Category Archives: References

Recommended books on wine

Book Review: Grapes of the Hudson Valley, by J. Stephen Casscles

With the publication of Grapes of the Hudson Valley and Other Cool Climate Regions of the United States and Canada, Stephen Casscles joins a small group of writers who have concentrated on winegrowing in the Eastern United States, including such august figures as Lucie Morton and Hudson Cattell as well as, most recently, Richard Fiegel. This book is a significant contribution to that literature and in important ways it is unique.

First of all, it is organized in an unusual but sensible way. It begins as such books should by providing his interesting “A Short History” of winegrowing in the Hudson Valley, with a focus on the region’s hybridizers. It then proceeds to discuss the benefits of wine-grape hybridization, and then explores the basics of cool-climate viniculture. There is some excellent information and advice to be found in Chapter Three: “Basic Principles of Cool Climate Pruning and Vineyard Management,” including “10 Points to Consider When Cold-Weather Pruning,” an illustrated section on pruning methods and training systems, controlling disease in the vineyard, and a concluding section, “Additional Thoughts on Vineyard Management,” bearing on sod and sod management, mowing, under-canopy management, fertilizers, and earthworms. It pretty well covers the field.

It is at Chapter Six, “Selected American Grape Species Used for Breeding,” that the organization then differs from all other such books of which I am aware. The following chapter is about Labrusca hybrids, followed by chapters on the Hudson Valley hybridizers, then the Early French hybridizers, the Late French ones, Geneva hybrids, Minnesota hybrids, Central European Vinifera and hybrid varieties, and closes with a chapter devoted to selected classic Vinifera varieties suitable for growing in the Hudson Region. Within each such chapter is a brief historical background followed by short biographies of each of the important hybridizers and then a detailed description of each significant grape of the related developer.

“Selected American Grape Species” is an important contribution as it describes the leading native vines used for wine production (six species out of more than 70 that grow here): Vitis aestivalis and some of its vinous varieties; V. berlandieri (Texas and northern Mexico), V. cinerea (which favors rich soil along streams), V. labrusca (its varieties are among the best know, including Concord, Catawba, Niagara, and Delaware), and V. riparia (sometimes call River, Riverside, or Riverbank). Also included, partly by way of comparison, partly because it is now so widely planted in America, is the European species, V. vinifera. It then compares and explains the differences between the species, including their dominant habitats, geographical range, winter hardiness, and wine quality. This section is especially useful in helping understand the different varieties and hybrid that emanate from these species.

For each variety of whatever provenance, the author provides a capsule statement, identifies the parentage, the typical harvest date (a range), and then displays five symbols: one for winter hardiness, another for disease resistance, a third for vine vigor, yet another for productivity, and the fifth for wine quality. Each is grade A to D. For example, Concord has a parentage of labrusca, should be harvested “mid-season to early late season” and its hardiness is A+, resistance is A, vigor is B, productivity is A+, and quality is rated B-. He does this for most of the 171 varieties listed in the index, though clones may be given more cursory treatment. Interestingly, Pinot Noir, that elusive Holy Grail of a variety, gets these ratings: hardiness is C-, resistance is D, vigor is C, productivity C+, and quality A+. But then, Concord is a Northeast native and Pinot Noir is from Burgundy, France.

All this is explained in a section of the Introduction, How to Use This Book (pp. xviii-xix), which defines just what the capsule descriptions mean:

  • for Harvest Dates in the Hudson Valley “mid-season” means (Sept. 20 to 30);
  • for Winter Hardiness “medium hardy” describes a variety that “Will sustain some cold damage in harsh winters . . . .” (a grade of B);
  • for Fungal Disease Resistance, “Slightly susceptible” is a grade of A;
  • for Vigorousness, “Moderately vigorous means a grade of C;
  • for Productivity, “Very productive” is represented as an A+;
  • for Wine Quality, “Medium” receives a B, so the Concord’s B- means less than of medium quality.

Discussion of the various grapes can be as long as two whole pages for Concord, as an example, though most get a far briefer treatment of a few hundred words. The vinifera grapes like Pinot Noir are extensively discussed. These variety notes focus largely on the viability of the vines in a region like that of the Hudson River and similar ones in Canada and the Northeast of the United States and other states like Wisconsin and Minnesota. For Casscles, winter hardiness and disease resistance are primary concerns, along with wine quality.

Another very important subject of the book is the history and biographies of the major hybridizers, beginning with those of the Hudson Valley in the 19th Century. A.J. Downing and his brother Charles feature, along with Andrew Jackson Caywood (1819-89), who developed Dutchess, Nectar, Poughkeepsie, Ulster, and Walter, with capsule mentions of his minor varieties. Dr. William A.M. Culbert (1822-90) is also given respectful space, as is Dr. Charles William Grant (1810-81), who bequeathed Eumelan, the important Iona, and other minor varieties.   James H. Ricketts (1818 or 1830-1915) gave growers Black Hamburg, Clinton, Bacchus, Downing, Empire State, and Jefferson, and many minor varieties. And so it goes for other Hudson Valley breeders. Each biography is followed by careful descriptions of the respective varieties that each one bred. (It turns out that there are two different varieties named Bacchus: the Hudson Valley riparia/labrusca hybrid given to Ricketts as the breeder, and the German Bacchus (GF 33-29-133), an all-vinifera crossing of (Sylvaner × Riesling) × Müller-Thurgau.)

Then the author explores the Early French Hybridizers (1875-1925) in a following chapter, including Bertille Seyve, Jr. (1895-1959) who created Seyval Blanc. Yet another chapter is given over to the Later French Hybridizers (1925-1955), of whom Ravat gave us the now widely-planted Vignoles and Jean-Louis Vidal provided Vidal Blanc, a mainstay of the East Coast wine industry. Next are the Geneva (NY) hybrids from the NY Agricultural Experiment Station located there, which bred Chardonel, Melody, and Traminette (one of this reviewer’s favorites). After that come the Minnesota hybrids, with Elmer Swenson (1913-2004) featured, along with his own interspecific crossings such as the excellent La Crescent, La Crosse, and St. Pepin. Casscles remarks on the attitude of Swenson, who had “a very generous policy of sharing breeding material and grape variety selections . . . to anyone who requested them.” This generosity is seen as a great benefit to growers, and in Casscles view, “This should be a lesson to many of our current university-based grape-breeding programs, which seem to want to control the products developed, but in doing so they limit the scope of the field research that can be done by not widely disseminating their plant material for comment.” An important point and one well-taken.

In his thoroughness, Casscles also cover Central European Vinifera and Hybrid Grapes on pages 207-217, listing the German, Austrian, and Hungarian varieties that are suitable for planting in cold-climate regions. The final chapter is devoted to the leading vinifera varieties that can, despite disease pressure and severe winters, more or less thrive in the climates of the Hudson Valley and similar regions, including Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, Riesling, Cabernet Franc, Gamay Noir, and Pinot Noir, including the latter’s many clones.

Thus Casscles approaches his main theme, which is about hybrid grapes and the how and why of their development over the course of two centuries in both the United States and Europe. The book is also about a personal voyage by the author and members of his extended family, the history of which goes back to the Eighteenth Century in the Hudson Valley.

This reviewer does have a grape of contention over a statement by the author that seems a bit misleading: “Running counter to the generally held belief of the Viniferists—especially those purists who would like limit production to a few “pure” classic vinifera grape varieties, such as Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling, or Pinot Noir—all grapes are hybrids. Even the mighty purebred vinifera Chardonnay is a naturally occurring hybrid of Pinot Noir and the bulk grape Gouais Blanc.” -p.20.

However, this insistence that even intra-specific genetic mixing, whether occurring in nature or manmade, runs counter to the widely-accepted definition of Pinot Noir and Gouais Blanc is a cross, not a hybrid. Karen McNeil’s The Wine Bible defines a cross as “A grape created by fertilizing one variety with another variety of the same species. While a cross may result from breeding, most crosses occur spontaneously in nature. . . . A cross is not the same as a hybrid.” To wit, “As distinguished from a cross, a hybrid is a new grape variety developed by breeding two or more varieties from different species or subgenera. The most common hybrids are part European species (Vitis vinifera) and part any one of several American species.” However, Jancis Robinson’s Oxford Companion to Wine (3rd edition) does cut Casscles some slack: “cross or crossing, the result of breeding a new variety by crossing two vine varieties of the same species, usually the European vinifera species. Thus Müller-Thurgau, for example is a cross. Crosses are different from hybrids, sometimes called interspecific crosses, which contain the genes of more than one species of the Vitis species.” –p. 197.

On the other hand, Casscles finds a couple of entries in Jancis Robinson, et al., Wine Grapes, regarding hybrid varieties are at times a tad off the mark. In his very extensive endnotes to each chapter he frequently cites Wine Grapes and where needed carefully provides corrections of that version.

The book is well-illustrated with many black-and-white photos, drawings, and diagrams as well as a set of color plates of 27 different varieties. It has but two maps, one of fruit-growing areas of the Hudson Valley, and another of the hardiness zones of NY State, showing the zones from 3a to 6b, but without explanation of what the zones actually mean. The map is based on the USDA Agriculture Research Service NY Plant Hardiness Zone Map, but if one were to go online to the USDA Website a far more detailed Zone map shows the entire range of the zone system, which is based on the minimum temperature range for each zone. Thus, zone 3b has a minimum range of -35 to -30° F., while zone 6b ranges down to -5 to 0° F. Indeed, the online map doesn’t even refer to zone 3a, which would have a range below -35° F.

But these are mere quibbles when one considers the overall quality and detail of the information provided in Casscles’ book. It is a real accomplishment and deserves respectful attention, particular from growers, winemakers, and anyone who is determined to cultivate cold-weather varieties and make wine from them, not to speak of serious oenophiles of any persuasion. Apart from the excellent and extensive endnotes to each chapter there is also a substantial bibliography as well as an index to the individual varieties covered in the text as well as a general index.

Grapes of the Hudson ValleyJ. Stephen Casscles, Grapes of the Hudson Valley and Other Cool Climate Regions of the United States and Canada. Forward by Kevin Zraly, Preface by Eric Miller. Coxsackie, NY: Flint Mine Press, 2015. 266 pages, including the Introduction and Indices. Paperback, $29.99.

Casscles has been a government attorney for the NY State Senate for the past 28 years, and has drafted at least 22 laws bearing on the wine and spirits industry, working with six State Senators over that period.  He has been growing wine grapes at his farm in Athens, NY, since 1990.  He is also the winemaker for the Hudson-Chatham Winery.

I highly recommend this book.

 

 

 

 

Books about Long Island Wine

Now that a new book on Long Island wine by Eileen Duffy has been published as of April 2015, it seems appropriate to review all of the books on the subject that have come out since 2000.  These are presented in order of publication:

The Wines of Long IslandVital–thanks to its clear, lucid writing and very useful history and background of the region’s viniculture and winemaking–is the excellent if outdated Wines of Long Island, 2nd edition (2000) by Edward Beltrami & Philip E. Palmedo.  It includes profiles of many of the most important personalities in the LI wine world (as of 2000), descriptions and reviews of wineries and their wines and a generally judicious insight into the trends and achievements of the region as of the end of the 20th Century.  Definitely worthwhile owning, if you love LI wines, though it has long been out of print.  It is still available through Amazon.  (NOTE:  It is currently being brought up to date by this writer, with elements from the series on Long Island viniculture and wine in this blog being incorporated into the book.  It is expected that the 3rd edition, to be published by SUNY Press, may be out by September 2017.)

Hargrave, The Vineyard, coverLouisa Thomas Hargrave wrote a gracious memoir, The Vineyard: The Pleasures and Perils of Creating an American Family Winery (2002). One cannot begin to understand what was involved in creating the Long Island wine industry without reading this charming and touching account of the establishment of Long Island’s first winery, Hargrave Vineyard, in 1973, when there were only small farms and potato fields. It is charming in its modesty, touching in its honesty, and a remarkable tale of what it takes to start a vineyard from scratch when you don’t even know what you’re doing! And look at what it started–a whole industry that is one of the dominant features of the East End of Long Island, begun with passion, commitment, and hard work, but ultimately at the cost of heartbreak and renewal.  Now out of print, it is still available on Amazon or AbeBooks.  Some used copies are available for a penny plus shipping from various book dealers.

Ross, NoFo Wine, coverAn interesting and somewhat chatty book is The Story of North Fork Wine: Historical Profiles and Wine Country Recipes (2009), John Ross’s up-close-and-personal look at the people who work in and run the wineries.  A chef who owned Ross’s North Fork Restaurant, he became close to many in the wine trade, especially given that he was interested in devising recipes and menus that would best accompany the wines of the region.  The first half of the book is comprised by his personal profiles, which include everyone from owners to winemakers to vineyard managers to tasting room personnel.  The second half is devoted to recipes from his restaurant and suggested wine pairings.  In the intervening years since the book was published many of the persons featured in the book have moved on, but many of their stories remain relevant even now.  Also out of print, but it can be found on Amazon.com.

Starwood, Vineyards, coverLong Island Wine Country:  Award-Winning Vineyards of the North Fork and the Hamptons, is well-illustrated guide to visiting Long Island vineyards and wineries.  Written by Jane Taylor Starwood, editor-in-chief of Long Island Wine Press, she gives us an insider’s track on the owners, the winemakers, and the wineries themselves.  In a conversational tone (and amply illustrated), the book leads the reader from East to West on the North Fork, and then down to the Hamptons, as though the route would be followed by visitors travelling by car. It’s a bit frustrating an approach if one wants to do research and would prefer an alphabetical organization, but it’s a quibble given the overall quality and usefulness of the book, which is still reasonably up-to-date as of 2015, given that it was published in 2009. One should bear in mind though, that already important personnel changes have taken place: Richard Olsen Harbich left Raphael in 2010 and went to Bedell Cellars, Anthony Nappa is now Raphael’s vintner, Kelly Urbanik Koch is winemaker at Macari, and Zander Hargrave, who was assistant winemaker at Peconic Bay Vineyards, is now at Pellegrini; Peconic Bay has closed its doors.  A new, major winery, Kontokosta Vineyards, opened in June 2013 in Greenport; Southold Farm and Corwith Vineyard are brand-new startups as of 2014.

Duffy, Behind the Bottle, coverThe most recent contribution to the story of Long Island wines is Eileen Duffy’s book, Behind the Bottle:  The Story of the Rise of Long Island Wine (2015).  This is a book that focuses on the winemakers and their wines.   In fact, the conversations that Duffy had with the winemakers as they discussed their wines in considerable depth, give the reader the clearest sense possible of what the winemakers look for and try to achieve with their wines.  It makes for fascinating reading.  Unlike John Ross, who tried to include anyone whom he knew that was in the business, Duffy’s book includes interviews with just 16 of the region’s winemakers, including Louisa Hargrave, who still has a few bottles of her 1993 Cabernet Franc, still aging, still drinkable, and from a very great year for Long Island.  My favorite conversations, due to the great detail with which the winemakers discussed their craft, include one with Roman Roth, who talks about his 2008 Merlot as though he were painting a portrait of a lover.

Book Review: Circle of Vines, The Story of New York State Wines

Richard Figiel ex-Holy TerroirRichard Figiel established the Silver Thread Vineyard in 1982, planting 10 acres near Lodi, NY to vinifera varieties and growing them organically to make natural wines.  He sold the property in 2011 and currently writes a column on NY wines for Wines & Spirits Magazine.  He had previously published Culture in a Glass: Reflections on the Rich Heritage of Finger Lakes Wine in 1995.

Happily for the reader he writes well and where appropriate turns to literary allusion or leavens the text with touches of dry wit. Most important of all, he reveals the history of wine in New York State by means of a sensibly-organized account that starts with the movements of the glaciers of the last Ice Age on through to the diaspora of the late Twentieth and early Twenty-First Centuries, when wineries, vineyards, and winemaking had spread throughout the state after a small and inconspicuous beginning in the Seventeenth.

In the Preface, Figiel mentions that after he purchased an abandoned Catawba vineyard he began “pulling out the past to plant the future . . . .  One day as I was lining up end-posts for the rows of my new vineyard (it was a matter of pride to get them perfectly aligned, row to row) my eye wandered beyond the last post into scrubby woods . . . and there among the junipers and brambles was a fitful row of weather-beaten posts, ghosts of a vineyard on that hillside that predated the vineyard I’d pulled out . . . . I was looking back into the nineteenth century, and my posts happened to line up arrow-straight with that bleached, overgrown line of ghosts.”

Which leads to this book and the far from arrow-straight history of New York wine, which instead ambles along from one wandering post to another in time and geography.

Chapter 1 covers prehistory, from the time of the last advance and final retreat of the mile-thick ice sheet that covered the Northeast and nearly all of New York until about 10,000 years ago. It traces the movement of soil and terrain carried by the massive bulldozer of ice that left chunks of granite from the Berkshires in the bluffs of the north coast of Long Island, among other shifts across the region. This is all depicted in the sole map to be found in the book:

Map of NY State glcial movementChapter 2, “Beginnings in the Hudson Valley,” recounts the earliest attempts at growing wine grapes in the region, including the many failures planting vinifera varieties. Determined growers then set about planting native varieties like Isabella and Catawba while some began experimenting with hybrids—that is to say, interspecies crossings, resulting in some of the most successful hybrids for commercial vineyards, starting with the Iona. The history is complex but Figiel successfully manages to thread all the different paths that winegrowing took in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries into a coherent whole.

The following chapter, “Settling in the Finger Lakes,” is an exploration of the very complicated story of wine in what is today the premier region for Riesling in the country. When first explored in the early 17th century, large amounts of native grapes were found and it is possible that the earliest record of winemaking may date to before 1668, but this is an inference from a text by a missionary who writes about “vines, which bear tolerably good grapes from which our fathers formerly made wine for the mass.” Rev. William Botwick of Hammondsport in the 1830s may have been the first to plant grapes in the Finger Lakes for making wine and disseminate grapes for winemaking to his neighbors, and it was found that Isabella, as an earlier-ripener than Catawba, took best to the climate of the lake region. It took a long time for vinifera to catch on in the Finger Lakes, and that was, of course, thanks to the hard work of Dr. Konstantin Frank in the 1950s.

