Tag Archives: French hybrid

Viniculture in the Hudson River Region–background


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]


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.


[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.