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How the New York vine grows

New York is known worldwide as one of the great epicurean centers of the world mainly due to its unusually high number of top quality restaurants with Michelin three-star chefs and world-class wine lists. The part of New York that we in the West tend to overlook its large and quickly growing wine industry. New York state is the No. 3 wine producer in the U.S., holding more than 31,000 acres — second only to California. It carries one of the oldest wine-Smaking traditions in the US dating as far back as the 1600’s when French Huguenots began planting vitis vinefera vines in the Hudson Valley.

To understand wine in the Northeast, you must first consider the climate. The region is humid and has vast temperature fluctuations. This means vines are subject to frost and thus have a hard time surviving. That is why, historically, it was vitis labrusca vines were grown in the area. Vitis labrusca vines are much hardier and more resilient to harsh weather than vinefera. Labrusca vines produces Delaware Grapes, Norton Grapes, and Catawba Grapes and the wines produced from them are often described as foxy and tend to taste like Welch’s grape juice with alcohol. If you have ever had Manischewitz you know what I am talking about. The other strain, known as vitis vinefera, produces grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling and any other European grape names you can think of. While they make vastly better wine, they are much more fragile and susceptible to the cold, thus until relatively recently, the majority of wines in New York were made from the foxy labrusca grapes.

It was Dr. Konstantin Frank who first made headway in vitis vinefera growth in New York State. Some forty years ago this Russian visionary came to the U.S. to make great wine from vinefera vines and while people laughed at his efforts he persisted and created the first successful commercial vineyards with vitis vinefera vines. He felt that if he could do it in Russia, where it is much colder than New York, than he could do it here. His vineyards still produce some of the best dry Riesling in the New World and we finally have them in the state of Utah.

There are three primary wine-producing regions in New York. The largest is the Finger Lakes region, where still today much of the production is vitis labrusca but a large number of vinefera vineyards have popped up in recent years. The Hudson Valley boasts America’s oldest standing winery, with Brotherhood making its first vintage in 1839. This region is known for its Riesling and more recently its Pinot Noir. The most exciting region in New York is, however, Long Island. Jutting east from New York City, this area has increased its wine production hugely over the last 20 years as it has been realized that it can produce Bordeaux varieties of world-class quality. Due to the long hot summers on Long Island, especially in North Fork and the Hamptons, Cabernet and Merlot have found a new home so keep your eyes out for upcoming wineries. Next time you are in New York City I encourage you to check out Vintage New York Wine Bar in SoHo. It features a wine list comprised of only New York State wines and all of the food is local and seasonal. Pretty cool.

Zev Rovine is the sommelier and resident cheese monger at the Spotted Frog Bookstore Cafe and Wine Bar where he teaches weekly wine classes. His wine education comes from the American Sommelier Association in N.Y.C. and he tries his very best not to spill the Pinot on the bestseller section. If you have any wine queries or comments he is easily contacted via e-mail at zev@spottedfrogbooks.com .


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