Chapter 4 is devoted to “Western New York,” which in this case means not only what would become the Lake Erie Region AVA but also the area from Rochester to Niagara, including the Genesee Valley, where a winery was established by Samuel Warren in 1834, 5 years before the Jaques winery was opened in Washingtonville in the Hudson Valley. The Irondequoit winery was established on its eponymous Bay on Lake Ontario near Rochester in 1841. A winery cooperative was formed on the Niagara Escarpment near Lockport in the 1860s. Much of the wine that was made for sacramental use.  But where are these places, some of which are very little known?  A map would be helpful.

“Collision of Cultures” (Chapter 5) covers one of the most interesting and fractious periods in American wine history—the rise of the anti-alcohol movement that led to Prohibition and the struggle of the producers of alcoholic beverages to resist that movement. As early as 1808 there was a reaction against the excessive consumption of spirits in particular, when a doctor near Glen Falls despaired of healing hard drinkers and founded the Moreau Temperance Association, which was aimed at spirits and brews, but not wine. By 1833 the American Temperance Union was established and the question became one of “which alcohols” to ban outright. Those who joined the Union and swore to totally abstain from the imbibing of any alcohol had a “T” placed by their names, hence the term ‘Teetotaler.’ Long before Prohibition, in fact, Rutherford B. Hayes, a teetotaler, was elected President in 1877. Figiel writes that “he drained the nation’s first household Dry . . . . Visiting dignitaries were confounded: ‘Oh, it was very gay,” one European ambassador said of a state dinner with the President, ‘the water flowed like Champagne.’ Individual towns and counties throughout the country and in New York began passing laws banning the sale of alcohol; indeed, the New York legislature passed a law restricting the sale of alcohol in 1845. That law was rescinded two years later, but the battle lines were drawn and the fight was on. The history of Prohibition is well-known and often told, and Figiel tells it with well-selected anecdotes to enliven the tale.

The sixth chapter, “Restart,” is about the hardscrabble road to recovery from Prohibition.

Chapter 7 is devoted to the Revolutionaries, those who changed the attitude and approach to grape growing and wine making in the State and withal most of the Eastern United States. There are capsule accounts of the work and accomplishment of five key figures who helped bring about significant change in the wine industry: Everett S. Crosby, Frederick S. Johnson, Konstantin Frank, Walter S. Taylor, and Mark Miller. Crosby was introduced to wine “in the rumble seat of a roadster after high school basketball games” during Prohibition and went on in 1950 to found High Tor Vineyard in the Hudson Valley. It was the first vineyard planted exclusively to French hybrids and the wines found a positive reception in wine shops and restaurants in New York City. In 1960 Johnson would establish his vineyard and winery on the Lake Erie escarpment and plant mostly hybrid grapes, bringing the region into the wine world after years of producing table grapes and grape juice. Frank, a difficult, determined, and uncompromising man is the father of vinifera wine in New York. Over a dozen years, starting in 1953, he planted a quarter of a million vines of a dozen vinifera varieties grafted to selected American rootstock and proved definitively that European vines could grow and thrive in the extreme cold of the Finger Lakes. Walter S. Taylor has to have been one of the most colorful characters on the wine industry stage: a rebel with a cause in opposition to big business and its overreaching attempts at control, particularly over the issue of the Taylor family name. Once Coca Cola had acquired the Taylor Wine Company it had an injunction issued against Walter S. using his surname on his own wines at Bully Hill. His irrepressible humor and anti-establishment outlook had him take on a goat as a mascot and quipped, “You can’t get my goat.” But read the story. And there was Mark Miller, owner of Benmarl Vineyards, who helped bring about a transformative law, the Farm Winery Act of 1976 that changed the New York wine industry forever.

“Transformation” is a chapter about the growth of large corporations like Coca Cola and Seagram’s that dominated the wine industry in the ‘60s and ‘70s until the passage of the Farm Winery Act of 1976 that was signed in to law by Governor Carey. Some of the winemaking practices in the larger wineries including “blending old American varieties like Catawba, Concord, and Delaware with bulk wine from California and new inputs from French hybrids. Water and cane sugar were routinely part of the mix. It was not uncommon for final blends to be up to one-third water and one-quarter Californian wine.” In some cases a small and profitable miracle was produced with “large quantities of bulk wine from small quantities of fruit.”

This is followed by a chapter devoted to Long Island, the last major wine region to be planted to wine grapes, unique among all the State AVAs in growing vinifera varieties only, with a tiny exception. Its history is comparatively brief, with the first vinifera vines planted in 1973 by Louisa and Alex Hargrave. Amateurs in Long Island, they showed that European varieties could produce excellent wine there and today Long Island has the most extensive plantings of Merlot, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, and Cabernet Franc in the State, not to speak of nearly twenty others as well, including Pinot Noir, Chenin Blanc, Dornfelder, and Albariño as well.

The final chapter is about the “Diaspora” of the wine industry throughout the State, encompassing new wine regions—though not new AVAs—in places like the Thousand Islands on the St. Lawrence River and Lake Champlain, as well as further developments in the established AVAs of the Finger Lakes, the Hudson River Region, Lake Erie, Long Island, and New York City. In other words, “New York wine became more diverse, more promising, more impressive, more inconsistent, and more confusing.”

Circle of Vines bears comparison with Hudson Cattell’s Wines of Eastern North American, previously reviewed in a post on this blog. However, while there is some overlapping history, Catell’s book touches on the period From Prohibition to the Present (i.e., 2013). It is meant as a “History and Desk Reference,” and is a far more scholarly approach than Figiel’s, replete as it is with endnotes, an extensive bibliography, and seven appendices with tables and charts. This is not to denigrate what Figiel has done, but his is a less formal approach, and he does list his sources and include an index; his book is 169 pages devoted to just New York, while Chattell’s 235 pages cover the entire gamut of Eastern wineries from Maine to Florida and all the way to the Mississippi River. Both are informative and very useful resources. A reader would be glad to have them both.

Regrettably, the book has very poor-quality illustrations—given their half-tone newsprint reproduction—and there are no maps to support the text, apart from the one that shows the movement of the ice sheet that covered the state over 10,000 years ago. One can only hope that if there is a second edition there will be a map for each chapter as well as higher-quality images.Circle of Vines cover Circle of Vines, The Story of New York State Wines,  by Richard Figiel, 2014.  Excelsior Editions imprint of SUNY Press, Albany. 194 pages with appendices and index.  31 monochrome half-tone illustrations, including one map.

Viniculture in the Hudson River Region–background

Introduction

The entirety of the Northeast, including New York State, was once covered by Laurentide ice sheets up to nearly two miles thick during the Late Wisconsin Glacial Period, which receded about 11,000 years ago.[1]  As the ice sheet melted it reshaped the landscape beneath it that was to take on the features  that we know today, and it helped create the Hudson River Valley,  leaving behind a complex and varied topography, soil, and climate–the terroir–, much of it appropriate for vine cultivation or other fruit.

NY Wine Regions Map 11. Map from the Uncorked New York Web site.

The Hudson River Region AVA is the oldest continually-productive wine region in the United States.  Though most people refer to this wine region as the Hudson River Valley or the Hudson Valley, on July 6, 1982 the BATF—in its wisdom—granted the AVA but chose to call it by another name in order to avoid confusion with a winery that already bore the name, Hudson River Valley Winery (no longer in production).  If one were to look at different maps that depict the region, its geographical boundaries would not entirely clear, as the maps don’t all agree.  (The best one is shown above.)  Unfortunately, there is no official AVA map of the region, much less a map for its varied soils and climates.  However, it is clearly described verbally in print: its western boundary is the Shawangunk Ridge (a northerly extension of the Appalachians) in Orange and Ulster Counties.  It then follows the Delaware River to the New Jersey State line, from which it goes roughly east to its eastern boundary at the state lines with Connecticut and Massachusetts. It then extends north along those borders to the northeast corner of Columbia County, New York.  From there it extends west to the juncture of Columbia and Greene Counties in the Hudson River.[2]  It includes all or some of several counties:  Columbia, Dutchess, Orange, Putnam, Rockland, Sullivan, Ulster, and Westchester.

HV Watershed land useIt doesn’t quite encompass all of the Hudson River Watershed, which extends even further north and includes the Mohawk River (see map at left).  From this it can be seen, by comparing it to the first map, that while it is primarily geographic, most of its boundaries are political, which is not unusual for AVAs all over the country; however, it also is not strictly based on a homogenous climate or soil types—the terroir—though many of the vineyards are planted on or near the slopes on either side of the Hudson River.

However, even today the true boundaries of the Valley are still in dispute, and the definition of the area of the AVA Region is questionable.  Carlo DeVito, a wine writer and winery owner, commented that “The AVA is old and obsolete….it only covered the existing wineries that were around at the time of the filing, and makes no sense. More than half the valley’s wineries in the region are not covered by it. Here’s my take on it:”  Where is the Hudson Valley?

Soil and Terroir

NY Soil Map

As can be made out from the soil map above, there is a range of soil that include “acid soils with neutral to acid frangipans” (pink color) that runs the length of the river valley, shifting to “medium to moderately coarse-textured acid soils with strongly acidic frangipans on glacial till from gray slate, sandstone, [and] slate” (red color).  Contiguous to this is also “deep and shallow soils associated with hilly areas” (dark red).  Along the mid to upper-length of the river we see “moderate to fine-textured soils on glacial lake or marine sediments” (pale blue).  At the southern limits we see “muck” (dark blue, highly fertile) and “moderately coarse textured, very strongly acid soils from glacial till from granite” (brown color).  As grapevines are not fond of acidic soils, this means that many if not most vineyards need alkaline additions such as lime to bring up the soil pH.

The most complete and accessible description of the soils and terrains of the Region may be that of the “New York Wine Course and Reference”, which is worth quoting at length:

This region crosses five [of the nine New York State] physiographic provinces and is composed of more distinct soil types than any other region. Moving north from Manhattan, the first province encountered is that of the Gneissic Highland Province, a hilly, complex region of highly metamorphosed ancient gneiss. This region encompasses the northern end of Manhattan Island and southern Rockland County, where it forms the Ramapo Mountains. The region continues across the Hudson, and the structure underlies Westchester, Putnam and a small part of southern Dutchess County. The hardness of the bedrock in this area and glacial action have resulted in shallow, rocky soils largely unsuitable for agriculture. Bordering the Gneiss Highland Province to the north is the Taconic Province, an area of lower elevation that extends from Orange County northward through southeastern Ulster County and across the Hudson River, encompassing Dutchess, Columbia, Rensselaer and Washington counties. The rocks in this province are largely shales, slates, schists and limestones, although the northern and eastern areas of Dutchess, Columbia and Rensselaer are underlain with hard metamorphic quartzite and gneiss. The topography of this province varies widely, starting as a valley in southern Orange County and progressing to rolling hills and valleys in the western portions of those counties on the east side of the Hudson, finally culminating the rugged highlands of the Berkshire Mountains in the easternmost section of the province. Given the wide variety of parent material and topography in this province, soil types and suitability to viticulture are extremely varied. Soils in the western portion of this province generally tend to have moisture problems and be low in fertility, although many good sites of limited acreage are under cultivation as orchards and vineyards. Soil conditions improve on the western side of the Hudson, with eastern Dutchess and Columbia Counties possessing the finest sites and consequently the greatest acreage of vineyards. Deep, well-drained soils with adequate moisture holding capacity and low to moderate fertility are present and available in large tracts of land, and offer the opportunity for the expansion of viticulture in the Hudson Valley.  Two other physiographic provinces can be included in the Hudson River Region: the Catskill Province which borders the Taconic Province along the dramatic Shawangunk Ridge; and the Mohawk Valley Province which enters the region north of Albany.  Neither has significant acreage in grapes, and discussion of the soils of these areas is not relevant to this subject.[3]

A further explanation makes even more clear just how complex the soil profiles of the Region comes from the USDA soil series page:

The Hudson series consists of very deep, moderately well drained soils formed in clayey and silty lacustrine sediments. They are nearly level through very steep soils on convex lake plains, on rolling through hilly moraines and on dissected lower valley side slopes. Saturated hydraulic conductivity is moderately high or high in the mineral surface and subsurface layers and low through moderately high in the lower part of the subsoil and substratum. Slope ranges from 0 through 60 percent. Mean annual temperature is 49 degrees F. and mean annual precipitation is 39 inches.[4]

The Region’s geographic setting is described as follows:

Hudson soils are nearly level to very steep on lake plains and lacustrine capped uplands and valley sides. Slope ranges from 0 through 60 percent. More sloping and dissected areas show evidence of slumping or mass slipping. Mean annual air temperature ranges from 46 degrees to 50 degrees F., mean annual precipitation ranges from 30 through 45 inches, and mean annual frost-free season ranges from 120 through 180 days. The elevation ranges from 50 through 800 feet above sea level.[5]

The Hudson River is one of the great waterways of North America, but it only runs 315 miles (507 km.) from its source, Lake Tear in the Clouds, located in Adirondack Park (elevation 1814 ft. (553 m.).  It is what is called a ‘drowned river’ in that the waters of the Atlantic Ocean flow upstream with the tide as far as Troy, NY (north of Albany) which means that it is a very long tidal estuary–in other words, a fjord.  For this reason it was known to the Lenape tribe that lived along its banks as Muhheakantuck (“river that flows two ways”).[6]

Hudson River panorama from_walkway_looking_northIndeed, it is the Hudson , with its moderating effect on climate, thanks to the tidal flow and winds that sweep upriver from the Atlantic as well as the so-called “lake effect” (or “river effect” in this case–except in the winter, if the river freezes and is covered with ice) of its wide, deep, flowing stream, that make it possible to grow grapes at all, as it would otherwise be too frigid for most varieties other than the native ones.  Its growing season is short:  180 to 195 days.  (By comparison, Long Island’s season lasts from 215 to 230 days, while the Niagara Escarpment enjoys 205 days, and the Finger Lakes AVA has 190 to 205 growing days.)  Its production is also small, at 585 tons a year (about 2.5 tons an acre), whereas the Niagara Escarpment, with only 6 vineyards and 883 acres produces 4,648 tons (about 5 tons an acre), though some of this is for table grapes, which have much higher yields than do wine grapes.[7]

The AVA covers an area that extends roughly within the confines of the river valley proper, encompassing as it does 224,000 acres (90,650 ha), but it has only 430 acres planted to wine grapes among 49 bonded wineries[8]—some with, some without, vineyards—some of which buy fruit from the Finger Lakes or Long Island to make wine from varieties that do not thrive here, and in some cases from California.  Many of the wineries produce fruit wine, such as raspberry, apple, strawberry, blueberry, and so on, along with grape wine.  After all, the Hudson Valley is famous for its fruit production, and once was one of the largest producers of apples in the world.[9]  However, as pointed out in an article by Carlo DeVito, “Where is the Hudson Valley?” on his blog, HudsonRiverWine, the boundaries of the AVA as currently drawn lead to confusion and are no longer relevant, given that they were drawn when there were far fewer wineries, and the number of wineries and vineyards in the Valley has not only grown exponentially, but many new ones are being established within the Valley but outside the AVA.

 Some History

Tradition has it that the first vinifera vines were planted by French Huguenots in 1677, at the time that they first settled New Paltz.  However, this is unlikely, because these Huguenots had come from Belgium and were more inclined to drink hard cider, brandy, and brews.  However, the earliest record of vinifera planting goes back to 1642, when the New Amsterdam patroon, Kiliean Van Rennselaer sent cuttings to his commisary in Fort Orange (Albany), which of course didn’t survive the winter.  Settlers then resorted to American varieties, but the wines made from these were likely not pleasing at all to the French or Dutch palates, but at least it was alcoholic.  The first commercially-successful vineyard was planted with Isabella and Catawba in 1827 by Robert Underhill at Croton Point, just above Tarrytown.  The oldest continuously-operated winery in the nation is Brotherhood Winery, originally established as Jaques Brothers’ Winery in 1839 at Little York (now Washingtonville, in Orange County) to make wine that was mostly sold to churches.  When the last of the Jaques family died in 1885, it was taken over by Jesse and Emerson, who promptly renamed it Brotherhood.  The earliest-planted continuously-used vineyard, going back to 1845, was planted by William Cornell in Ulster County.  His brother-in-law, Andrew Caywood became involved and began developing hybrid varieties that could better grow in the demanding climate; one of his efforts led to the Dutchess grape, still widely grown in the Northeast today.  That vineyard is today part of Benmarl Winery, in Marlboro.[10]

Farm Winery Act of 1976

Before Governor Hugh Carey signed the Farm Winery Act into law, there were only nineteen bonded wineries in all of New York State.  Thanks to the tireless work and advocacy of people like Benmarl Winery’s Mark Miller, the new Commissioner of Agriculture, John Dyson (owner of Millbrook Vineyards and Winery), and the support of wine writers like Frank Prial of the New York Times, the restrictive post-Prohibition laws that then prevailed were replaced by a new set of laws that made it much easier for farms (i.e., vineyards) to establish new wineries for a small fee.  The result was an explosion of winery growth in the State, and by 2008 there were about 255 across the State.[11]

Vineyards

The vineyards and wineries with vineyards in the Hudson River Region AVA (excluding cideries, meaderies, distilleries, and producers of fruit wine only), as of 2014, number thirty-one by my own count, and these are highlighted in bold type. Vine acreage is not always certain and in some cases little or no information is given  The Websites are rarely of any use in this regard.

A number of wineries purchase some or all of their grapes from other growers, both from within the Hudson River AVA as well as the Finger Lakes and Long Island.  There are any number of perfectly good reasons for this.  A winemaker may want to produce wine from a variety that he doesn’t grow.  Some vineyards are too new to produce commerciable fruit.  With a few exceptions, most of the wineries and/or vineyards are very small in scale–most are, after all, “farm wineries.”   In no case does this reflect on the quality of any of the wines so made.  The gamut of quality is there to be had.

