel site, and you will see countless namechecks of its leisure, wine, and food offerings

But again, and again when introducing wines from local producers for Chef Nicholas Leiss’ Cornucopia dinners this past fall, I found diners surprised to be served Hudson Valley-grown and crafted products. 

In fact, the Hudson River Valley has had a winemaking industry since the first regional winery got its start in 1839. It’s not about to displace France, California, or even the Finger Lakes in the winemaking firmament. But a greater focus on quality winemaking, wider use of grape varieties that do well in this challenging climate instead of exclusively force-fitting vinifera grapes, and the ascendancy of low-intervention winemaking techniques, mean it has upped its game. 

Over the next year, I’ll be showcasing some of the newcomers, old stalwarts, and re-invented veterans that are making remarkable wine in this beautiful region. First up is Malou Despoux of Accordion Wines.

Who is Malou Despoux?

I read about Despoux in a local lifestyle publication. To say I was stunned to hear a Frenchwoman was making wines in our midst is an understatement. 

Before launching her micro winery in Accord, Despoux worked harvests in Bordeaux and California as well as holding positions in wine retail in the New York area. She also earned an online degree in viticulture from the University of Dijon in France’s Burgundy region. She ended up in Accord for the oldest of reasons, love and marriage to a local.

“The one thing I can do is nothing.” Despoux described her winemaking philosophy and approach as deeply intuitive, non-interventionist, and experimental. She sees her role as avoiding wrong turns, rather than starting with a fixed idea of what the finished wine will taste like. For instance, when trying her hand at Gewurztraminer, she first asked herself, “what can I do to make this easier to drink?”

She hews to natural fermentations with non commercial yeast. She crushes and de-stems her fruit or ferments whole clusters in tank, it all depends. She racks, separating grape solids from the juice, two to three times over the course of winter, spring, and summer before bottling.

She prefers to wait and see, as opposed to constantly taking measurements and testing her developing wines. That said, she points to decisions around skin contact, how much; pressing, when and how; and whether or not to de-stem as winemaking forks in the road. bottle shot

One thing the region lacks is the kind of cooperative facilities where small-scale winemakers can share costs that Sonoma and St. Emilion’s garagistes famously benefitted from. That’s one area Despoux hopes to see change. For her own part, she was able to buy some equipment second hand, and source grapes from vineyards in the North Fork (merlot) and the Finger Lakes (seyval blanc and riesling), and the Hudson Valley (muscat) through her wine industry contacts. 

Nearer term, she wants to work more with, and plant, hybrid varieties designed to handle the region’s weather extremes, saying “it just makes sense” to work with them instead of “fighting nature” with vinifera varieties. As she explains, “what I can do with merlot here is not as interesting as what they can do in Bordeaux.” On that front, we tasted her Noiret  (a Cornell-created hybrid). I found it open and appetizing, with notes of black pepper, blackberry jam, bright acidity, and a bit of foxiness.

Another thing Despoux mentioned as we discussed wines that fit time and place, is her interest in lower ABV examples – wines folks can enjoy when at the beach or picnicking with friends. That’s another way her philosophy and interests fit well with the local terroir and the current trend in wines with lower levels of alcohol.

Down the road she hopes to benefit from New York’s Farm Winery Law to open a tasting room where she can welcome visitors and sell her own products as well as those of other producers. As that plan suggests, community is important to Despoux. She hopes to spark ongoing dialogue, support, and comity with her fellow winemakers beyond just seeing each other at wine fairs. 

It’s clear from our talk that this time and place are starting to bear fruit!

Where to buy the wines:

Accordion takes direct orders through its website. You can also find the wines (and Despoux pouring them) at wine fairs and in some local Hudson Valley shops.

By Deborah Adeyanju, WSET-certified wine expert. You can read more of her writing at debtalkswine.