Monday, September 25, 2006

Sierra Sun (CA) Applauds New York Wines - Dr. Frank, Swedish Hill Among Recommendations

Find old vines in New York state
By Janice Jones
Food & Wine
Sierra Sun, posted September 15, 2006

There are around 11,000 acres of wine grapes planted in New York state today. European immigrants started planting vines they brought with them from their homelands as soon as they arrived in America. Most of these vines died, but as they migrated inland and began crossing native vines with the imported vines, new ones began to take hold and the wine industry began.

By the Civil War, the wine industry in New York was established with the Finger Lakes becoming the center for New York‘s wine industry. Wines were mostly produced from these crosses of European wine grapes of the Vitis vinifera family, which most wines are made from in all wine regions of the world, and native American grapes.

By the time Prohibition hit, the wine industry was thriving and the wines produced in the Finger Lakes and Hudson Valley regions were in high demand. The ban on alcohol damaged New York’s wine industry, which did not begin to really rebuild until the mid-1970’s. At that time, with only a few wineries in existence and the reputation of producing cheap jug wines, the industry seemed doomed.

But in 1976, the Farm Winery Act was passed which reduced fees and allowed wineries to sell directly to restaurants and the public. That started a renewed interest in wine making began — from 19 wineries in 1976 to 50 by 1983 to more than 160 small-scale wineries today.

New York wines, for the most part made from European grape crossed with American native grape varieties, created a wine that had peculiar grapey flavors and aromas quite different from Californian or European wines. Therefore winemakers started planting more vinifera grapes in the 1980’s and started producing some very nice wines solely made from these grapes.

Winemakers there still grow and use many of the native and hybrid grapes they have always used, making distinctly New York flavored wines. Four major wine regions exist there, all possess cool climates and are adjacent to large bodies of water. They are the Finger Lakes region, which is the largest; the Hudson River Valley; Lake Erie; and the newest region, Long Island.

The Finger Lakes region has more than 70 wineries located within it’s boundaries. The first vinifera wines in the state were produced here in 1961. The area produces all types of wines, including some exceptional ice wines, Reislings from this area shine.

Hudson River Valley is the oldest wine region, with vineyards that date back to 1677, and is home to the oldest continuously operated winery in the U.S., The Brotherhood Winery. The Lake Erie region is a small area with only a few wineries and only 1,000 acres used in wine grape growing. The Long Island region, designated a wine growing region in the late 1970s, is the newest region and one of the fastest growing areas with more than 27 wineries located there today.
Cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and cabernet franc thrive in this area. In addition to these major areas there are two smaller AVA’s — Cayuga Lake, located within the Finger Lake area, and the Hamptons, in the Long Island area. Because all wine regions in New York are located in cool-climate, with some warm micro-climate vineyards here and there, the yields are generally low.

There are some great wines from New York that you may want to try if you can find any of them. Look for Dr. Konstanin Frank, ‘04 Johannisberg reisling, ‘05 Millbrook Cab Franc or the wonderful tropical fruit and vanilla flavored ‘05 Knapp seyval blanc. For dessert wines, look for the ‘04 Swedish Hill Late Harvest Vigneles or the ‘04 Standing Stone ice wine.

Janice Jones Truckee resident and wine consultant. Reach her at