(NOTE:  this article and the series on wineries that follow are only interested in wineries and vineyards that grow and/or produce grape wine.  This is not a prejudice, it is simply that the focus is on sustainable viniculture, or the growing of wine grapes, as well as on winemaking.  Wineries that have been reviewed on this blog are shown with a link):

Adair Vineyards*, New Paltz (West Bank, Ulster County; 37 acres, all hybrid)

Altamont Winery, Altamont (West Bank, Albany County; no information on acreage or planting)

Applewood Winery*, Warwick (West Bank, Orange County; ? acreage, both hybrid & vinifera)

Baldwin Vineyards*, Pine Bush (West Bank, Ulster County, 35 acres, both)

Basha Kill Vineyards*, Wurstboro (West Bank, Sullivan County, 1.5 acres, hybrid)

Benmarl Winery*, Marlboro (West Bank, Ulster County; 37 acres; both)

Brimstone Hill Vineyards, Pine Bush (West Bank, Ulster County; 13 acres, both)

Brookview Station Winery* [no vineyard, purchased grapes]

Brotherhood Winery*, Washingtonville (West Bank, Orange County; 40 acres, all vinifera?)

Capoccia Vineyards and Winery, Niskayuna (West Bank, Schenectady County, not AVA; no information)

Cascade Mountain Winery*,  [no vineyard, purchased grapes]

Cerghino Smith Winery, [no vineyard, purchased grapes]

Clearview Vineyard*, Warwick (West Bank, Orange County; 2 acres, both)

Clinton Vineyards*, Clinton Corners (East Bank, Dutchess County; 100? acres, hybrid)

Demarest Hill Vineyards, Warwick (West Bank, Orange County; 15 acres, hybrid)

El Paso Winery, [unused vineyard, purchased grapes]

Glorie Farm Winery*, Marlboro (West Bank, Ulster County; 7 acres, hybrid & vinifera)

Hudson-Chatham Winery*, Ghent (East Bank, Dutchess County; 5 acres, hybrid)

Magnanini Winery*, Wallkill (West Bank, Ulster County)

Millbrook Vineyards and Winery*, Millbrook (East Bank, Dutchess County;  all vinifera)

Oak Summit Vineyard*, Millbrook (East Bank, Dutchess County; 6 acres, all vinifera)

Palaia Vineyards,* Highland Mills (West Bank, Orange County; 10 acres, both)

Pazdar Winery [purchased grapes]

Prospero Winery [purchased grapes]

Robibero Family Winery*, Gardiner (West Bank, Ulster County; 1 acre, both)

Royal Kedem Winery*, Marlboro (West Bank, Ulster County; no information)

Stoutridge Vineyards*, Marlboro (West Bank, Ulster County; 11 acres, both)

The Winery at St. George [purchased wines]

Torne Valley Vineyards, Hillburn (West Bank, Rockland County; ? acres, both?)

Tousey Winery*, Germantown (East Bank, Dutchess County;15 acres, all vinifera)

Warwick Valley Winery & Distillery*, Warwick (West Bank, Ulster County)

Whitecliff Vineyard*, Gardiner (West Bank, Ulster County; 26 acres, both)

Windham Vineyard and Winery, Windham (West Bank, Greene County; no information)

*Twenty-two of the wineries are members of the Hudson Valley Wine & Grape Assoc., and owners and/or winemakers meet from time to time to compare notes and discuss issues that are common to the region.  The mission of the Assoc. is “to conduct educational programs to advance grape growing and winemaking in the Hudson Valley AVA.”

NOTE:  Winery Websites will not always tell about the varieties in the vineyards, nor will they necessarily indicate what varieties go into their blended wines, as they may use generic or invented names for their blends.  This doesn’t mean that one can’t ask in the tasting room.  The only dependable clue as to whether the wines are made from grapes blended from more than one AVA (e.g., Finger Lakes & Hudson River) will be found on the label:  if it says Hudson River Region, it may or may not be estate bottled but is from the Region; if it says New York State the wine is made from grapes from more than one region.  Caveat emptor, but only if these issues matters to the buyer.

Wine-grape Varieties

The varieties that do thrive in the AVA are mostly hybrids as well as some cool-climate V. viniferas (hybrid variety information is from Robinson, Jancis, Julia Harding, et al., Wine Grapes—listed alphabetically, so page number are not needed); Hudson AVA acreage information comes from the “NY Wine Course”, pp. 75-61 passim; data is for 2013):

Aurore or Aurora, aka Seibel 5279 (White, French-American hybrid; less than 10 acres)

Baco Noir (R, French-American hybrid, Folle Blanche x Grand Glabre [V. riparia]; <10 acres)

Cabernet Franc (R, vinifera; 7 acres)

Cabernet Sauvignon (R, vinifera; <20 acres)

Catawba (R, either V. labrusca or a natural hybrid, in any case American; <10 acres, in decline)

Cayuga White (complex American hybrid created in Geneva, NY; <10, decreased from 38 acres in 1996)

Chambourcin (Red, French-American hybrid; acreage not reported)

Chancellor, aka Seibel 7053 (R, French-American hybrid; acreage for the AVA not reported)

Chardonnay (W, vinifera; 32 acres)

Chelois (R, French-American hybrid; acreage for the AVA not reported)[12]

Concord (R, V. labrusca x unknown vinifera?, decidedly American; 168 acres)

De Chaunac or Dechaunac (R, French-Canadian hybrid, by Albert Seibel; named for the Canadian enologist, Adhemar DeChaunac; <15 acres)[13]

Delaware (V. labrusca x aestivalis var. bouriquiana x vinifera?, American hybrid; <10 acres)

Diamond, aka Moore’s Diamond (labrusca x vinifera American hybrid; acreage unreported)

Dutchess (complex hybrid by A. J. Caywood of Poughkeepsie, V. labrusca x aestivalis x vinifera; <10 acres)[14]

Elvira (complex American hybrid, V. labrusca x riparia x vinifera; <10 acres)[15]

Frontenac, aka MN 1047 (complex American hybrid from Minnesota; )[16]

Gamay Noir (R, vinifera, a specialty of Whitecliff Vineyards)

Gewürztraminer (W, vinifera; <10 acres)

Golden Muscat (W, American hybrid ex-Cornell, labrusca x vinifera; acreage unreported)

Lemberger, aka Blaufränkisch (R, vinifera; acreage unreported)

Léon Millot (R, complex French hybrid from Alsace; acreage unreported)

Marechal Foch (complex French-American hybrid from Alsace; <20 acres)

Marquette (American hybrid from Minnesota; acreage unreported)

Merlot (R, vinifera; <10 acres)

Niagara (American labrusca hybrid; <25 acres)[17]

Noiret (R, complex American hybrid created in Geneva, NY)

Pinot Blanc (W, vinifera, Alsace clone planted only at Stoutridge)

Pinot Gris (W, vinifera)

Pinot Noir (R, vinifera, almost unique to Oak Summit in the region; about 30 acres)

Refosco (vinifera, planted only at Stoutridge)

Riesling (W, vinifera; <10 acres)

St Pepin (complex American hybrid by Elmer Swenson in Wisconsin)[18]

Sangiovese (R, vinifera, planted only at Stoutridge)

Seyval Blanc/Seyve-Villard 5-276 (W, French hybrid, vinifera x rupestris x lincecumii; 73 acres)

Teroldego (vinifera, planted only at Stoutridge)

Tocai Friulano (W, vinifera, planted only at Millbrook Vineyards)

Traminette (W, complex American hybrid based on Gewürztraminer)[19]

Vidal Blanc/Vidal 256 (W, French hybrid, Ugni Blanc x Seibel 4986; <10 acres)[20]

Vignoles/Ravat 51 (W, complex French hybrid, Pinot Noir? x Subéreux?; <10 acres)

As can be seen from the list, most of the wine varieties are hybrids, developed specifically for traits that would enable the vines to survive the extreme cold, humidity, and diseases.  The French hybrids were often developed to produce vines based on V. vinifera that were resistant to phylloxera, as the original intention was to plant them in European vineyards.  Once it was realized that grafting American rootstock to vinifera shoots would adequately protect against phylloxera, interest in hybrids dropped in Europe, but many of the hybrids have been successfully introduced to the United States.   American (esp. New York hybrids) were often developed to thrive in American vineyards with their attendant cold-climate challenges and the diseases that are endemic to the region.

Bibliography and other References

Unfortunately, there is a serious paucity of books devoted exclusively to the entire Hudson River Region AVA.  The only one still available, by Martell and Long, is out of print but can still be ordered.

De Vito, Carlo.  East Coast Wineries:  A Complete Guide from Maine to Virginia.  Rutgers U. Press:  New Brunswick, NJ, 2004.  An excellent guide to the wineries of the region, though having been published ten years ago, it doesn’t even include the author’s own winery:  Hudson-Chatham.

Figiel, Richard.  Circle of Vines:  The Story of New York State Wine.  Excelsior Editions, Albany, NY, 2014. Written by the once-owner of a Finger Lakes winery, this is a well-written account of the story of New York wine, with a chapter devoted to the Hudson Valley and additional related material in two others.  The entire book, a sweep of history going back to the Ice Ages and up to the present day, is a worthwhile read and the chapter on the Valley is especially complete and valuable.

Martell, Alan R. and Alton Long.  The Wines and Wineries of the Hudson River Valley.  The Countryman Press:  Woodstock, VT, 1993.  Given that it was published 21 years ago, it is seriously out of date, and at a scarce 48 amply-illustrated pages, it covers but 20 wineries and a meadery.  It is clearly meant for the general public.

New York Wine & Grape Foundation (text by James Tresize), “The New York Wine Course and Reference.pdf.”  2014. Available as an online download, it is an excellent and very complete research source, although it has a promotional slant.  It also includes very useful regional maps on the soils, temperatures, growing degree days, etc.  (Note:  It is curious that the AVA map in the Wine Course document  does not match the one on the Website: Fact and Figures, which is the version that I use at the beginning of this article; it is the one that I consider the most accurate.)  The Website is listed below.  In citations, it will be referred to as “NY Wine Course.”

A handful of others touch on the region here and there, but superficially.  For example:

Berger, Dan and Tony Aspler.  North American Wine Routes:  A Travel Guide to Wines & Vines from Napa to Nova Scotia.  Reader’s Digest Press:  Pleasantville, NY, 2010.  Very superficial, with no useful background and only four wineries listed on the two amply-illustrated pages about the Region.

Castell, Hudson.  Wines of Eastern North American:  From Prohibition to the Present:  From Prohibition to the Present – A History and Desk Reference.  Cornell U. Press, Ithaca, NY, 2014.  Its subject is rather broad so that the Hudson Valley is only touched upon here and there, but it is a fine work of scholarship and an important reference.

Morton, Lucie T.  Winegrowing in Eastern America:  An Illustrated Guide to Viniculture East of the Rockies.  Cornell U. Press: Ithaca, NY, 1985.  An important book but it only offers a very cursory coverage of the Valley.

Robinson, Jancis and Linda Murphy.  American Wine:  The Ultimate Companion to the Wines & Wineries of the US.  U. California Press:  Berkeley, 2013.  For an ‘ultimate guide’ there are only two pages, mostly covered by illustrations and no useful map.  It counts 33 wineries, mentions Millbrook Vineyards and Winery as the ‘Superstar’ and shows three wine labels.

Thomas, Marguerite.  Touring East Coast Wine Country:  A Guide to the Finest Wineries.  Berkshire House Publishers, Lee, MA, 2002.  Mentions only two wineries and is out of date.

For grape varieties:

Casscles, J. Stephen .  Grapes of the Hudson Valley and Other Cool Climate Regions of the United States and Canada,  Flint Mine Press, Coxsackie, NY, 2015.  An important an indispensable guide to the varieties of the region.  (See my review of the book at Grapes of the Hudson Valley.)

Robinson, Jancis, Julia Harding, & José Vouillamoz.  Wine Grapes:  A Complete Guide to 1,368 Vine Varieties, Including Their Origins and Flavours.  HarperCollins: New York, 2012.  Simply the best and most complete reference to all varieties available in the English language.

For history:

Benjamin, Vernon.  The History of the Hudson River Valley from Wilderness to the Civil War.  Overlook Press, New York, 2014.  Using up-to-date scholarship, this is a serious and significant contribution to the literature of the Hudson Valley but, alas, there’s very little about wine.  Nevertheless, a very worthwhile book to own.

 Online Sources

Be aware that most of these sites may not be up-to-date or may contain misleading or incorrect information.

AmericanWineryGuide.com: Hudson River Region AVA  Listing 30 wineries, it omits Windham Winery, but then its count doesn’t include cideries or meaderies

AppellationAmerican.com: Hudson River Region  Last updated before Robibero Winery was opened, so probably prior to 2009.  It lists 32 wineries in the region.

DutchessWineTrail.com  Website for the Dutchess County Wine Trail.

HudsonBerkshireExperience.com  Website for the Hudson-Berkshire Beverage Trail in Columbia County.  It’s not only about wine.

HudsonRiverWine.com  Blog by Carlo DeVito, author of East Coast Wineries.  He is the owner of the Hudson-Chatham Winery and also maintains another blog, EastCoastWineries.com, which covers wineries from Maine to Virginia.

HudsonValleyWine&GrapeAssoc.com  Website of the Hudson Valley Wine and Grape Association.  It lists 22 wineries and vineyards as members.

HudsonValleyWineCountry.org  It includes links to 3 of the 4 wine trails in the region.

HVNet.com: Wineries  The Hudson Valley Network is more about tourism in the Hudson Valley than it is about the Hudson River Region AVA, and includes at least two wineries that do not belong in the AVA.  It is also out of date.

HVWineGoddess.com  A light-hearted but informative romp through the Valley.  It is currently maintained with fresh material, but it isn’t clear if it updates old posts.

HVWineMag.com  The Hudson Valley Wine Magazine is probably the source with the most up-to-date information about what is going on regarding wine in the Valley.

NYSAES (Cornell U.)*  The academic/scientific go-to Website for all matters agricultural and horticultural, which means viticulture as well, in the State.

Also indispensable for New York State wines is the New York Cork Report by Lenn Thompson, with its many interviews, coverage of wine tastings, reviews, and more.

NewYorkWines.org  New York Wine & Grape Foundation, aka Uncork New York, covers all the wine regions of the state.  Though it states that there are 41 wineries in the Hudson region, but that includes 3 cideries, 2 distilleries, and 1 glögg producer, so strictly speaking there are really only 35 wineries in the region.  “The New York Wine Course and Reference.pdf.” can be downloaded from here.

ShawangunkWineTrail.com  Website for the Shawangunk Wine Trail in Ulster County.

UpperHudsonValleyWineTrail.com  Website for the newest wine trail in the Hudson River Region:  Upper Hudson Valley Wine Trail.

Wikipedia.org: Hudson River Region AVA  This is only a stub, so is not useful at present.

WinesNY.com: Hudson Valley Wines  An unofficial wine blog with much to offer, and its coverage of the Hudson Region is interesting and informative.  However, it has not been updated since 2009.

*NYAES stands for New York State Agricultural Experiment Station, in Geneva, NY, which is run by Cornell University.

Endnotes

[1] Wikipedia.org: /Wisconsin glaciation

[2] It’s actually even more complicated than that.  For a full description of the boundaries, see Electronic Code of Federal Regulations, sect. 9.47.

[3] NY Wine Course, pp. 92-3.  (An excellent introduction to New York State soils can be found on the Web page of the Hunter College Dept. of Geology:  Soils of NY (a downloadable PDF.)

[4] USDA Soil Series:  Hudson Series

 [5] Ibid.

[7] All the figures come from Uncork New York, Regions pages.

[8] Uncork New York

[9] See also the excellent article on the geology and terroir of the region in WinesNY.com: Hudson Valley Wines Geology.

 [10] HudsonRiver.com Wineries History; also Richard Figiel, Circle of Vines, pp. 14-28 passim.

 [11] Hudson Catell, Wines of Eastern North America, p. 96.

 [12] NY Wine Course, p. 77.

 [13] Wine Grapes, p. 290-1.  NY Wine Course, p. 75.

 [14] Wine Grapes, p. 318.

 [15] Wine Grapes, p. 327.

 [16] Wine Grapes, p. 369.

 [17] NY Wine Course, p. 41.

 [18] Wine Grapes, p. 1011

 [19] Wine Grapes, p. 1073.

 [20] NY Wine Course, p. 47.

Book Review: Wines of Eastern North America, by Hudson Cattell.

Hudson Cattell’s Wines of Eastern North America:  From Prohibition to the Present, A History and Desk Reference (Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 2014), is an important new book on the history of the wine industry in the East, covering both Canada and the United States in equal measure.  It is a scholarly work and is meant for a fairly narrow audience:  wine professionals, others in the wine trade, and really serious wine lovers.

Its title brings to mind Lucie T. Morton’s Winegrowing in Eastern United States (Cornell, 1985), the first major scholarly book to cover both the history and viniculture of the region east of the Rockies.  Comparisons are inevitable, but a quick overview of each book also brings out the differences (which are significant) and the similarities.  Apart from the fact that Cattell’s work is twenty-nine years later, it shouldn’t be regarded as an update of Morton’s book.  For one thing, Cattell covers the history of winegrowing in the East principally from the Prohibition era to the present (2013).  Morton covers the period from Colonial times up to 1985 more evenly, though she doesn’t have as much to say about the consequences of Prohibition as does Cattell.  However, Morton is largely focused on the viniculture, whereas Cattell’s is primarily about the industry as a whole.  Morton touches on Canada briefly, Cattell gives Canada its full due relative to the United States.  Essentially, one book supplements the other, and any serious student of the region should have both.  (N.B.–Morton’s book is out of print, but can be found online, so still available.)

Cattell (born in 1931), has been covering the wine industry east of the Rockies since 1976 had has published numerous books and articles over the years, covering not only the Eastern United States but Eastern Canada as well.  In those 37 years he has traveled throughout this vast region and met nearly everybody who mattered in the wine trade.  He clearly has a profound knowledge of the region, the people, the soils, the varieties, the wines, the laws, and the controversies about almost everything bearing on the vines and wines of Eastern North America.  In 2012 he received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the first Eastern Winery Exposition held in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA 2007 article in the Cornell University Library Website, “Noted Wine Journalist Speaks at the Lee Library, Geneva” (http://www.library.cornell.edu/insidecul/200705/#noted) mentions that “Cattell learned on the job. On his first visit to a winery in Pennsylvania he drove right by the winery’s vineyard. ‘I knew absolutely nothing about grapes and wine,’ he said. ‘In fact, I didn’t even realize they were grapevines.’”  A portion of his education came from Liberty Hyde Bailey’s The Evolution of Our Native Fruits.

