New York State, USA

Yes, you read right- there is a fairly bustling wine industry in New York! In fact, New York state recently became the 3rd largest producer of wine in the USA, behind Washington state and the wine giant that is California. New York state has a wine making history dating back to the early 1800’s, assisted by European immigration, as was the case all over the New World. Many traders from Ireland and the UK as well as growers from France, Italy, and central Europe were fleeing famine and a failing European wine industry, setting up new lives in and around New York. The irony of the situation is that it was the introduction into European vineyards of disease and a specific pest (the Phylloxera louse) from North America that began their hardships in the first place! During the mid to late 19th century, the New York state wine industry enjoyed robust growth with so many new wine-appreciating immigrant arrivals and abundant space to grow vines, in cold, wet areas where most other crops had no chance of survival. This was of course severely curbed by the introduction of the Volstead act, a.k.a Prohibition, however could never truly be quashed, despite the best efforts of the US government.

There are 4 distinct wine regions in New York state. Nearest to the city of New York is the Hudson River AVA (American Viticultural Area- kind of like an Appellation). Whilst not known for high-quality wines, it is home to the oldest continual winery in the USA- Brotherhood Winery, which was established in 1839. The largest Kosher winery in the world can be found in this region, built to service the large Jewish community of New York. The most southern of the 4 regions in the state is Long Island AVA which sits to the east of New York city, along the long, thin island with such an inventive name. Being surrounded by the Atlantic ocean, this area does not experience the extremes of low temperatures of the more inland and northerly regions. Another benefit this region has is its proximity to the popular getaway spot for the rich and famous, the Hamptons. As a result, this region has a bustling cellar door industry, and most wines are sold and consumed locally in the summer months. The region specialises in traditional-method sparkling wines, and Bordeaux blends. It’s not all glitz and glamour though- this region takes the brunt of ocean hurricanes, which can decimate vineyards. The Finger Lakes AVA is the oldest of the 4 regions, which has been (and still is today) since 1820, the heartland of the New York wine industry with 90% of the state’s production. The vineyards sit of the steep slopes on the edge of the Finger Lakes. The slopes provide good water drainage and sun exposure (just like in the Mosel, Germenay), and the lakes, not being a moving body of water, hold summer warmth for many weeks after winter hits, moderating the freezing climate and allowing late-ripening varieties like Riesling, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc to flourish. An amazingly picturesque wine region, this is another region very popular for tourists. Last, but not least is Lake Erie AVA which sits on the shores of Lake Erie, which forms the natural border with Canada. This large inland lake acts in a similar fashion to the Finger Lakes in that it hold onto summer warmth, extending the growing season for this wine region. This was the region hit most heavily by Prohibition, mainly due to it being the region furthest from New York City and its proximity to the conservative state of Pennsylvania. As a result, the region still mainly focuses on table grapes, with only 17 wineries making fairly entry-level wines.

So what kind of wine is made in New York? The slopes of the Finger Lakes, with their shale soils and steep gradients are reminiscent of the vineyards of Germany, which therefore makes sense why the best wines from this state (by a long shot) are the crisp, fresh Rieslings, and the elegant, ultra sweet icewine versions of the same variety. Today there are a growing number of high-quality producers focusing on Pinot Noir and Cabernets (both Sauvignon and Franc) to slake the thirst of local New Yorkers that prefer red over white. Interestingly enough, New York separates itself from the western winemaking states in that it works much more closely with traditional American vine varieties, or crossings of these with European varietals- something the west coast has mostly rejected. Concord is the most successful native variety, however this is mainly used to produce sweet Kosher wines for the large Jewish population of New York city, so it is doubtful you’ll see any wines outside of the state! New York’s wines as a matter of fact are hard to find anywhere but New York. They are a parochial crowd, and there are enough of them to consume a heck of a lot of wine, so why would New York State winemakers look anywhere else!

Mark Faber
Wine Sales Manager