Wine Press FINAL 10-14-10

October 15, 2011


            Finger Lakes wines shine in the Times, ice wine season is approaching, Cornell gets two major grape grants, trade pacts and grants can help grape juice and wine exports, apple harvest includes wine production, grape production expected to increase slightly this year, and lots more going on in New York wine country. 



            Jim Trezise

 "Deep Lakes, Icy Climate, Great Wine"

              That was the title of a very long article on Wednesday by Eric Asimov of The New York Times, signalling a major breakthrough in recognition of the region and its wines.

            An early paragraph is worth quoting: "Fortuitously, the region hitched itself to riesling just as, in the last 10 years, riesling skyrocketed in the United States.  Nowadays, top producers are not simply making good Finger Lakes riesling, or good American rieslings.  They are making seriously good world-class rieslings, in a multitude of styles."

            The article described the Finger Lakes's unique cool climate viticulture, presenting both challenges and opportunities, as well as the diversity of grape varieties and the evolution of the vinifera revolution sparked by Dr. Konstantin Frank.  A number of wine makers and winery owners were interviewed, and the piece concluded with a listing of the author's favorite Finger Lakes producers: Anthony Road Winery, Bloomer Creek, Heart and Hands, Hermann J. Wiemer, Ravines, Red Newt, and Red Tail Ridge.

           Howard G. Goldberg, who was a prominent Times wine writer in the past and still writes a frequent "Long Island Vines" column, often featured or at least mentioned Finger Lakes and other New York wines in his columns.  While Mr. Asimov has occasionally mentioned Finger Lakes wines in tasting panel notes of certain varieties, this is the first major article on the region, and a welcome one. 

The Ice Wine Cometh

           One of the benefits of being in a cool (or cold) climate viticulture region is the possibility of making ice wine from grapes that are frozen on the vine.  (The federal Tax and Trade Bureau--TTB--prohibits use of the term "ice wine" for alternative production methods such as picking the grapes and then freezing them.).

            Our friends and neighbors in Ontario, Canada, have established an international reputation for their ice wines, and New York's wine regions share common characteristics conducive to excellent ice wines.  For example, Sheldrake Point Vineyards 2010 Riesling Ice Wine won Top Gold and Best American Riesling honors at the recent Canberra International Wine Challenge in Australia; Casa Larga's ice wines from various varietals routinely win Double Gold and Gold medals in major international competitions; and this year Leonard Oakes Estate Winery 2008 Vidal Ice Wine won Best Dessert Wine at our New York Wine & Food Classic.

            Making ice wine is truly a labor of love.  It combines the risk of leaving the grapes hanging (a temptation for wildlife), waiting for the right freezing conditions, then picking the frozen grapes starting before dawn.  But the result is often pure golden nectar--a dessert unto itself or a great companion to others as well as a great contrasting companion to blue-veined cheeses.

            Our recent industry survey shows that 22 New York wineries regularly make ice wine.  Those wineries, the grape varieties they use for ice wine, and the top award-winning ice wines from 2011 are on our web site ( under Information Station/Hot Topics.

Two New Grants for Cornell

                 Cornell University is receiving two federal grants totaling more than $4.6 million to study emerging cold climate varieties, accelerating grape cultivar improvement through improved genetic technologies, and enhancing communication between the scientific and grape industry communities. 

             The grants are from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) under its Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI).  (Those of us involved with the private sector National Grape and Wine Initiative are used to all those acronyms.)

              These grants are especially important because another past source of federal research funding, the former "Viticulture Consortium", bore the dreaded "earmark" label and has been gutted.  The SCRI grants arose from the most recent Farm Bill, which for the first time in history provided major benefits for specialty crops such as apples, grapes, and maple syrup.

              With private sector grants and State matching funds, the New York Wine & Grape Foundation has been able to support comprehensive grape-related research at Cornell's Geneva Experiment Station for the past 26 years, but the amount of funding has decreased significantly in recent years while the need for research has grown. In addition, Cornell and the Geneva Experiment Station have some of the most dedicated, talented, and respected scientists in the world, so it's important to keep them busy.

               In announcing the grant, Senator Charles Schumer said, "Grape farmers are the backbone of the Rochester Finger Lakes' proud agricultural community.  This investment is great news for both farmers and researchers at Cornell University alike...I will continue to fight for funding that keeps Cornell at the forefront of agricultural research."

               The support of our federal representatives in the Senate and House will be vital to keeping SCRI funding in the next Farm Bill that is already being shaped.   

 Trade Pacts Offer New Opportunities

           The new trade agreements between the United States and South Korea, Panama and Colombia may offer new possibilities for sales of New York grape products including grape juice and wine.

                 Grape juice producers such as Welch's stand to benefit from the immediate elimination of a 45% tarrif in South Korea, making their grape concentrate more price-competitive with Chile, which under a bilateral trade agreement has paid none.

                 Pete Saltonstall, owner of King Ferry Winery on Cayuga Lake, said the tariff elimination on wine will spur him to look at this market for some of his wines that would fit the local taste preference.

                 The New York Wine & Grape Foundation will be working on faciliting wine exports in that market, as well as China, through a grant obtained by New York State Empire State Development in conjunction with the Department of Agriculture & Markets.  The activity is expected to begin early next year.

Free Run... 

              New York grape harvest for 2011 is forecast to increase 7% over last year's quantity, according to the lastest estimate from National Agricultural Statistics Service, but we won't really know until January when the final crush report is issued.  The 2009 tonnage was only 133,000, last year's was 176,000, and this year's could be 188,000.  Meanwhile, California (6,350,000) and Washington (275,000) are both significantly down from both last year and 2009.  Wine is farming, and Nature is in charge.


              Apple harvest is underway as well, and New York (#2 after Washington) will harvest about 1.2 million pounds, down about 2%.  Our friends at the New York Apple Association recently got some great press in The New York Times by cookbook author Mark Bittman on "How You Like Them (Cooked) Apples?", extolling the flexibility and flavors of apples used in various recipes.  They also have a dynamite new TV add touting New York apples, with a young girl at the end saying, "How you like them apples, Mom?"


              Fly Creek Cider Mill near Cooperstown is harvesting several different apple varieties that make up its "Apple Frost" wine, a popular seller at the historic mill.  A blend of McIntosh, Cortland, Empire and Macoun apples create a sweet cider that is then frozen in 250-gallon juice totes.  Over the next few months, it is repeatedly thawed and refrozen, concentrating the flavors, then slowly fermented up to about 11% alcohol.  Apple Frost is great by itself, with desserts, and even savory hors d'oeuvre such as pate or cheeses.


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   "Wine is a friend, wine is a joy; and, like sunshine, wine is the birthright of all."

                                                                           --Andre Simon

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