His knowledge and expertise show on every page of the book under review.  The chapters are arranged both chronologically and thematically.  The first chapter provides the historical background of the wine industry in the United States and Canada from pre-Prohibition days through Prohibition and its devastating effect on the industry to its still-lingering effects after the passage of the Twenty-Fourth Amendment.  State and provincial retail monopolies such as those in Pennsylvania and Ontario come out of this, as does the three-tier system that defines wine and liquor sales throughout the United States.

At the conclusion of the chapter is an interesting bit about Charles Fournier, the French-born winemaker at Gold Seal Vineyards.  He was from Champagne and had succeeded his uncle as winemaker at Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin.  Personal tragedy was a factor in his decision to come to the States.  One of his early projects had to do with the legalization of the use of the term “champagne,” which by Federal statute of 1934 had to be “a type of sparkling white wine which derives its effervescence solely from the second fermentation of the wine within glass containers of not more than one gallon capacity, and which possess the taste, aroma, and other characteristics attributed to champagne as made in the Champagne district of France.”  In 1970 Fournier would write of how proud he was “of the success of the New York State champagne industry.”  Yet, he was using American and French-hybrid varieties such as Catawba, Delaware, Dutchess, Elvira, and so on.  By the ’90s, of course, EU laws would ban the use of the term “champagne” for any sparking wine not made in the eponymous region, but firms using that term before the EU law was passed had “grandfathered” the right to continue to use it, so today we still have older sparkling wine producers using the word “champagne”–note the use of the lower case.

Chapter Two is devoted to  Philip Wagner and the arrival of French hybrids in the United States.  Wagner, a newspaper reporter and editor, would prove to be one of the most important and influential individuals in the Eastern wine industry.  From his struggles as a tyro winegrower in the early thirties, by 1933 he had published the first book in America on winemaking:  American Wines and How to Make Them.  Having limited success with vinifera varieties, he began experimenting with hybrids.  In 1939 he imported Baco No. 1  cuttings from France via Frank Schoonmaker–the legendary wine guru of the post-Prohibition era–and from that shipment were to come all future Baco Noir vines in the United States.  In fact, it was the first importation of hybrids from France, and by 1951 Wagner and Boordy Vineyards (which he founded in 1945) was the major disseminator of these varieties, among them:  Seibel 6339, Seibel 1XX, Seibel 1000 (Rosette).

And so it goes for thirteen chapters illustrated in black & white images with the occasional table–ample text loaded with facts, data, anecdotes, and stories of individuals, such as the Hargraves and Lucie T. Morton, wineries like Taylor Wine or Wollersheim Winery of Wisconsin, as well as organizations such as the Vintners Quality Association of Canada (VQA) or the Pennsylvania Premium Wine Group.  No one and nothing seems to have been overlooked.

With respect to Canada and its wine industry , Cattell marks Sept. 21, 1945 as “one of the key dates in eastern wine history.”  Philip Wagner, visiting from Maryland, Adhemar de Chaunac, winemaker at Brights in Ontario, and others from New York, including Nelson Shaulis from the Geneva research station, participated in a tasting of thirty-two New York wines.  Wagner had added some of his French hybrid wines.  “There was total silence–Wagner later recalled . . . — as it was generally realized for the first time that good wines could be made from French hybrid grapes.”

The result was that de Chaunac went back to Brights and soon had some twenty French hybrids and a few vinifera varieties ordered from France.  Commercial plantings began with 40,000 vines in 1948.  In addition, thanks to advances made at Brights with regard to controlling downy mildew with sulfur on a regular schedule rather after it first appeared in the vineyard meant that the imported vines had a much better chance of survival.  In fact, by 1955 Brights had produced the first commercial vinifera wine in the East:  a Pinot “Champagne”.  The following year Brights brought out a Pinot Chardonnay table wine (as the variety was then called).

Catell goes on to write about the arrival of the first hybrids in the Finger Lakes, as a result of the same tasting that had so impressed de Chaunac.  The first hybrid planted in the Finger Lakes was Seibel 1000 (Rossette), going back to 30s (though apparently no attempt was made to make commercial wine from it).  In 1946 Charles Fournier of Gold Seal ordered a minimum of 1,000 vines of both Baco Noir and Rossette.  Two years later Wagner tasted the results of wine made from these varieties and was astonished by the progress.  Eventually, other Finger Lakes producers began planting them–Widmer’s Wine Cellars, even, reluctantly at first, Taylor Wine Company, which until then was heavily invested in American varieties like Catawba.  Indeed, it was Greyton Taylor who wrote in 1954 that “. . . we happen to believe that since wine comes from grapes, wine should taste as though it did.”

In the next chapter Cattell tells the well-known story of Dr. Konstantin Frank and his crusade to plant vinifera grapes in the Finger Lakes.  He also recounts the controversial oenologist’s “Pro-Vinifera Crusade,” the “toxic scare” that was spread in the 60s claiming that wine made from hybrids was toxic, and the “vinifera-hybrid controversy.”

So Cattell provides not only a clear and well-organized tale of the wine industry in the East, but leavens it well with interesting, even fascinating, anecdote.  At the same time, it can make for very dry reading.  For example, in Chapter Four (Vineyards and Wineries Before Farm Winery Legislation), in writing about French Hybrids in Ohio, he writes:

Ohio is a good example of how a state got started on a wine grape program based on the French hybrids.  The first French hybrids to arrive in Ohio were cuttings of Seibel 1000 (Rosette) obtained by Mantey Vineyards in Sandusky and sent to Foster Nursery in Fredonia, New York, to be grafted on Couderc 3309 rootstock.  In 1954, Meier’s Wine Cellars in Silverton, ten miles from Cincinatti, planted Baco No. 1 (Baco Noir), Seibel 5898 (Rougeon), Seibel 1096, and Seibel 4643 on North Bass Island (Isle of St. George) in Lake Erie.

But then, it must be realized that this is most emphatically a History and Desk Reference.  The book is amply annotated and has an extensive bibliography.  It is not only suitable as a reference but is, thanks to its wealth of anecdote, readable and enjoyable as well.  How can one not be delighted by an anecdote like this one, on p. 125, “Grapevines from Canada were exempt from quarantine, and some of the earliest plantings of the French hybrids in the Finger Lakes took place in the 1950s when truckloads of cuttings crossed the border after pruning was completed in Canadian vineyards.”  Who would have guessed the source of French hybrids in the Finger Lakes?

Here and there are some minor errors.  For example, on p. 117, on the history of the beginning of appellations of origin, he cites 1905 in France as the onset of AOCs, but overlooks the earlier history of designated regions in the Port region of Portugal in the Eighteenth Century.  Another minor mistake:  “Sugar and water were added to the pomace [should be must] to make the wine potable.”  But I quibble.  After all, as a proper work of reference Cattell has this to offer:  The first petition for an American Viticultural Area designation was for Augusta in Missouri, applied for on Oct. 12, 1978 and granted June 20, 1980 as AVA #1; AVA #2 was Napa Valley, granted on Jan 28, 1981.  He goes on to explain that the with the establishment of the Augusta Wine Board in 1979, standards were to be based on those in use in Europe—in fact, four of the five designated board members were also members of the Commanderie de Bordeaux.

Again, in writing about the Canadian wine industry, he refers to the Horticultural Experiment Station, in Vineland.  There, he tells us, Ralph F. Crowther developed the Crowther-Truscott submerged-culture flor sherry-making method for making Spanish fino-type sherry, “a process that completely changed sherry-making in both Canada and the U.S.”  Also, Tibor Fuleki created the Vineland Flavour Index for screening seedlings for the labrusca flavor by measuring methyl anthranilate and volatile esters.  “Seedlings with an index over 14 were likely to have a discernible labrusca flavor component; vinifera and French hybrids averaged an index under 8. Conversely, Concord averaged 416.”

With respect to marketing, Cattell discusses how cooperative marketing began with the establishment of the first wine trails.  The very first was created informally in Pennsylvania in April 1979.  The first formal wine trail was later established in New York State in 1983 with the Cayuga Wine Trail.  With funding from the New York Wine & Grape Foundation, the Keuka Lake Wine Trail was created on June 18, 1986, so that by 1996 there were six wine trails in New York State.  Benefits of the wine trails included extending the tourist season from Columbus Day to end of the year, the establishment of new restaurants and B&Bs, and the rise of all manner of special events.

Another interesting factoid:  “The success of the VQA in Canada was a factor in the decision to set up the New Jersey Quality Wine Alliance (QWA).”  The program was inaugurated in 2000 in conjunction with the NJ Commercial Wine Competition.

Towards the conclusion of the book Cattell identifies three major trends that have helped the eastern wine trade get to where it is today:  “First is increasing wine quality; next is the improved business-oriented perspective of the winery owners, such as marketing initiatives; third, the increased ability of the producers to cooperate on legislative matters at both the state and federal levels.”

And then there are the Appendices, loaded with all manner of significant information and data.  Appendix A (The Origins of Eastern Wine Grapes), for example, has three pages of summarizing text and eight tables:

Table A.1.  Grape species most important for eastern North American wine production

Table A.2.  Vitis vinifera:  lists the 36 vinifera varieties most planted in Eastern N.A.

Table A.3.  American varieties: lists 23 varieties with their names, parentage, and source; e.g., Norton, Seedling (labrusca, aestivalis, vinifera), Introduced 1830

Table A.4.  French hybrid varieties: lists these varieties by name, with original name or number, and parentage; e.g., Baco Noir, Baco 24-23; later Baco #1, Folle Blanche ₓ riparia

Table A.5.  North American breeding programs: lists varieties by variety, number, cross, date introduced, and date crossed.   The list of varieties are arranged according to the program that developed them; e.g., NY State Agricultural Experiment Station breeding program.

Table A.6.  Independent breeding programs; e.g., Elmer Swensen and his varieties.

Table A.7.  Foreign breeding program:  Germany [focused on cold-climate varieties]

Table A.8.  Vitis amarensis varieties

Appendix B contains a quite interesting exploration, in brief, of how numbered hybrids like Seibel 5279—developed by Albert Seibel in France, was given the commercial name “l’Aurore”–because it was very early-ripening.  There are two tables.

Appendix E (Early Wine History, State by State), contains brief histories of the wine industry in each of the states covered in this book (in alphabetical order):

Alabama, Arkansas (one page), Connecticut (one page), Delaware (one short paragraph), Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana (one page), Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts (one page), Michigan, Missouri (one page), Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey (one page), New York (over three pages:  The Finger Lakes, Hudson River Valley, Lake Erie, and Philip Wagner, Boordy, and Seneca Foods; curiously, with no section devoted to Long Island or a word about the Niagara Escarpment), North Carolina, Ohio (almost two pages), Pennsylvania (nearly two pages), Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia (a page and a half), West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

It ends at Appendix G, lists, by state, the American Viticultural Areas in the East.

Thirty-seven years of experience studying and writing about the wine trade in the East were necessary to write a book of this scope and completeness.  It could not have otherwise been written.

Wines of Eastern North America cover

Wines of Eastern North America:  From Prohibition to the Present, A History and Desk Reference

by Hudson Cattell.  Ithaca:  Cornell U. Press, 2014.

235 pages of text with b/w illustrations, 7 maps; 7 appendices (A-G) taking up 75 pages, including tables; and 36 pages of extensive endnotes.

Viniculture in LI, Part II: background.

In exploring vinicultural practices in Long Island, I intend to particularly examine the practice of sustainable farming, which includes organic and Biodynamic® agriculture.  My original, first posting on 15 June 2010, Can 100% Organic Grapes be Grown in Long Island?, provoked some interesting and even useful responses.  I have since renamed it The Challenge of Growing Certified Organic Grapes in Long Island,  given the developments at Shinn Estate and The Farrm that have taken place since that 2010 posting.  The series now continues with this posting (now updated to April 2015 to include new developments and information, particularly with the Long Island Sustainable Winegrowing [LISW] program established in 2012). 

This Part II post serves as an introduction to the Part III articles devoted to the individual vineyards and wineries of Long Island.

NY Wine Regions Map 1To put things in perspective, one should bear in mind that New York State is the 3rd-largest producer of grapes by volume in the United States, after California and Washington.  Admittedly, most NY vineyards grow table grapes, but as of 2014 there were, according to the NY Wine & Grape Foundation (NYWGF), 373 wineries in the State, of which of which one in six are in Long Island.  Of all the wine regions of the State, Long Island is the one that is most committed to growing Vitis vinifera varieties, with very little planting of French-American hybrid vines and no Native American grapes at all.

I want to point out some factors that I believe appertain to most of the vineyards that I’ll be writing about—which is to say, all of the ones in Long Island, of which there are sixty-six bonded wineries, all but a handful of which are on the North Fork, as well as seven vineyards that sell their fruit to others.  They comprise, by my own calculation, about 2,565 acres of planted vines (the NYGWF calculates 2,041 acres.)

Geology & Soils

Geologically, Long Island is extensively formed by two glacial moraine spines, with a large, sandy outwash plain extending south to the Atlantic Ocean.  These moraines consist largely of gravel and loose rock that would become part of the island’s soils during the two most recent extensions of Wisconsin glaciation during the Ice Age some 21,000 years ago (19,000 BCE).  The northern, or Harbor Hill, moraine, directly runs along the North Shore of Long Island at points.  The more southerly moraine, called the Ronkonkoma moraine, forms the “backbone” of Long Island; it runs primarily through the very center of Long Island.  The land to the south of the Ronkonkoma, running to the South Shore, is the outwash plain of the last glacier. When the glaciers melted and receded northward around 11,000 BCE, their moraines and outwash produced the differences between the North Shore and the South Shore soils and beaches.

A General Soil Map (below), devised by the USDA Soil Conservation Service and the Cornell University Agricultural Experiment Station in 1972, shows the different kinds of soils that dominate the East End of Suffolk County, the part of Long Island that is home to most of the vineyards there.

East End, General Soil Map

The soil associations (or types) for Suffolk County as listed in the General Soil Map (and relevant to viniculture) are as follows:

  1. “Carver-Plymouth-Riverhead association [N. shore of the North Fork, extending across the Fork at Mattituck and then running East along the S. shore of Great Peconic Bay to Southold]:  Deep, rolling, excessively drained and well-drained, coarse-textured and moderately coarse-textured soils on moraines
  2. “Haven-Riverhead association [running from Brookhaven along the southern edge of 1 (above).  With an interruption at Mattituck, then extending as far as Orient Point; this is the dominant soil of the North Fork]:  Deep, nearly level to gently sloping, well-drained, medium-textured and moderately coarse-textured soils on outwash plains
  3. “Plymouth-Carver association [runs across the middle of the West-East axis of the county, encompassing Riverhead just south of 2.  It then extends into the Hamptons or South Fork as far as East Hampton but at no point touches the south shore.]  rolling and hilly:  Deep, excessively-drained, coarse-textured soils on moraines [the Ronkonkoma Moraine].
  4. “Bridgehampton-Haven association [actually runs immediately adjacent to, and south of, 3.]: Deep, nearly level to gently sloping, well-drained to moderately well-drained, medium-textured soils on outwash plains”

“Textures refer to surface layer in major soils of each association.”  [A caveat regarding the use of the map says,] “The map is . . . meant for general planning rather than a basis for decisions on the use of specific tracts.”

(There are ten soil types shown on the map, but we list only the four that form part of the terroir of the vineyards of the East End.)

With respect to the soil types in the North Fork and Hamptons AVAs, Louisa Thomas Hargrave wrote an article, “The Dirt Below Our Feet,” in the Spring 2011 issue of Edible East End, in which she made some important observations:

Every discussion of a wine region’s quality begins with the soil.  Going back to ancient Roman times, around ad 50, Lucius Columella advised, in his treatise on viticulture, De Re Rustica (“On Agriculture”), “Before you plant a piece of ground with vines, you should examine what sort of flavor it has; for it will give the wine a similar taste. The flavor can be ascertained…if you soak the earth in water and taste the water when the earth has [g]one to the bottom.  Sandy soil under which there is sweet moisture is the most suitable for vines…any soil which is split during the summer is useless for vines and trees.”

The “useless” soil that splits is clay, a colloidal suspension of particles similar to Jell-O. Clay retains too much moisture when it rains, making the tender roots of wine grapevines rot; it withholds nutrients from the vine when the weather is dry.

There is little clay on the East End of Long Island, except in specific and easily identified veins. We have remarkably uniform sandy soils here that vary in available topsoil (loamy organic matter), but all contain the same fundamental yet complex mixture of minerals.  These soils are ranked by the U.S. Soils Conservation Service as “1-1,” the most auspicious rating for agriculture. Any single handful of Long Island soil will show the reflective glint of mica; the dull gray of granite; the mellow pink, salmon and white of quartz; the red and ochre of sandstone; and black bits of volcanic matter. To describe them simply as “sandy loam” fails to acknowledge the profound effect that having this mixture of minerals must have on the vibrancy and dynamic quality of Long Island’s wines.

Richard Olsen-Harbich, the author of the two AVA applications for the Hamptons and the North Fork, published a two-part series on the soils of Long Island for Bedell Cellars, where he is winemaker:  the first, The Soil of Long Island. Part 1 – Ice Age: The Meltdown, published on April 12, 2011, and the second, more recent piece, The Soil of Long Island. Part 2 – There’s No Place Like Loam, published Sept. 6, 2013, which are useful and lucid explanations of how the glaciers of the Ice Age left Long Island with the soils that grow the vines today.

It should also be pointed out that Long Island soil, regardless of its composition, tends to have a rather low pH, which is to say too acidic for Vitis vinifera vines to grow well as it weakens the vines’ ability to assimilate nutrients from the soil.  The vines need the addition of lime to balance the pH and is something that nearly every vineyard must do to get itself established for vinifera.  It can take years—Paumanok Vineyards was adding lime to its vineyards every year for twenty years before it was able to relax the practice.  It nevertheless has to be done again every few years when the pH gets too low again, as it appears that the added lime may get leached out of the soil over time.

