The Empire State of New York is undoubtedly most famous for the ‘open all hours’ metropolis that shares its name. However, beyond the business suits and skyscrapers, lies a land of lakes and mountains with huge swaths of forest and agricultural fields, and a wine industry that is steadily growing in size and reputation.
When asked to name an American winemaking region, the response is rarely anything other than California. And whilst this is somewhat inevitable, based on the area under vine, volume of production and international reputation of the west coast giant, it would be foolish to dismiss some of the smaller states, many of which produce world class wines.
New York falls into this category, with a number of prestigious AVAs including those within the Finger Lakes sub-zone - an area renowned for its sought-after Riesling varietals, made in both dry and harmoniously sweet styles. This area also has the bragging rights of being home to the United States’ first bonded winery - Pleasant Valley.
New York’s first vineyards were planted by Dutch settlers in the seventeenth century but it wasn’t until much later - after years of experimentation with grape varieties - that winemakers found the perfect fit for their terroir. The nature of the geography here, and the potential destruction of vines from frosts as a result of the relatively cold climate, dictates that the majority of New York’s vineyards are found in close proximity to either the coast, the lakes or along the banks of one of the state’s rivers. There are five key sub-zones:- Lake Eire and The Niagara Escarpment is the far northwest corner of the state, Finger Lakes - so-called for the eleven long, narrow (finger-like) stretches of water, west of the centre, the Hudson River region directly north of New York City, and the Atlantic coast of Long Island whose climate - influenced by the Gulf Stream - is quite in contrast to the rest of the region.
So with such variance in geography and microclimate, it comes as no surprise to learn that a diverse range of grapes are grown throughout the region. Riesling dominates the cooler sub-zones of Finger Lakes and Eire, with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay also prevalent in these areas, whilst producers in the warmer areas of Long Island favour traditional Bordeaux varieties such as Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc. Additionally, a large number of American-French hybrids are cultivated across the region’s sub zones with some success.
With more than 1500 vineyards, 400 wineries and 170 million bottles of wine produced each year, the New York wine industry is evidently booming. Continued momentum in recent years has also led to a surge of interest in the region from a wine tourism perspective. With an already established reputation for excellence, and a community of winemakers intent on experimentation and embracing new technologies, perhaps its only a matter of time before the state famous for its ‘big apple’, begins to shout about another fruit…
Finger Lakes is an American Viticultural Area in New York State that boasts almost five-thousand hectares of vineyard and is notable for producing premium quality wines from the Riesling grape.