Ken Denberg

Ken Denberg, Ph.D.’88

A Vintage All His Own

By Amy Halloran, B.A.’90

Writer and teacher Ken Denberg recently added “vintner” to his list of occupations.

he Cambridge, N.Y., resident has taught rhetoric and composition at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy since 1998. Six years ago, he started teaching creative writing for undergraduates at UAlbany. He also works in the University in the High School program, which allows seniors to earn college credit. “My position is to evaluate the teachers,” said Denberg, noting that the secondary school students take rigorous, college-level courses.

Denberg has lived in Washington County since 1985. The location served his summertime avocation for fly-fishing – Distinguished Teaching Professor Emeritus of English Eugene Garber has long been a fishing partner – and living rurally inspired him to “use the land,” as well.

The property’s Darwin Road address led Denberg to name it Natural Selection Farm. He planted 1,000 blueberry bushes there, along with 200 raspberry plants; the fruits are sold in fresh markets and to restaurants in the Saratoga area. The three-acre vineyard contains 700 vines.

Businesses in Saratoga and Washington counties have been enthusiastic supporters of his winery. Denberg made and sold 500 bottles of wine last year. This year, he has 1,700 bottles and anticipates the same response.

Wine, grapes and barrels at Natural Selection Farm

“I didn’t know you could get a wine this good in New York State,” one restaurateur told him before ordering a case of Handsome Farmer Red, a dry, full-bodied blend of Marquette, St. Croix and Geneva Red grapes. Denberg also makes a blueberry wine and two white wines.

“A lot of people turn their noses up at New York State wine, but within the last five years, people are really learning how to make wine,” Denberg explains. “You need to understand how to read the wine as it’s coming along. Once you grasp the concept that it’s telling you something, you can have the wine analyzed to tell you what to add to it, and to the ground.”

Denberg links his agricultural endeavors to his nonfiction writing, and to reading the works of others, such as Wendell Berry, Michael Pollan and John McPhee. In 2005, he received a New York State Council on the Arts Award for his creative nonfiction.