Climate

Overall, Long Island displays a cool maritime climate.  The brutal summer heat seen in the Iberian Peninsula, which is at the same latitude, is tempered in the Hamptons AVA by the Labrador Current which moves up the eastern Atlantic Ocean.  Summer temperatures are also moderated by Little Peconic Bay to its north.  The North Fork enjoys the moderating influences of Long Island Sound.  These same bodies of water help to temper the effects of the Canadian air masses that move in during the winter.  The influence of these waters helps prevent late spring frosts which can kill young grape buds.  The cumulative effect is a lengthening of the growing season to approximately 210-220 days.  Wine-grape varieties can thrive here, as they can grow better and ripen further than just about anywhere in the U.S. outside of California.  The North Fork is such a narrow band of farmland, situated between the bay and the sound that virtually all of the vineyards or near or on the water.  According to the Appellation American Website:

Despite being next door to each other, there are notable differences between the South Fork and the warmer North Fork. The South Fork is more exposed to onshore Atlantic breezes, delaying bud-break by as much as three weeks. Even after bud-break, the area is frequently foggy, keeping early season temperatures and sunshine hours lower than on the North Fork. By the end of the growing season, the seemingly subtle weather differences between the Forks add up to quite different overall climates. The Hamptons are generally very cold to moderately cool, while the North Fork is moderately cool to relatively warm. The damper silt and loam soils of The Hamptons, along with climactic differences, create a unique style, with wines from The Hamptons generally being more restrained and less fruit-forward than wines from the North Fork.

Wineries & Vineyards

By my own count, as of March 2015, there are a total of 76 wine production entities in Long Island, of which:

  • 21 are wineries with vineyards, though they may also buy fruit from others
  • 3 are wineries without vineyards that buy their fruit from growers
  • 11 are wine producers that have neither a winery nor a vineyard, but outsource their production, having their wine made to their specifications from purchased grapes
  • 33 are vineyards without a winery, but use an outside facility to make wine to their specifications  from their grapes
  • 1 is a crush facility that makes wine from fruit, provided by others, to the providers’ specifications
  • 7 are vineyards that sell their fruit to wine producers
  • In all, there are 58 tasting rooms in Long Island

Vinicultural Practices

Regardless of the different terroirs of either Fork, the first point that I’d like to make is that, based on my visits, so far–to Wölffer Estate and Channing Daughters in the Hamptons AVA, and to Bedell Cellars, Castello Borghese, Diliberty, Gramercy, Jamesport, Lieb, Lenz, Macari, Martha Clara, McCalls, Mudd Vineyard, The Old Field Vineyards, Osprey’s Dominion, Palmer, Paumanok, Peconic Bay, Raphael, Kontakosta Winery, Sherwood House, and Shinn Estate in the North Fork AVA–the standards of vineyard management are of a very high order.  The neatness of the rows of vines, their careful pruning and training (most, if not all, are using Double Cordon trained on two wires with Vertical Shoot Positioning, or VSP, and cane pruning), the use of cover crops between rows, and much else besides, attest to the high standards and sustainable practices to which the vineyard managers aspire. 

A handful of vineyards are endeavoring to farm organically and/or Biodynamically, though only a single vineyard, Shinn Estate, is actually working to obtain actual certification for both.  Then there is The Farrm, in Calverton, run by fruit and vegetable grower Rex Farr, who obtained full organic certification in 1990 and planted vinifera vines in 2005–thus harvesting the first certified-organic grapes on LI in 2012.  It is expected that the first wine to be made from its fruit will be produced in 2013 by a newly-established winery on the North Fork.  None of this is to say that a vineyard that does not seek to grow organic or Biodynamic grapes is the lesser for it, though all should seek to farm sustainably.  Excellent, even great wines have been and shall continue to be produced whether farmed organically or not.  Indeed, as I pointed out at the beginning of my first post, there is no proven correlation of quality of a wine because it is made with organic or Biodynamic grapes.  (A case in point is the famous and incredibly expensive wine of the Domaine de la Romanée Conti, in Burgundy.  It has been long acknowledged as the source of some of the greatest red and white wines of all of France, and this was the case before it was converted to Biodynamic farming, and continues to be the case today.)  Part of what makes it so difficult to quantify the quality of a wine made by either method is that fact that there is vintage variation every year, due primarily to factors of weather and climate.  Thus, there is no objective way of being sure that viticultural practice was the dominant reason for the quality of a particular vintage, rather than the weather of a particular season.  Nevertheless, those who practice organic/Biodynamic viniculture do aver that it is reflected in the wine and there are consumers who do think that they can detect the difference.

By now virtually all of the vineyards on the two forks are attempting some form of sustainable farming, though the kind of sustainable work can vary considerably across the gamut of over sixty vineyards.   Along these lines, an important development took place when a new accreditation authority was created in May 2012:  Long Island Sustainable Winegrowing, Inc., with the intent of setting out the guidelines for sustainable viticultural practices for all wineries in the region.  Membership is voluntary, but already, as of April 2015, there are sixteen vineyards that have joined, with thirteen already certified and three in transition.  Others are giving membership serious consideration.  A post devoted to the LI Sustainable Winegrowing authority was published on this blog in April 2012 (since updated as of 21 June 2013).

Another important factor to keep in mind is the role of clone selection for the vineyards.  A very useful article about the significance of clones was posted by Richard Olsen-Harbich of Bedell Cellars on March 19, 2013:  Revenge of the Clones.  The piece is well worth reading in its entirety, but there are two salient paragraphs that are worth quoting:

Over the past 10 years, grapevine clones have shown themselves to be of increasing importance in our vineyards. Simply put, clones are a genetic variant of a particular variety. The Chardonnay grown on Long Island decades ago is not the same vine we have today. Plantings since that time – especially in the past 10-15 years, have benefited from a wider selection of available plant material. Back in 1990, if you wanted to plant Chardonnay, you had one choice. Today there are more than 70 registered clones of this noble white grape being grown throughout the world and they all have their particular nuances and characteristics. Many of these clones are already in existence in Long Island vineyards – from the tropical and aromatic Musqué to the classic and alluring Dijon clones from Burgundy. Although these are all Chardonnays, each exhibits their own distinctive character.

This fact is also true of grapes like Merlot and Cabernet Franc, where profound differences in wine quality can be seen between clones grown in the same vineyard, on the same soils. Over 50 clones of Merlot have been identified in Bordeaux. Pomerol alone has over 35 clones of Cabernet Franc. Newer French clones, long kept overseas as tightly held trade secrets, are finding their way into the United States. In most cases these new clones are better suited to our maritime climate. Often these clones will ripen earlier than the older selections we used to have. Some are more resistant to disease. The ultimate result is higher quality wines. I’ve seen clones so different from each other that you would think the wines were made from another variety entirely.

In other words, when the first vinifera vines were planted in the 70s and 80s most of the clones came from California.  Many of these clones had been developed at the University of California at Davis (UCD) but of course were created with California vineyards in mind.  This meant that the clones were less suitable for the very different, maritime climate of Long Island.  For example, the Sauvignon Blanc clone 1 (the ‘Wente clone’) was very vigorous and produced large clusters but it was also very susceptible to rot in LI.  Only in the 90s were new clones planted to replace clone 1, and all of these came not from California but France (primarily from Bordeaux, in the case of the Sauvignon Blanc.)  This process was true for several other varieties.  In other words, the new clones are part of what makes Long Island the most ‘European’ of the wine-growing regions of the United States.

As a matter of fact, the Long Island Wine Region, which includes both the North Fork and the Hamptons AVAs, in 2010 became signatory to the Declaration to Protect Wine Place and Origin that was first enacted in 2005 in Napa (it is also known as the Napa Declaration on Place).  The original signers included not only the Napa AVA but also Washington and Oregon State AVAs, and Champagne, Jerez/Sherry, and Oporto/Port in the EU, among others. (The point of this, of course, is to control the use of place names and prevent the misuse of the name ‘Champagne’ for example, on any sparkling wine that is not from there.  Chablis, Port, and Burgundy were also place names that were widely abused around the world.)

There is no intention whatsoever in my series to judge a vineyard because it does or does not grow or intend to grow organically or Biodynamically.  (Indeed, wineries that are technically organic can still choose not to be certified.  Among the many reasons for this, for example, are that a winery may not want the added costs and the bureaucracy entailed in registering, or a winery may disagree with the government standards.  Whatever the case, such wineries are not allowed to use the term organic on their labels.)

In any event, the point of this series is to understand the reasons for choosing a particular approach to grape production over another.  We want to understand why Long Island vineyards do what they do before we go on to explore their methods of vinification, for between what is done in the vineyard and what happens in the winery is what determines the quality of the wine that is produced.  The wines from Long Island have long been improving since those first, tentative years going back to 1973 (when the Hargraves planted the first vinifera vines in LI) and in recent years are receiving their due recognition in the form of positive reviews, awards, and high scores for individual bottlings.

Important Terms Defined

  • AVA or American Viticultural Area: An area defined by a unique geology and climate that is distinctive from other vine-growing areas and hence that produces wines of a distinctive overall character.  There are none of the restrictions as to varieties planted, vine density, allowable harvest per acre, or any of the other limitations that exist in European appellations, such as the French Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC).  Long Island has three AVAs, all applied for to the TTB (Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau) which administers the program, in the mid-1980s: The Hamptons (South Fork), the North Fork AVA, and the Long Island AVA.
  • Biodynamic®, or Demeter USA, certification; also, Demeter USA, FAQ, Biodynamic wine (PDF file).  Also, see an excellent discussion in a 5-part series beginning with New York Cork Report, Biodynamics, Part I, by Tom Mansell, along with the ensuing debate in the comments that follow each of the postings.  There is also a controversial series against Biodynamics by Stuart Smith, a winemaker in California, called Biodynamics is a Hoax, a polemic that is worth reading, along with the comments in response.
  • Bordeaux Mix:  A widely-used type of fungicide that mixes copper sulfate and lime, first used in Bordeaux in the 1880s; see Univ. of Calif., Davis, Pesticide notes
  • Compost Tea:  A type of natural compost mixed with water for distribution in liquid form (it may be seen as agricultural homeopathy); see National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service, Compost Tea Notes
  • Copper Sulfate:  A widely-used industrial pesticide, allowed in both organic and Biodynamic farming within specified limits: see  Cornell Extension Toxicology Network (ExToxNet), Pesticide Information Profile, copper sulfate
  • Cover crops: Vegetation that is either deliberately planted between vineyard rows (e.g., clover, to replenish nitrogen in the soil) or weeds that are naturally allowed to grow between and into rows (the Biodynamic approach); see UC Davis, Cover Crop Selection and Management for Vineyards
  • Integrated Pest Management (IPM):  A major component of sustainable agriculture, it is labor-intensive but effectively reduces the need for certain kinds of pesticides; pheronome ties are a typical method of disrupting the reproduction cycle of some insect; see EPA, Factsheet on IPM
  • Macroclimate:  The climate of a large area or region, such as that of all of Long Island, or perhaps just the East End of LI.
  • Mesoclimate:  The distinct climate of a smaller area, such as that of a single vineyard or a parcel thereof.
  • Microclimate:  The climate of a very small area; it could be as small as a single vine or a distinctive climate of a tiny part of a vineyard, such as a depression in a row of vines.  (NOTE:  These terms are often used interchangeably, but most often microclimate may be used to refer to the mesoclimate of a vineyard.)
  • Organic Certification:  USDA, National Organic Program, Organic Certification
  • Regalia:  A biologically-based pesticide; see Marrone Bio-Innovations, Products, Regalia
  • Serenade: A biologically-based pesticide; see PAN Pesticide Database, Products–Serenade
  • Stylet oil:  defined in the industry as a Technical Grade White Mineral Oil, it is used as a biodegradable fungicide and insecticide in integrated pest management programs.  It also serves as as a substitute for sulfur, reducing or eliminating the need for that application, according to Steve Mudd, a LI vineyard owner and consultant.
  • Sustainable agriculture:  according to Mary V. Gold, on the USDA Website, “Some terms defy definition. ‘Sustainable agriculture’ has become one of them. In such a quickly changing world, can anything be sustainable? What do we want to sustain? How can we implement such a nebulous goal? . . . If nothing else, the term ‘sustainable agriculture’ has provided talking points, a sense of direction, and an urgency, that has sparked much excitement and innovative thinking in the agricultural world.”  Follow this interesting, full explanation of the term at USDA, Sustainable Agriculture definition.  Another excellent source for information about sustainable agriculture is to be found on the NY State VineBalance Program website, which is dedicated to sustainable practices in NY State vineyards, and as mentioned above, the Long Island Sustainable Winegrowing certification program, with sixteen vineyards already committed to its regulations and guidelines.
  • Variety vs. Varietal:  not to be pedantic (though I can be), Variety is the term applied to a particular kind of vine and its grape; e.g., Cabernet Franc or Riesling; Varietal is the wine made from a variety or a blend of different varieties.  The terms are often used interchangeably but shouldn’t be.
  • Vertical Shoot Positioning:  is a training system used with single or double Guyot, cane-pruned training, or with a Cordon, spur-pruned system.  VSP is very common in cool and/or humid climate regions with low to moderate vigorous growth, as it encourages better air flow through the vine.  This is accomplished by making all the shoots grow vertically, with no vegetative vine growth allowed below the cordon/cane.  The increase in air flow helps prevent problems associated with disease and also allows the fruit to dry out more quickly after it rains.

      Both cluster thinning and harvesting are generally made easier using VSP, given that there is better access to the fruit.  The objective is to train the shoots so as to create a narrow layer that provides good sunlight exposure and air flow in the fruiting zone of the canopy.  Each shoot is thus trained to grow vertically by attaching it to movable catch wires.  The shoot’s length can easily be controlled by pruning any growth above the top catch wire.  The fruiting zone is generally kept at waist height, which makes it more convenient for the vineyard workers, given that the vineyard rows are worked throughout the season.)

For a full explanation of VSP, see Cornell Univ. Agriculture Extension, Training, and Trellising Vinifera Vines.

Viticulture vs. Viniculture:  again my pedantic side will out–Viticulture is the general term for the growing of any kind of grape vine, whether intended for the table or for wine; Viniculture refers to the raising of wine grapes in particular.

_________________________

The vineyards that I intend to write about are listed below in alphabetical order (those wineries that have no vineyard but purchase their grapes from others will not be part of the vinicultural survey– these are shown in gray; the ones that have already had articles posted on this blog are shown in purple; those that have been ‘indirectly interviewed’ are shown in light purple.  If the vineyard has been certified by the Long Island Sustainable Winegrowing Group (LISW), that is indicated:

  • Ackerly Ponds, North Fork AVA (85 acres) is now part of Sannino’s Bella Vita Vineyards (which see)
  • Anthony Nappa (no vineyard) posted 6/14
  • Baiting Hollow Farm Vineyard, North Fork AVA (11 acres)
  • Bedell Cellars, North Fork AVA (78 acres, LISW sustainable-certified); Rich Olsen-Harbich interviewed on May 12, 2011; posted June 2, 2011
  • Bouké Wines (no vineyard)
  • Castello di Borghese Vineyard & Winery [formerly Hargrave Vineyard], North Fork AVA (85 acres); Giovanni & Allegra Borghese interviewed on Nov. 18, 2014 and Mar. 27, 2015, to be posted
  • Channing Daughters Winery, Hamptons AVA (25 acres, LISW sustainable-certified); Larry Perrine interviewed on April 30 & May 21, 2012; posted January 22, 2013
  • Clovis Point, North Fork AVA (20 acres); see Bill Ackerman interview
  • Coffee Pot Cellars (no vineyard)
  • Corey Creek Vineyards, North Fork AVA (30 acres, LISW sustainable-certified), owned by Bedell Cellars; posted June 2, 2011
  • Corwith Vineyards, Hamptons AVA (3 acres; LISW sustainable-certified); Dave Corwith interviewed May 20, 2014 and Nov. 16, 2015; posted Oct. 15, 2014, updated Nov. 19, 2015.
  • Croteaux Vineyards, North Fork AVA (10.5 acres); see Steve Mudd interview
  • Deseo de Michael, North Fork AVA (.3 acres)
  • Diliberto Winery, North Fork AVA (4 acres); Sal Diliberto interviewed Mar. 28, 2015, to be posted
  • Duck Walk Vineyards, Hamptons AVA, and Duck Walk Vineyards North, North Fork AVA (130 acres; LISW candidate); Ed Lovaas, winemaker, on Nov. 16, 2015.  to be posted.
  • Gramercy Vineyards, North Fork AVA (3.5 acres); Carol Sullivan, owner, interviewed October 2, 2012; posted; as of June 2015 the vineyard is leased out; no longer making wine
  • The Grapes of Roth (no vineyard)
  • Harbes Family Farm & Vineyard, North Fork AVA (5 acres, LISW sustainable-certified)
  • Harmony Vineyards, LI AVA (7 acres); see Steve Mudd interview
  • Influence Wines (no vineyard); Erik Bilka interviewed 6/15; to be posted
  • Jamesport Vineyards, North Fork AVA (60 acres); Ron Goerler, Jr. interviewed on April 14, 2014; posted Sept. 9, 2014.
  • Jason’s Vineyard, North Fork AVA (20 acres)
  • Kings Mile, North Fork AVA (leased vineyard); Rob Hansult interviewed on Sept. 26, 2013; posted same day
  • Kontokosta Winery (23 acres, LISW sustainable-in transition); Michael K. interviewed Nov. 18, 2014, Gilles Martin interviewed Mar. 28, 2015; to be posted
  • Laurel Lake Vineyards, North Fork AVA (21 acres); Juan Sepúlveda interviewed Sep. 26, 2015
  • Lenz Winery, North Fork AVA (65 acres); Sam McCullough interviewed April 20 & 27, 2011; posted May 16, 2011; Eric Fry interviewed Mar. 27, 2015, to be added to original Lenz post
  • Leo Family Wines; John Leo interviewed for PWG on October 3, 2012; posted February 11, 2013
  • Lieb Family Cellars, North Fork AVA (50 acres, LISW sustainable-in transition); Logan Kingston, Sarah Kane, & Jildo Vázquez interviewed June 6, 2013; posted October 4, 2013
  • Loughlin Vineyards, Long Island AVA (6 acres)
  • Macari Vineyards & Winery, North Fork AVA (200 acres); Joe Macari, Jr. interviewed July 9, 2009 & June 17 2010; posted June 30, 2010
  • Martha Clara Vineyards, North Fork AVA  (101 acres, LISW sustainable-certified); Jim Thompson & Juan Micieli-Diaz interviewed Feb. 3 & March 27, 2012; posted May 3, 2012
  • Mattebella Vineyards, North Fork AVA (22 acres, LISW sustainable-in transition)
  • McCall Vineyards, North Fork AVA (22 acres); see Steve Mudd interview
  • Mudd Vineyards, North Fork AVA (50 acres, LISW sustainable-certified); Steve Mudd interviewed; posted September 18, 2012
  • The Old Field Vineyards, North Fork AVA (12 acres); Ros & Christian Baiz & Perry Weiss interviewed on May 12, 2011; posted on June 7, 2011
  • Onabay Vineyard, North Fork AVA (180 acres total, not all with vines): see Bill Ackerman interview
  • One Woman Vineyards, North Fork AVA (12 acres, LISW sustainable-certified)
  • Osprey’s Dominion Vineyards, North Fork AVA (90 acres); Adam Suprenant interviewed April 23 & May 8, 2012; posted February 3, 2013
  • Palmer Vineyards, North Fork AVA (100 acres, LISW sustainable-certified); Miguel Martín interviewed October 12 & 22, 2010; posted November 13, 2010
  • Paumanok Vineyards, North Fork AVA (72 acres planted, LISW sustanble-certified); Kareem Massoud interviewed May 3, 2011; posted May 23, 2011
  • Peconic Bay Winery, North Fork AVA (58 acres); Jim Silver & Charles Hargrave interviewed; posted May 9, 2011;  winery is now closed but see interviews with Steve Mudd & Bill Ackerman, since Peconic Bay’s vineyards have been turned over to Lieb Cellars as of January 2013
  • Pellegrini Vineyards, North Fork AVA (72 acres); see Steve Mudd interview
  • Pindar Vineyards, North Fork AVA (500 acres; LISW candidate); Pindar Damianos interviewed Sept. 26, Ed Lovaas on Nov. 16, 2015.  to be posted.
  • Pugliese Vineyards, North Fork AVA (45 acres); Pat Pugliese interviewed Jan. 19, 2015
  • Raphael, North Fork AVA (55 acres, LISW sustainable-certified); Leslie Howard & Steve Mudd interviewed May 21 & June 13; posted September 17, 2012; Anthony Nappa interviewed
  • Roanoke Vineyards, North Fork AVA (10 acres, LISW sustainable-certified); interviewed Richard Pisacano, owner; posted July 10, 2013
  • Sannino’s Bella Vita Vineyard (5.25 acres, LISW sustainable-certified); interviewed Jan. 30, 2015; to be posted
  • Sherwood House Vineyards, North Fork AVA (36 acres); interviewed Bill Ackerman on September 26, 2012; posted
  • Shinn Estate Vineyard, North Fork AVA (20 acres, LISW sustainable-certified); Barbara Shinn & David Paige interviewed June 18, 2010; posted July 12, 2010
  • Southold Farm+Cellar, North Fork AVA (9 acres; as of Sept. 2014 just entering production); Regan Meador interviewed Jan. 30 & Nov. 16, 2015; to be posted
  • Sparkling Pointe (29 acres, LISW sustainable-certified)
  • Suhru Wines (no vineyard); Russell Hearn, owner, interviewed for PWG on October 3, 2012
  • Surrey Lane Vineyards, North Fork AVA (25 acres, LISW sustainable-in transition); see Steve Mudd interview
  • T’Jara Vineyard, North Fork AVA (14 acres); Russell Hearn , owner, interviewed for PWG
  • Vineyard 48, North Fork AVA (28 acres planted)
  • Waters Crest Winery (no vineyard); interviewed Nov. 17, 2014, to be posted
  • Whisper Vineyards, Long Island AVA (17 acres); interviewed Steve Gallagher on Mar. 27, 2015, to be posted.
  • Wölffer Estate, Hamptons AVA (174 acres, LISW sustainable-certified); interviewed Roman Roth & Rich Pisacano on April 30, 2012 & June 20, 2013, updated and posted on July 10, 2013

