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NEW YORK STATE WINES

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New York State is comprised of six major wine growing regions: the Finger Lakes, Lake Erie, Niagara Escarpment, Hudson Valley, Long Island and Champlain Valley. Vines have grown here for many hundreds of years, with the first record of plantings by the Dutch settlers in the late 17th century. For some years, the area was dominated solely by Native American varieties and hybrids, and it was only in the late 1950s that Ukrainian born Dr. Konstantin Frank began experimenting with high quality European vinifera, particularly in the Finger Lakes. Today, the region sees plantings of both hybrids and Vitis vinifera, with an increase in fine wine production that has been commanding the world’s attention. Currently there are over 420 wineries, with more than 400 established since 1976. 

Eleven deep and narrow lakes, stretching south to north toward Lake Ontario, encompass the archilimni known as the Finger Lakes. These lakes moderate the climate by either warming or cooling (depending on the season) the surrounding atmosphere, rendering viticulture possible in this part of upstate, western New York. The two largest Finger Lakes – Seneca and Cayuga, almost never freeze. This was importantly recognized by experienced German, Swiss and French settlers in the late 19th century; their eyes trained to spot freshwater orchard potential. The Finger Lakes AVA is one part of a triangle that represents North America’s premier fresh- water lake viticulture areas. The other parts of that triangle are northwestern Michigan’s peninsula AVAs, and those of Canada’s Southern Ontario province –all carved from the same glacial period approximately 11,000 years ago during which shale, limestone, and various rocky, sandy soils were deposited along the well-draining slopes of the shorelines and valleys of the lakes. This triangle of fresh water viticulture sits within what is known as the Great Lakes Basin which is somewhat similar to the Parisian Basin (Champagne, Chablis and Sancerre). The Finger Lakes region is unique in that it actually has more in common with the Michigan and Ontario AVAs than it does with the other New York state viticulture areas.

Two historical events can be considered New York’s proverbial “Judgement of Paris”. A double gold was awarded for a traditional method sparkling blend of the native labrusca Catawba and Delaware from Pleasant Valley Wine Company in 1871. Then in 1950, former Veuve Clicquot cellar master Charles Fournier’s Gold Seal Champagne Brut was given the only gold at the California State Fair, which would mark the last year that non-California wines were allowed in the competition. It is Fournier who is credited as having introduced French/ American hybrid grapes to New York State. While it’s impossible to know exactly when the first vinifera attempts were made, Dr. Konstantin Frank, a Ukrainian maverick academic specialising in extreme climate viticulture paved the way for the vinifera revolution when he grew the first commercial vinifera grapes in the 1950s. His success foreshadowed the bright future of the Finger Lakes as a premier region for Riesling (and perhaps one day Cabernet Franc) in North America. Excellent examples of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Blaufränkisch and a cornucopia of other, more experimental grapes can produce amazing wines in the Finger Lakes. 

 

NEW YORK STATE WINE REGIONS

 

FINGER LAKES

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QUICK FACTS    146 WINERIES / 9,393 HECTARES OF VINES / 54,6000 TONS OF GRAPES

The Finger Lakes and the stunning landscape owe much to two geological eras – the Devonian age and the Ice Age. The Devonian era led to the mighty sedimentary rock formations commonly found in the area today – particularly the masses of black shale. The lakes, starting life as northward flowing rivers, were formed from the great glacial sheet southern advancements in the Ice Age. As the ice sheet advanced, it carved the lakes and valleys even deeper, and deposited glacial debris as it retreated. One can still see the extensive gravel deposits at the south ends of the Lakes and the elongated hills formed from glacial sediment on the northern side. 

Soils here are dominated by black shale, with a significant variety of differenttop soils. The glacial melt deposited soils and rocks along the way, leading to the formation of this diverse range of soil types in close proximity to each other.

The lakes are crucial to the identity of the region. They are the “energy batteries” of the area, both insulating the vineyards from harsh frosts during the winter and cooling them during the summer. This combination leads to the long, temperate growing season essential to healthy grape development. 