Three very useful links that serve as portals to most of these vineyards are 1) Long Island Wine Country which lists only those wineries and vineyards that are members of the LI Wine Council; 2) Uncork New York! (aka the New York Wine and Grape Foundation) which provides links to all wineries and wine vineyards in New York State.  Also indispensable for New York State wines is the New York Cork Report by Lenn Thompson, with its many interviews, coverage of wine tastings, reviews, and more.

A framable 24 by 36-inch map of the wineries and vineyards of the East End of Long Island, by Steve De Long, can be purchased on Amazon:

LI Wine Map

 

The Challenge of Growing Certified Organic Grapes in Long Island.

Virtually every wine grape vineyardist in Long Island wants to work his fields as organically as possible, though very few ever actually intend to become fully organic or certified organic.  Most of them farm sustainably, and about twenty vineyards are practicing Certified Sustainable Winegrowers.  Shinn Estate in September 2010, succeeded when it harvested its first entirely organic grapes, 2.6 acres of Sauvignon Blanc, but it has been a struggle to maintain organic practices from season to seaason, given the disease pressures on Long Island.  a year later the first certified-organic grapes were harvested by a little-known farm with a vineyard in Calverton.  The Farrm, owned by Rex Farr, has been organically-certified since 1990, growing various vegetable crops such as heirloom tomatoes, leeks, and lettuce.  Its first vinifera grapes were planted in 2005 though its first successful grape harvest took place in October of 2011.  On August 28, 2013, Southold Farm announced on its Website that it plans to produce the first Long Island wine made from certified organic grapes purchased from The Farrm’s 2013 harvest.[1]

The challenge has been met, but as Ron Goerler, Jr., former president of the Long Island Wine Council has said, “it’s extremely challenging” and other farmers have tried and failed at it.  Nevertheless, several East End gardeners and farmers of other crops have been using organic and biodynamic methods with some success for years now.  An excellent article, “Farming to a Different Beat” by Geraldine Pluenneke, published in April 2011, [2] discusses in a very fair-minded way the issues of biodynamic farming and viniculture in Long Island.  It points out the success that some of the practitioners have had, such as Amy Pink, a backyard vegetable gardener, or K.K. Haspel, who grows “legendary tomato seedlings,”  or Mary Wolz, a beekeeper in Southold who maintains a hundred hives on both forks of the island.

Kareem Massoud, of Paumanok Vineyards, is cited in Pluenneke’s article as saying that “Whatever viticultural methodology allows me to achieve the healthiest, ripest grapes possible is the course that I shall pursue, regardless of whether that method is known as conventional, IPM, sustainable, practicing organic, organic, biodynamic or any other name.”  In a separate interview that I had with Louisa Hargrave a years ago, the doyen of Long Island wine vineyards made clear that if she had to do it all over again, she’d consider using Biodynamic® practices.

There is a series of posts in this blog that deals with the individual vineyards and takes off from this piece (now updated to April 2014).  So far, twenty of the vineyards of the East End have been written about in Wine, Seriously.

Both the sustainable and organic/Biodynamic®  movements in winegrowing are among the most important developments in the wine world in recent years.  Whether or not it results in superior wines is difficult to say with any certainty, but that is a separate argument that will not be pursued here.  Rather, the focus is on the challenge not only to produce organic wine in Long Island, which represents a special challenge, but also to look at the issue of sustainability in viticulture as a whole.

Let us begin by looking at two excellent wineries:  Channing Daughters Winery and Wölffer Estate Vineyards, both in the Hamptons Long Island AVA, which is to say the South Fork of the island, which has fields of Bridgehampton loam—sandy and well-drained—and a Bordeaux-like maritime climate, with Atlantic breezes that ward off frost until late in the harvest season.  The two forks, or East End–as they are collectively known, also enjoy the most days of sunshine and longest growing season of all of New York State, though the South Fork has a slightly later onset of spring and a somewhat longer season than the North, as well as a less windy clime.  All of the East End has high humidity and, potentially, a great deal of rain right into harvest time.

In discussions with Larry Perrine of Channing Daughters and Richard Pisacano of Wölffer’s, I learned that both had decided against seeking organic certification, though they do practice sustainable viticulture as far as is possible.[3] Their primary reason for rejecting the organic certification route was that the climate conditions—cool and very humid—seriously militates against organic farming.  As Perrine pointed out:  “Organic is virtually impossible in rainy climates like Bordeaux, Friuli, and LI; downy mildew and black rot cannot be contained by using organic methods.”  In Pisacano’s view, “organic certification is too demanding and expensive, apart from the fact that the level of humidity in the area is just too high to allow for organic practices for preventing the control of diseases and molds like powdery mildew and botrytis.”[4] Both want to be able to use conventional pesticides as a fallback if needed, and they also find that added sulfites are needed in the wineries, and these are precluded by USDA Organic Certification;[5] nevertheless, both vineyards do participate in the New York Sustainable Viticulture Program, or VineBalance, as well as in the Long Island Sustainable Winegrowers program, which is itself based on VineBalance and provides a different kind of certification for sustainable (not organic) practices.[6]  But all of this was said back in 2009.

The North Fork Long Island AVA shares much of the same terroir as the Hamptons AVA, but it is affected more by its proximity to Long Island Sound than to the Atlantic, and it suffers from similar issues.  Only one of its fifty-six vineyards are yet organically certified (The Farrm, as mentioned above), although a number of them, such as Macari Vineyards and Palmer Vineyard work their land as organically and sustainably as possible, as do other vineyards, such as Peconic Bay.[7] In 2009 Joe Macari told me that he no longer believed that 100% organic viticulture is possible in the North Fork, though he practices sustainable farming to the extent possible, using only organic fertilizers and soil work, for example.  Back then Jim Silver of Peconic Bay Winery had said flatly that any idea of producing organic grapes in Long Island is simply impossible—the stuff of dreams.[8]

On the other hand, Shinn Estate has been working on conversion to full organic USDA certification and Demeter certification for the last thirteen years.  It is now 100% organic in soil work and pest control, and as noted above, has harvested the first (albeit not certified) organic/Biodynamic® grapes in Long Island.  If Shinn could have grown 100% organic/ Biodynamic® grapes for three successive years, the Estate would then have become certified, and that would be a major achievement for the East End.[9] Unfortunately despite continued and dedicate effort, disease pressure due to high humidity was such that it did not happen.  Instead, Shinn has chosen to join the Long Island Sustainable Winegrowers program, established in 2012 and based on Cornell’s VineBalance.  This is a far more viable approach for most if not all vineyards on the Island.  (The sole exception has been Rex Farr, who has been growing certified organic produce since 1990 (certification came through the Northeast Organic Farming Association or NOFA).  His vines were planted in 2005, with the first harvest taking place in October 2011.  Farr sells his fruit to wine producers.)

The discussions mentioned above have taken place over a period of six years and it is clear that the perceptions and ideas about organic/sustainable viniculture in Long Island are still evolving.

What is it that makes it so challenging to grow certified organic wine grapes in Long Island?

Let us then look at what is required to produce certified organic grapes:  of first importance is how the chosen method will affect the quality of the wine made from organic grapes, along with the cost of the conversion to a new viticultural regimen, as well as the long-term operating costs—a determining factor with respect to profit.  Much literature has been devoted to the advantages of organic or sustainable viticulture, despite the significant obstacles that need to be overcome.

In the United States, the various forms of sustainable grape-growing are:[10]

  1. Organic (certified, which is to say, 100% organic as defined by the United States Department of Agriculture, [USDA] and its National Organic Program [NOP])
  2. Organic (but not USDA certified, falling under categories 2,3, and 4, listed further below)
  3. Biodynamic® (a special category of organic, but following the tenets of Demeter; not recognized by the USDA)
  4. Sustainable or natural (incorporating organic viticulture, but not completely)

Organic farming is defined by the USDA, as explained by the Organic Consumers Association Web page: [11]

[In 1990] . . . along came the National Organic Program (NOP), also part of the USDA.  The NOP’s goal has been to set guidelines for the processing and labeling of organic products and to maintain the “National List” of allowed and prohibited substances.  According to the NOP and the ATF . . . there are four categories that organic products can claim:

  1. 100% Organic
  2. Organic [95%+]
  3. Made With Organic Ingredients [70-95%]
  4. Some Organic Ingredients; i.e., less than 70%.[12]

As can be seen, the range of choices is wide, the ramifications of any particular approach daunting.  Time and cost are important considerations in the process of converting from conventional to organic/sustainable practice, and these vary according to the chosen option.  In the case of the USDA organic certification, at least 3 years is required to convert a vineyard for certification;[13] if Biodynamic®, the transition is the same as for USDA certification and, in fact, overlaps it.[14]

A comparative study performed by Gerald B. White, of Cornell University, ca 1995, broke out the costs of conventional vs. organic viticulture, and provides a basis for projecting those to be sustained after conversion.[15] The study concluded that the costs of organic farming could be considerably higher than it would be for conventional, but it was conducted in 1995 at a vineyard in the Finger Lakes, using very different varieties (one labrusca & two hybrids) from the vinifera ones grown in Long Island.[16] However, the fact that the three varieties in the experiment each had different issues, results, and costs, suggests that the same may be true with different vinifera varieties.[17] An article in the October 2007 issue of Wines & Vines Magazine, tells of wineries that have had some success with the transition to organic viticulture, including Shinn Estate.  Though more an anecdote than a scientific study, it captures much of what has changed since the 1995 Cornell study.[18]

Nevertheless, the choices remain dauntingly complex, for the issue is not merely to choose between USDA-certified organic or non-certified, or between Demeter certification or ACA-only certification[19], but there are different degrees or types of sustainable farming that go beyond standard certification (“natural” winemaking vs. conventional [or interventionist] winemaking as well as socially-responsible viticulture are two matters beyond the purview of this essay, as they are not directly concerned with viticulture proper[20]).

Clearly, a three-year transition period is really a minimum period, as was the case with Shinn Estate, where the process took much more time, before they finally decided to not try to be certified.[21] For certification, the transition needs considerable preparation, including establishing a USDA-mandated buffer zone of at least 25 feet (8 meters) to separate organic transition fields from those farmed conventionally.[22] The conversion also entails some significant adjustments:  there can be no chemical sprays, herbicides, and pesticides, or use artificial fertilizer for the vineyard plot, replacing them instead with natural pesticides and herbicides, foliate sprays, and organic manure or compost, which are all more expensive than the industrial versions.[23] On the other hand, fixed costs should not change, nor wage levels, but more manual field work would be necessary, especially if machine harvesting were not used, which would be the case a vineyard went the “natural” route.[24]

As pointed out by Kingley Tobin, “The three main areas of vineyard management to focus on are Weeds, Disease, and Pests.”[25] For weed control, using ground cover is a good sustainable practice, and helps reduce the use of glyphosate-based herbicides that tend to shut down the main precursor to plant phenolics; the improved phenolic content of the grapes should result in a better product.[26]

For disease, as the soil returns to a more natural state and the vines are no longer exposed to industrial products that diminish their ability to resist bacterial and fungal infections, they should, over time, develop Systemic Acquired Resistance (SAR).[27] Foliate inputs can be made organic by switching to highly-effective silicate applications such as the Demeter 500-series preparations (e.g., 501 horn-silica) or even horsetail tea, which has been used successfully upstate.[28] Periodic applications of chemical sprays may be needed until SAR has been induced, but the use of tunnel spraying apparatus should keep such sprays from entering the soil.  Even this may be avoidable if one applies safe, organic sprays such as sulphur for powdery mildew, while liquid seaweed, fatty acids, compost sprays can all be applied against botrytis.  Given the high humidity of the Long Island region, more frequent applications may make up for their general lack of toxicity as compared to industrial ones.

For pest control, properly-selected ground cover, such as clover, will attract bees and other beneficial insects.  Ladybugs can be purchased in quantity and released after flowering to prey on aphids, eggs, larvae, scale, and other parasites. [29] Pyrethrums (made from flowers) work naturally to deter wasps and yellow jackets that are attracted to the fruit.[30] Soil-borne pathogens that feed on the root damage caused by phylloxera may be controlled by measured use of hydrogen peroxide, as well as by application of harpins (e.g., Messenger®) on the grapes, while BTH can be used to help increase resistance to Botrytis.[31] All this means much more attention must be paid to the condition of the vineyard throughout the season, compared to a conventional approach.  This is essentially the practice of Integrated Pest Management (IPM).[32]

This can all be accomplished over time, though much experimentation as well as trial-and-error will usually be necessary, as every vineyard will have unique issues of its own.  The bottom line is that organic viticulture is more labor-intensive, but with potentially lower supply-and-materials costs, so that the fruit that results should be of higher quality, entirely free of industrial residue or traces, safer for consumption, and better for the land.  The question:  can 100% certified organic grapes, as stipulated in the USDA guidelines, be grown long-term in the Long Island AVAs, or is sustainable viticulture the best that can be hoped for?  The Farrm has been raising organically-certified fruit and vegetables since 1990, and vinifera grapes since 2005.  He has achieved this in part because he has been willing to accept smaller crops when the disease pressure is very strong, and that depends on the weather from year to year.

___________________________________

Endnotes

[2] Geraldine Pluenneke, “On Good Land: Farming to a Different Beat,” Edible East End, Spring 2011.

[3] Telephone interviews with Richard Pisacano of Wölffer Estate and Larry Perrine of Channing Daughters, both on 17 April 2009

[4] Ibid.

[5] United States Department of Agriculture, National Organic Program, “Labeling: Regulatory Text,” § 205.303 (5).  (Henceforth referred to as USDA, NOP, Labeling:)

[6] New York Guide to Sustainable Viticulture Practices: Grower Self-Assessment Workbook, “[the Program] . . . is designed to encourage practices with low environmental impact that maintain or improve soil.”  Also see Channing Daughters Winery, “A Vineyard With a Purpose” Web page.

[7] Interviews with Alejandra Macari and Barbara Shinn, 20 April 2009, with Jim Silver at Peconic Bay Winery, 7 July 2009, and with Miguel Martín of Palmer Vineyards, 12 October 2010.

[8] Interview with Jim Silver, 7 July 2009.

[9] Despite Shinn’s involvement with VineBalance, she does take issue with the term “sustainable,” holding that it can mean anything that a practitioner wants it to, and prefers to speak of “natural viticulture.”

[10] The five categories are my summation of several sources:  USDA, NOP, Labeling: § 205.301; Monty Waldin, “organic viticulture” The Oxford Companion to Wine, p. 498; Jon Bonné, “A fresh take on sustainable winemaking”; also, Sustainability in Practice (SIP) ™ Vineyard Certification Program, FAQ PDF.

[11] Organic Consumers Association, “Clearing up the confusion about Organic Wine,” introduction.  Also see the USDA, NOP, and Labeling: § 205.301a-d, the source for the list.  Only the first two items on the list (a & b) are of concern to us.

[12] USDA, NOP, Labeling: § 205.301-304 passim.

[13] Vincent Russo and Merritt Taylor.  “Yield and Quality of Vegetable Crops in Conventional and Organic Production Systems,” USDA Agricultural Research Service, n.p.

[14] Demeter USA, “Get Certified.”

[15] Gerald B. White, “The Economics of Growing Grapes Organically,” 19white.pdf.  This and other studies to be found at the http://www.nysaes.cornell.edu/hort/faculty/pool/ website were all part of a project funded by the federal Sustainable Agriculture Research and Extension program (SARE) from 1991-95.

[16] White.

[17] White.

[18] Suzanne Gannon, “Extreme Viticulture: How Northeast growers farm vinifera organically and sustainably,” Wine & Vines Magazine, online, sections on Shinn Estate Vineyards (Long Island) and Cornell’s Program (n.p.)

[19] The need for certifying agents is mentioned in passing in the USDA, NOP, Labeling: § 205.303 (5).  For a discussion of Accredited Certifying Agents (ACA) see Renée L. Robin, “Defining Organic Practices for Wines and Grapes,” in Wine Business Monthly online, section on “Getting Certified: What Rules Apply?”:

These ACAs can be private, public or non-profit entities that have received authorization to certify from the USDA. As of January 2006, there are 53 domestic ACAs and 40 foreign-based ACAs. Currently 11 of these ACAs are located in California.

[20] Joe Dressner, “Natural Wine,” The Wine Importer, speaks of the “French Natural Wine Movement,” whose members refer to themselves, “. . .  as the sans soufistres” because they refuse to add sulfur to their wine when vinifying.  The movement to make wine without sulfites has spread to the United States and has, indeed, been incorporated into the USDA certification standard for 100% organic (USDA, NOP, Labeling: § 205.302).  The issue of what actually constitutes “natural” winemaking is open to debate, as pointed out in Pameladevi Govinda’s “Natural Progression: The Real Dirt on Natural Wine,” Imbibe Magazine online.

[21] Actually, practically speaking, it is more like ten to fifteen years, according to my interview with Barbara Shinn.

[22] See Russo and Taylor’s “Yield and Quality of Vegetable Crops . . .” Technical Abstract, which set up such a 70-meter buffer zone for their experiment.

[23] According to an article by Renée L. Robin, “Defining Organic Practices for Wines and Grapes,” in Wine Business Monthly online, production cost increases can be “as much as 5 to 10 percent” during the period of transition, after which such costs should be about the same or even less that conventional methods.

[24] Jancou, Pierre.  MoreThanOrganic.com:  French Natural Wine, “As it is picked, the fruit must be collected into small containers, to avoid being crushed under its own weight, and taken to the winery as quickly as possible.”

[25] Kingsley Tobin, “Organic Viticulture & Winemaking: Changing New Zealand Grapegrowing and Winemaking to an Organic Philosophy,” section on Solution to Problems, n.p.

[26] Don Lotter, “Wine quality, organic viticulture and vine systemic acquired resistance to pests,” section on “Vine systemic acquired resistance and wine phenolics” (n.p.).  Lotter states that “SAR is induced by low to moderate levels of insect and pathogen attack, the ability of plants, particularly organically managed plants, to induce a type of situation-responsive immunity to attack by diseases and pests is known as systemic acquired resistance (SAR), in which defensive compounds, mostly phenolics, are produced.”

[27] Lotter.

[28] Lotter.

[29] GardenInsects.com, “Natural Pest Control with Ladybugs,” Web page.  (Ladybugs are also called Ladybird beetles.)

[30] Lisa Anderson, “Organic Winemaking, Northwest Style,” under heading, “Challenges of Organic Viticulture,” from WineSquire.com.

[31] Lotter.

[32] United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Web site, “Integrated Pest Management (IPM)  Principles.”

[33] Barbara Shinn e-mail to me, 7 June 2010.  She further asserts that “This is a huge success for the region and a big tipping point. Hopefully the region will take comfort that it can indeed be done and done well.”

References

Anderson, Lisa.  “Organic Winemaking, Northwest Style,” WineSquire.com, at http://winesquire.com/articles/2001/wnw0107.htm, accessed 25 March 2009.

Asimov, Eric. “The Pour: Natural Wines Redux,” New York Times, 16 March 2007.

Bonné, Jon.  “A fresh take on sustainable winemaking,” 5 April 2009, SFGate.com, at http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2009/04/05/FD0H16NPIS.DTL&hw=wine&sn=003&sc=628

Brix, Samantha, “Calverton farmer boasts Long Island’s first crop of certified organic grapes,” Suffolk Times, 7 October 2011, at http://suffolktimes.timesreview.com/2011/10/21449/calverton-farmer-boasts-long-islands-first-crop-of-certified-organic-grapes/

Channing Daughters, “A Vineyard With a Purpose”: http://www.channingdaughters.com/

Cox, Jeff. “Organic Winegrowing Goes Mainstream,” Wine News Magazine, Aug/Sep 2000

Demeter-International e. V., International Certification Office.  List of Fees, Lizenz-&- Gebührenordnung.PDF, as at January 1st 2006 [in English], at http://demeter.net/certification/ce_procedures_fees.pdf?languagechoice=en&languageadmin=0

Demeter, USA.  “Get Certified,” Demeter-USA.org, at http://demeter-usa.org/get-certified/, accessed 8 April 2009.

Dressner, Joe.  “Natural Wines,” from the wine importer blog, 28 April 2007. from http://www.datamantic.com/joedressner/?2331.

Gahagan, Richard M.  “Use of Term ‘Organic’ on Wine Labels,” New York Agricultural Extension Program at Cornell University, at http://nysaes.cals.cornell.edu/research-extension/grapes-and-wine, accessed 8 April 2009.

Gannon, Suzanne.  “Extreme Viticulture: Now Northeast growers farm vinifera organically and sustainably,” Wines & Vines Magazine, October 2007.

Govinda, Pameladevi.  “Natural Progression,” Imbibe Magazine, Sept/Oct 2008.

Jancou, Pierre.  MoreThanOrganic.com:  “French Natural Wine” at http://www.morethanorganic.com/definition-of-natural-wine, accessed 21 April 2009.

Kolpan, Steven.  “Biodynamic Wines: Beyond Organic,” Steven Kolpan on Wine, November 2008, at http://stevenkolpanonwine.blogspot.com/2008/11/biodynamic-wines-beyond-organic.html.

Lotter, Don, Ph.D.  “Wine quality, organic viticulture and vine systemic acquired resistance to pests,” Organic Wine Journal, 11 November 2008, at http://www.organicwinejournal.com/index.php/2008/11/wine-quality-organic-viticulture-and-vine-systemic-acquired-resistance-to-pests/

Macari, Alexandra, of Macari Vineyard, telephone interview conducted on 20 April 2009.

Natural Process Alliance Home Page, The.  http://www.naturalprocessalliance.us/home, accessed 8 April 2009.

Organic Consumers Association, “Clearing up the Confusion about Organic Wines,” from http://www.organicconsumers.org/Organic/OrganicWine.cfm, accessed 6 April 2009

Organic Viticulture, “Organic and Biodynamic Viticulture,” Tuscany-in-a-Bottle.com, from http://www.tuscany-in-a-bottle.com/organic.htm, accessed 25 March 2009

Organic Wine Company. “Organic Wines,” EcoWine.com, at http://ecowine.com/organic.html, accessed 25 March 2009.

Peterson, Walter.  “Marketing Organic Wines in New York,” New York Agricultural Extension Program at Cornell University, at http://nysaes.cals.cornell.edu/research-extension/grapes-and-wine, accessed 8 April 2009.

Pluenneke, Geraldine.  “On Good Land: Farming to a Different Beat,” Edible East End, Spring 2011; published online on 25 April 2001 at:  http://www.edibleeastend.com/online_magazine/farming-to-a-different-beat/

Railey, Raven J.  “Wine with a conscience:  How three local wineries go green,” San Luis Obispo’s website, 4 April 2009, at http://www.sanluisobispo.com/183/story/674260.html

Robin, Renée L.  “Defining Organic Practices for Wine and Grapes,” Wine Business Monthly, 15 April 2006.

Robinson, Jancis, MW, editor.  The Oxford Companion to Wine, 3rd edition.  New York: Oxford University Press, 2006

Robinson, Jancis, MW, “More French Wineries go Biodynamic,” SFGate.com, home of The San Francisco Chronicle, 2 February 2006.

Russo, Vincent and Merritt Taylor.  “Yield and Quality of Vegetable Crops in Conventional and Organic Production Systems,” USDA Agricultural Research Service, at http://www.ars.usda.gov/research/publications/Publications.htm?seq_no_115=194264, 1 December 2006; last modified 14 April 2009.  [NOTE: this is an interpretive summary and technical abstract of a 2006 article: “Soil amendments in transition to organic vegetable production with comparison to conventional methods: Yields and economics.”  HortScience, 41(7):1576-1583.]

Shinn, Barbara, Vineyard Manager, Shinn Estate, telephone interview conducted on 20 April 2009.

Sustainability in Practice (SIP) ™ Vineyard Certification Program, “Frequently Asked Questions” [FAQ], PDF file downloaded from http://www.vineyardteam.org, accessed 8 April 8, 2009.

Tobin, Kinsley. “Organic Viticulture & Winemaking: Changing New Zealand Grapegrowing and Winemaking to an Organic Philosophy”, at http://organicnz.vibrantplanet.com/page/2020-18, accessed 25 March 2009.

United States Environmental Protection Agency [EPA] Web site, “Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Principles.”  From http://www.epa.gov/opp00001/factsheets/ipm.htm, accessed 21 April 2009.

United StatesDepartment of Agriculture, National Organic Program, “Labeling: Regulatory Text,” PDF file available at http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/getfile?dDocName=STELDEV3003511, accessed 7 April 2009

VineBalance, New York Guide to Sustainable Viticulture Practices: Grower Self-Assessment Workbook. PDF file, at http://www.vinebalance.com/pdf/intro.pdf

White, Gerald B.  “The Economics of Growing Grapes Organically,” Department of Agriculture, Resource, and Managerial Economics, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, at http://nysaes.cals.cornell.edu/research-extension/grapes-and-wine, accessed 8 April 2009.

Wölffer Estate Vineyard, “Vineyards and Winemaking” Web page, at http://www.wolffer.com/store/

 

Wine Books I Recommend

Following is a highly selective list of books that I’ve read or consulted that I consider particularly worthwhile.  If I haven’t read or consulted a book, I do not recommend it.  Alas, there are more that I’ve not read than have—I’ve only 120 books on wine in my library, and some are still waiting to be read, though nearly all have served as references.

Grapes, Wine, Wineries, and Vineyards

There are seven general wine books that one should own in order to be truly well- and completely informed:

1.  Jancis Robinson’s Oxford Companion to Wine, 4th ed. (2015) is just indispensable, with a comprehensive coverage of just about every topic bearing on wine that one can think of, a true Abbocatto to Zymase encyclopedia.  All articles are signed, all cited references noted.  Robinson was both the editor and a contributor.  The 4th edition adds 300 additional, new terms, though many will only be of interest to wine professionals.  For a full review on this blog, see the post: The Three Indispensable Wine Books.

2.  Equally indispensable is Hugh Johnson & Jancis Robinson’s The World Atlas of Wine, 7th ed. (2013).  How else could one find the way around the vinicultural regions of the world, including NY State?  The maps are in full color, ranging in scale from street-level for the Champagne towns and the lodges in Oporto, to 1:45,000 and larger for wine regions.  The text for the many regions is the very model of pithy, clear writing.  For a full review on this blog, see the post: The Three Indispensable Wine Books.

3.  In 2013, two new, serious reference books on wine—sure to become indispensable and classic are:  Jancis Robinson and Linda Murphy’s American Wine:  The Ultimate Companion to the Wines and Wineries of the United States (a very useful feature is its summary of each AVA, including the best grapes grown, and listing the top wineries by category); the other must-have is Jancis’s encyclopedic Wine Grapes:  A Complete Guide to 1,368 Vine Varieties, Including their Origins and Flavours, written in collaboration with Julia Harding and José Vouillamoz.  See my post, The Three Indispensable Wine Books, for a complete review of Wine Grapes.

4.  Emile Peynaud’s vital and perennial The Taste of Wine: The Art and Science of Wine Appreciation (trans. Michael Schuster, 1987).  Originally written in French as La Goût du Vin in 1983), it is considered definitive by many in the field.

But then, there is always Jancis Robinson’s How to Taste (2000), which is both a how-to for tasting and a guide to the aromatic and gustatory sensations of the different varieties and how they can differ from place to place (i.e., from terroir to terroir).  Robinson’s is certainly the more approachable for most readers.

5.  WSET students and graduates, anyone interested in wine certification, and indeed, even winemakers can benefit from David Bird’s Understanding Wine Technology:  The Science of Wine Explained, 3rd ed., which has been required reading for all WSET students, is a very clear and lucid explanation—in laymen’s terms—of what goes on right down to the molecular level of yeasts, viruses, and chemistry generally.  It’s also a very good read.

6.  I very much enjoyed and admired Jamie Goode and Sam Harrop’s Authentic Wine:  toward natural and sustainable winemaking (2011), which has many really interesting insights into what really goes on in a vineyard, a winery, and what it takes to be a sustainable winegrower and producer.  Much food for thought, though some may cavil about a few of the authors’ conclusions.

7.  If one wanted to carry as much information about wine in a portable package, there’s one that I cannot live without:  Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book 2016.  It is pithy, witty, thicker than ever, and claims to be the Number One Bestselling Wine Guide, which it deserves to be.  I’ve bought every edition since the very first one, published in 1977 (it was rather slim then).  Also available as a KIndle Book from Amazon.

New York and East Coast Wine

Long Island Wine Country:  Award-Winning Vineyards of the North Fork and the Hamptons, is an indispensable guide to visiting Long Island vineyards and wineries.  Written by Jane Taylor Starwood, editor-in-chief of Long Island Wine Press, she gives us an insider’s track on the owners, the winemakers, and the wineries themselves.  In a conversational tone (and amply illustrated), the book leads the reader from East to West on the North Fork, and then down to the Hamptons, as though it would be followed geographically. It’s a bit frustrating an approach if one wants to do research and would prefer an alphabetical organization, but it’s a quibble given the overall quality and usefulness of the book, which is still reasonably up-to-date as of 2013, given that it was published in 2009. One should bear in mind though, that already important personnel changes have taken place: Richard Olsen Harbich left Raphael in 2010 and went to Bedell Cellars, Anthony Nappa is now Raphael’s vintner, Kelly Urbanik Koch is winemaker at Macari, and Zander Hargrave, who was assistant winemaker at Peconic Bay Vineyards, is now unemployed, as Peconic Bay has closed its doors.  A new, major winery, Kontokosta Vineyards, opened in June 2013 in Greenport.
Louisa Thomas Hargrave wrote a gracious memoir, The Vineyard: The Pleasures and Perils of Creating an American Family Winery. One cannot begin to understand what was involved in creating the Long Island wine industry without reading this charming and touching account of the establishment of Long Island’s first winery, Hargrave Vineyard, in 1973, when there were only small farms and potato fields. It is charming in its modesty, touching in its honesty, and a remarkable tale of what it takes to start a vineyard from scratch when you don’t even know what you’re doing! And look at what it started–a whole industry that is one of the dominant features of the East End of Long Island, begun with passion, commitment, and hard work, but ultimately at the cost of heartbreak and renewal.  Now out of print, it may be available, used, on Amazon or AbeBooks.

In Marguerite Thomas’s Touring East Coast Wine Country:  A Guide to the Finest Wineries (1996) we have the first important guide to the wines and wineries of the East Coast, from Maine to Virginia, replete with useful insights and a good background on the history of the viniculture of each state. It also provides biography capsules of some of the most important or interesting winemakers. Given that the book was first published in 1996, a good deal of its information is now more of historical interest, and it needs, and deserves, a new edition.
More up-to-date than Marguerite Thomas’s East Coast guide is Carlo DeVito’s East Coast Wineries: A Complete Guide from Maine to Virginia, published in 2004. Still, even this needs to be brought up-to-date, but its value lies in its own take on East Coast wineries, with listings of the wines offered by each estate with brief descriptions, recommendations and excerpted tasting reviews of the wines. Let’s hope that, like Thomas’s guide, DeVito’s will also receive a new, updated edition soon. For the serious wine tourist, one guide complements the other, so why not buy both?
Vital–thanks to its clear, lucid writing and very useful history of LI viticulture and winemaking–is the excellent if outdated Wines of Long Island, 2nd edition (2000) by Edward Beltrami & Philip E. Palmedo.  It includes profiles of many of the most important personalities in the LI wine world, descriptions and reviews of wineries and their wines–both past and present–and a generally judicious insight into the trends and achievements of the region as of the end of the 20th Century.  Definitely worthwhile owning, if you love LI wines, but it has long been out of print, though Amazon or AbeBooks may still offer it, “pre-read”, online.  It is currently being brought up to date by me, with elements of the series on Long Island wines in this blog being incorporated into it.  We hope to bring out the 3rd edition by Spring 2017.

An interesting and somewhat chatty book is The Story of North Fork Wine: Historical Profiles and Wine Country Recipes (2009), John Ross’s up-close-and-personal look at the people who work in and run the wineries.  A chef who owned Ross’s North Fork Restaurant, he became close to many in the wine trade, especially given that he was interested in devising recipes and menus that would best accompany the wines of the region.