 

LAKE ERIE

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QUICK FACTS    23 WINERIES / 18,684 HECTARES OF VINES / 120,760 TONS OF GRAPES

Also known as Chautauqua, the Lake Erie region is the largest grape growing region outside of California, with some 20,000 acres of vineyards, major processing plants and the headquarters of the National Grape Cooperative Association (which owns Welch’s Foods). Although about 95% of its grapes are Concord, primarily used for grape juice, the region also grows French-American and European wine grape varieties that are made into fine wines.

 

NIAGARA ESCARPMENT

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QUICK FACTS    20 WINERIES / 883 HECTARES OF VINES / 4,648 TONS OF GRAPES

The geography of the Niagara Escarpment and surrounding area have a unique climate that is one of the warmest in New York State due to proximity to the Great Lakes and the Escarpment itself, which traps warm air currents from Lake Ontario. The dolomitic limestone soil of the Escarpment and the gravel silts near the lakeshore, along with a moderate climate, are ideal for growing grapes and a wide variety of fruit. The Niagara Escarpment was officially recognized as an American Viticultural Area (AVA) in 2005 and the larger “Greater Niagara” region is one of the fasting growing wine regions in the state.

 

HUDSON VALLEY

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QUICK FACTS    72 WINERIES / 315 HECTARES OF VINES / 815 TONS OF GRAPES

Home to U.S. Bonded Winery No. 1 (Brotherhood, 1839), the Hudson Valley may have the least protection from the harsh central New York winters than any other New York AVA. As a result, many labrusca and hybrid varieties are grown here. The protection offered by the Hudson River to the east and the various Appalachian mountain range foothills to the west, combined with the glacial, rocky soils such as schist and limestone, mean that vinifera wine production can flourish in this valley. Wines from Cabernet Franc can be structured and age-worthy, and proper Gamay Noir can be found as well. Plantings of vinifera white grapes like Chardonnay, Albariño and even Tocai Friulano also grow successfully here. Not to be discounted are some excellent wines being made from hybrid grapes such as Traminette and Seyval Blanc (whites); and Chelois and Baco Noir (reds). 

Perhaps the single most important event in New York’s wine history is the Farm Winery act of 1976. John Dyson, founder of Millbrook Vineyards in the Hudson Valley and former Secretary of Commerce and Agriculture for New York State, was integral in establishing the FWA, which allowed (among other things) wineries to open and operate under a new commercial licence that permitted them to produce smaller amount of wine. This development, combined with the freedom to sell wine on Sundays, direct to consumers, as well as both on and off premise accounts, resulted in a massive growth of wineries in New York State. 

 

LONG ISLAND

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QUICK FACTS    73 WINERIES / 2,041 HECTARES OF VINES / 6,024 TONS OF GRAPES

Long Island is a significantly younger AVA. Established in 2001, it became a “parent” to the North Fork and the Hamptons (otherwise known as the South Fork) located in the eastern section of the island.

The primary viticulture areas of Long Island are divided into two peninsula-like “forks,” known as the North and South Forks. The South Fork, which encompasses the Hamptons AVA, has less wineries and vineyards but a distinctly different soil type to the North Fork, known as Bridge Hampton Loam, which sits on top of the sandy soils. 

The North Fork is made up of more generally decomposed glacial sand. Stylistically, similar enough wines are produced, and vineyards from each fork are even sometimes blended together. The climate is significantly warmer and garners riper Bordeaux style blends (Merlot often being the dominant grape) than the upstate AVAs which there is less protection from the cold winter temperatures.Excellent white wines are produced on Long Island as well, including textured, sun-kissed Chardonnays and Sauvignon Blancs, as well as a handful of other grape varieties such as Albariño at Palmer Vineyards and Chenin Blanc at Paumonak.

 

CHAMPLAIN VALLEY

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QUICK FACTS    9 WINERIES / 100 HECTARES OF VINES / 150 TONS OF GRAPES

Historic and beautiful Lake Champlain serves as the border between New York State and Vermont, as well as a region long known for delicious apples and other fruits that thrive in the cold climate. Now cold-hardy “Minnesota” grape varieties are among the plantings, and wineries are opening along the “Northway” (Interstate 87) between Albany and Canada.