Organic and Biodynamic Viniculture

Rudolf Steiner’s Agriculture Course: The Birth of the Biodynamic Method, is the foundation text of the biodynamic movement. A compilation of eight lectures delivered in Germany in 1924 provides, in Steiner’s own words, the basis for what he called a new science based on the natural rhythms of the world and the cosmos, as recovered from the traditional practices of the peasant farmers of yore. It is meant as a healthy antidote to the rise of farming methods based on industrial chemicals and fertilizers. Many leading vineyards are farmed by this method, from the Domaine de la Romanée Conti in Burgundy to Shinn Estate in Long Island. You owe it to yourself to read the lectures if you wish to really understand what Biodynamics is about.
Nicolas Joly is a leading proponent of Biodynamic viticulture, and he practices his preaching at one of the greatest vineyards of the Loire, the Coulée de Serrant. Joly’s Wine from Sky to Earth: Growing and Appreciating Biodynamic Wine, is a true believer’s panegyric to Biodynamics.  His ideas and those of the founder of Biodynamics®, Rudolf Steiner, are put into practice at two vineyards that I know of:  Macari Vineyards and Shinn Estate.
Lon Rombough’s The Grape Grower: A Guide to Organic Viticulture, is an excellent introduction to how to grow grapes organically. It’s also very practical, as the guide is really intended for the novice who wants to start a backyard vineyard or even a commercial one. It takes the reader step-by-step on establishing an organic vineyard, imparting along the way a good deal of knowledge and savvy advice.
Other Wine Books of More than Passing Interest (or Not)

Tyler Colman, Wine Politics: How Governments, Environmentalists, Mobsters, and Critics Influence the Wines We Drink (UCal Press, 2008).  I highly recommend this book for its clarity and scholarship.  The subject of politics in the wine world proves to be fascinating, and the author chose to approach it by comparing, for example, the AOC laws of France (and by extension, much of the EU) with the AVA regulations promulgated by the TTB (Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau).  There are surprising insights  into how and why wine is grown and made in different countries, why labels look the way they do on each side of the Atlantic, and the effects of custom, religion, crime, regionalism, nationalism, and so forth on the wine trade.  Eminently worthwhile for the serious wine-lover.

  • John Hailman, Thomas Jefferson on Wine (UMiss Press, 2006).  Another book that is based on sound scholarship and research, also well-written, but one may wish to skip all the tables and lists, which are difficult to grasp at times simply because the wines of Jefferson’s period (1743-1826) varied so much in name, currency, weights and volumes, that clear comparisons with our own period are so difficult to make.  Still, if one has the patience, there is reward in seeing how all-encompassing were the interests and tastes of the first great oenophile of the United States of America.

 

  • Thomas Pellechia, Wine: The 8,000 Year-Old Story of the Wine Trade (Thunder’s Mouth Press, NY, 2006)  A work with great potential written by someone who has long been in the wine trade but whose sense of history is lacking in scholarship and critical acuity.  Some of what he writes is couched in such vague or confused historical terms as to be virtually useless, especially when dealing with antiquity and the Middle Ages.  The writing style is breezy and casual, but it lacks polish and lucidity.  Such a shame.
  • A far better foray into wine history would be the classic Gods, Men, and Wine, (1966) by William Younger, or the more recent Story of Wine (1989)—or the New Illustrated Edition (2004)—by Hugh Johnson, both of which are better-written and historically more reliable.  Neither of the latter books is available in Kindle versions, but they do enjoy the virtue of been on real, durable paper bound in hardcover.

 

  • A History of the World in 6 Glasses, by Tom Standage (2005), is more than just about wine.  It tells its story by means of six beverages: beer (Mesopotamia & Egypt), wine (Ancient Greece & Rome), spirits (Colonial America), Coffee (Europe in the Age of Enlightenment), Tea (the British Empire), and Coca-Cola (Modern America and the Age of Globalization).  It’s both amusing and informative, but I’d put the emphasis on the amusement.  Unless you’ve utterly uninformed about wine or the other beverages, this is really History 001, rather lightweight.

 

  • Questions of Taste:  The Philosophy of Wine, edited by Barry C. Smith (2007), with essays by experts such as Paul Draper, Jamie Goode, Andrew Jefford, and others, with an enthusiastic Foreword by Jancis Robinson.  The contributors also include a couple of philosophers and a linguist.  The language of wine as presented in this book is clearly academic. A worthwhile but challenging book, well worth the time to read.

 

  • Wine Wars, by Mike Veseth (2011), which, with chapter headings like “The Curse of the Blue Nun,” “The Miracle of Two-Buck Chuck,” and “The Revenge of the Terroirists,”  is an interesting and amusing way of treating the effects of globalization on the modern world of wine.  It is also rather informative, and occasionally provides some surprising nuggets of information (such as the fact that Trader Joe’s is actually a German company).

 

 

The Three Indispensable Wine Books

In my view, were one to be forced to choose the three most indispensable reference wine books published in English, they would be these:

  • The Oxford Wine Companion, 4th ed., edited by Jancis Robinson, Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 2015.
  • Hugh Johnson & Jancis Robinson. The World Atlas of Wine: A Complete Guide to the Wines of the World, 7th ed. London:  Mitchell-Beazley, 2013.
  • Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding, & José Vouillamoz. Wine Grapes: A Complete Guide to 1,368 Vine Varieties, Including Their Origins and Flavours.  NY: Harper Collins, 2013.

Some may quibble that The Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia: The Classic Reference to the Wines of the World, 5th ed., 2011, by Tom Stevenson would be preferable to the Wine Companion, but I feel that the Wine Companion together with the World Atlas make for a more comprehensive exploration of the world of wine.

NOTE:  None of these books are for the wine neophyte, for that I’d recommend Kevin Zraly’s Windows on the World Wine Course, NY: Sterling Epicure, 2014.   One of the great advantages of Zraly’s approach is that he explains how to taste wine in some depth.

As one can see, all three books are by British writers, with the exception of Vouillamoz, who is Swiss, and a highly respected ampelographer and vine geneticist.

One reason for the very high standards of style and scholarship has to do with the fact that Robinson, Johnson, and Harding are all Oxbridge stuff.  The other reason the standards are so high is because it’s the Brits who have been writing about wine almost longer than anyone, certainly in English.  It helps, as well, that they are not given to hyperbole or chest-thumping, just really good writing and scholarship.  It is also a fact that Robinson and Johnson are perhaps the two most-widely read authors in the wine world, certainly in our language.

I choose these three books because I consider them to be comprehensive and complete, with top-of-the-class expertise, quality layout and printing, and very high levels of scholarship.  For example, the Washington Post, in its review of the first edition of the Wine Companion, referred to it as the “definitive guide to the world of wine.”  This remains true today, with the 4th edition just published in 2015.  The new edition is substantially revised and updated.

I do not propose to review the Oxford Wine Companion or The World Atlas of Wine, which was newly published in a 7th edition  in October 2013.  I’ve already said something about each in my post, Wine Books that I Recommend.  Suffice it to say that both books are widely recognized as indispensable and essential wine references.

This is particularly true of Wine Grapes, published as a hardcover edition with a slipcover and a beautiful layout, with scholarship galore to support one of the most difficult subjects in wine.  It is expensive:  on Amazon .com it can be found for $102, a substantial discount from its list price of $175.  However, if one is truly serious about wine, as a wine-lover, wine writer, or a professional in the trade, it behooves one to get this book.  It’s entirely worth the price.

Review of Wine Grapes

Robinson had already ventured into the subject of wine grapes with two earlier books, both for the “popular” press rather than for specialists:  the first was Vines, Grapes, & Wines: The wine drinker’s guide to grape varieties, published in 1986, followed by her compact Jancis Robinson’s Guide to Wine Grapes, in 1996, based on the grape entries in the first edition of The Oxford Companion to Wine (1996).  Her only serious competition in English was Oz Clarke, who published Oz Clarke’s Encyclopedia of Grapes: A Comprehensive Guide to Varieties & Flavors with Margaret Rand in 2001, which was later updated as Grapes & Wines:  A comprehensive guide to varieties and flavours in 2010.  All of these books primarily were aimed at the sophisticated wine consumer, and though all are highly informative, amply illustrated, and enjoyable to browse or do basic research, none was suitable for a professional audience nor offered the level of intellectual insight that Wines Grapes does.

The definitive reference for professionals, until now, was the great  magnum opus in seven volumes, published in French, by Pierre Viala and Victor Vermorel:  Ampélographie, between 1901 and 1910.  It covered 5200 wine and table grape varieties, with focus on the 627 most important one, accompanied by over 500 paintings depicting the grapes as bunches with their foliage.  A selection of those paintings was incorporated into this volume under review.

This book discusses the 1,368 varieties that are still in commercial production, however small the plantings or the production.  For every single variety, it lists its 1) principle synonyms, 2) varieties commonly mistaken for said variety, 3) its origins and parentage, 4) other hypotheses [if any exist], 5) viticultural characteristics, and 6) where it’s grown and what its wine tastes like.  I’ll take, as an example, the entry for Baco Noir:

“Dark-skinned French hybrid faring better across the Atlantic than at home.”

Berry Colour: [black]

“Principal synonyms:  Baco 1, Baco 24-23, Bacoi, Bako Speiskii, Bakon

Origins and Parentage

“Hybrid obtained in 1902 by François Baco in Bélus in the Landes, south-west France, by crossing Folle Blanche (under the name Piquepoul du Gers) with Vitis riparia Grand Glabre.  It is therefore a half-sibling of Baco Blanc.  However, as noted by Galet (1988), since V. riparia Grand Glabre has female-only flowers with sterile pollen, Darrigan considered this hybrid to be Folle Blanche x V. riparia Grand Glabre + V. riparia ordinaire, which suggests that Baco used a mix of V. riparia pollen taken from two distinct varieties. . . . .

Viticultural Characteristics

“Early budding and therefore at risk from spring frosts.  Best suited to heavy soils.  Vigorous and early ripening.  Good resistance to downy and powdery mildew but highly susceptible to black rot and crown gall. Small to medium bunches of small berries that are high in acids but low in tannins.

Where It’s Grown and What Its Wine Tastes Like

“Baco Noir was at one time planted in France, in regions as diverse as Burgundy, Anjou, and its home in the Landes, but the area has dwindled considerably, down to around 11 ha (27 acres) in 2008 . . . .

“The variety has fared better in cooler parts of North America since its introduction in the 1950s.  New York crushed 820 tons in 2009 (almost double the amount for 2008) in both the Hudson River and Finger Lakes regions and in southern Oregon . . .”

But even before one gets to the profiles of those 1,368 varieties, there is the excellent Introduction, with subject headings such as:

  • The Importance of Grapes Varieties, which covers the background of how varieties came to take such a prominent place in a wine world that had once only paid attention to regions, such that the French, with their AOC system would identify a wine as from Pauillac, and the knowledgeable imbiber would know that this was a claret or red wine from Bordeaux—varieties be damned; in the USA wines were made that were identified merely as Claret or Burgundy, though the varieties could be anything but those from Bordeaux or Burgundy.  There is even a box that clarifies the difference between variety (the grape) and varietal (the wine).  There is also a chart showing the climate-maturity groupings of varieties.
  • The Vine Family, discussing some (but not all) of the vine species used to make wine, with emphasis on V. vinifera and its two subspecies, sativa (the cultivated vine) and silvestris, the wild or forest vine.
  • Grape Variety, Mutation and Clone, a fascinating discussion that explains how a vinifera variety comes into being, as well as explaining the differences between mutations and clones.  One of the most interesting observation is the discovery that Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and Pinot Blanc are all genetically identical according to standard DNA profiling, and are only distinguished by a single gene that changes the amount of anthocyanin that imparts color to the grape skins.   This section also dispels some myths about varieties and there tendency to mutate.
  • Vine Breeding, which explains how the domesticated vine has been deliberately bred for particular characteristics, often by selected intraspecific crossing (vinifera with vinifera) or by interspecies crossing (e.g., vinifera with riparia).  It also discusses successful vs. unsuccessful results, as in the case of the effect of the German Wine Law of 1971, which caused breeders to aim for varieties that would produce high sugar levels regardless of the overall effect on the quality of the resulting wines.
  • Pests and Diseases, an important category in any discussion of vines and vineyards, provides a background of how certain diseases and infestations were spread thanks to the intervention of human activity in the transportation of unwanted guests that often accompanied vines transferred from America to Europe for experimental plantings in order to see how American vines would do in European soil.  Perhaps it would improve them.  Alas, along came downy and powdery mildews and the charmless, almost invisibly tiny, parasitical mite that came to be called Phylloxera devastatrix, which nearly devastated the vineyards of France, Germany, and Italy.
  • Rootstocks, Grafting, and Fashion, a brief account of the significance of rootstocks—which could deserve an entire book in their own right—grafting, and how fashions in taste can be mollified for a time (remember the days of ABC—Anything But Cabernet/Chardonnay) by the simple expedient of top-grafting, rather than uprooting the entire vine and waiting three years for it to begin to bear fruit.
  • Vine Age, an explanation of how older vines offer the vineyardist a two-edged sword: higher-quality grapes at reduced production levels.
  • Changes in Vineyard Composition, discusses how vineyards are moving away from field blends (multiple varieties in a vineyard plot) to monovarietal cultivation as well as the resurrection of nearly extinct varieties that are still of interest for winemaking.
  • Labelling and Naming bears primarily on the marketing of wine. Where once Europeans rarely mentioned varietal names on the label and emphasized regional origin instead, the success of varietal emphasis in the New World eventually was accepted as the standard for all but the most traditional, expensive wines offered—say a Château d’Yquem (Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscadelle anyone?) or La Tâche (Pinot Noir, period).
  • DNA Profiling, is about the shift from ampelography (the identification of a vine by its leaf and bunch characteristics) to the use of DNA to establish parentage and sibling relationships.  Throughout the book there are family vines (trees) to show the relationship of, say Pinot to Syrah (!), no matter at how many generations removed.  DNA profiling can’t answer all these questions, since a parent variety that is now extinct or unknown cannot be linked to its supposed progeny, so question marks abound in the charts.

The next chapter, four pages of text and three of charts, is Historical Perspective, with the following headings:

  • Grapevine Domestication: Why, Where and When?   This covers the various theories that have been put forth by various scholars.  The first one, the ‘Paleolithic Hypothesis,’ holds that sometime in pre-history spontaneously-fermented wine was tried and produced the proverbial euphoria we all know so very well.  This oeno-archeologist, Patrick McGovern, was a bit of a wag, referring to this drink as “Stone-Age Beaujolais Nouveau.”  It had to be consumed immediately upon release lest it turn into vinegar.  This is followed by the “Hermaphroditic Hypothesis” which argues that in the Early Neolithic, when societies began to settle down, early attempts to cultivate wine grapes quickly eliminated the planting of male vines, because they could never reproduce; female plants could only reproduce if there were male vines nearby; hermaphroditic vines, which today comprise the vast majority of cultivated vines, needed only themselves, and reproduction was virtually guaranteed.    Then there is the issue of where the domesticated wine vine was first cultivated, and while the answer is not entirely certain, there are various ideas as to where, and it largely centers on the regions near Anatolia, Georgia, the northern Fertile Crescent, and so on.  The when actually depends on actual archeological finds in that general region, which suggest as early as ca. 8000 bce, with other proposals holding that it may not have been until ca. 3400-3000, again depending on which evidence is most generally accepted.
  • Western Expansion of Viniculture covers the general peregrinations of the wine vine from its ancestral home to Mesopotamia, then Egypt, and then Greece, Italy, France and on into Germany, Spain, and Portugal.  Eventually, first with Spanish missionaries and later with immigrants to what would become the United States, cuttings and seeds were brought to the Western Hemisphere.  Chloroplast DNA studies are cited as evidence of a possible secondary domestication of V. vinifera silvestris, but even this is in dispute.
  • Ampelographic Groups is a really interesting section that deals with what is referred to in the book as the “eco-geographical groups” or proles, first proposed by A.M. Negrul in 1938 and again in 1946.  Although some of the proles varieties may, thanks to DNA fingerprinting, belong to another group than that originally proposed, for the most part it seems to hold up, with three groups proposed:  Proles occidentalis Negr., Proles pontica Negr., and Proles orientalis Negr.  All wine-grape varieties emanate from one of these three groups, with Cabernet Franc and Chardonnay in the western group, Rkatsiteli and Furmint in the bridging group, and Chasselas and Muscat Alexandria, for example, in the eastern group.  An accompanying map shows the geographical distribution of these eco-geogroups in France, along with a table listing the ‘sorto-types’ of the different varieties in the larger classification.  Complex, isn’t it?

This is followed by a list of the Varieties by Country of Origin, and here we learn that the single largest group belongs to Italy, with 377 varieties, followed by France with 204 varieties; the USA has 76 native varieties, and the UK has a single one, Muscat of Hamburg.

Thence, the alphabetical listing of all 1,368 wine varieties still in production at whatever scale.  The example of Baco Noir has already been given.  Pinot, with its great clonal diversity, includes 156 varieties in its family (shown as a 3-page chart), which includes Teroldego, Savagnin, Gouais Blanc, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and so on.  All this is based on DNA analysis, which, given the many lost or extinct varieties that belong in the tree, leaves open questions of parentage or sibling relationships.  For example, If Pinot is one parent of Teroldego, which variety is the other parent?  With the various members of the Pinot family that includes Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Teinteurier, and Pinot Noir Précoce, the entries for the Pinot family go on for 17 pages.

So it goes for all the varieties described, running 1177 pages, followed by a Glossary and an extensive Bibliography of 20 pages in length.  References go from Acerbi, G., Dele viti italiane ossia materiali per servire alla classificazione mongrafia e sinonima of 1825 to Zúñiga, V C M de, 1905, on Tempranillo.  The bibliography is  up-to-date to 2012. Every variety under discussion has its citations from the bibliography.

Occasionally it passes up a nice nugget of information, such as the fact that in 1982 it was discovered that vines identified as Pinot Chardonnay were actually Pinot Blanc, but it took a few years for the newly-planted vines to produce fully-developed leaves, which allowed Lucy Morton—a viticulturalist who translated Pierre Galet’s book, A Practical Ampelography: Grapevine Identification, from French to English—to correctly identify the vines as Pinot Blanc by the shape of the vine leaves.  (Incidentally, what was called Pinot Chardonnay—on the assumption that Chardonnay is a member of the Pinot family—is now called just Chardonnay).  This little nugget could have been found under either the entry for Chardonnay or Pinot Blanc, but is in neither.  Also omitted is any mention of the red vinifera variety Morenillo, which although “extinct” is actually still producing small quantities of wine in the Terra Alta DO.  These are rare lacunae for such a thorough book.

This is not only a supreme work of scholarship, scientific research, and historiography, it is a remarkable accomplishment and an essential addition to the English world’s library of wine books.  If you can afford it, buy it.  You can’t afford not to.