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With over 14,000 hectares of vineyards, New York State ranks 3rd in production volume in the United States. It boasts the most robust pre-prohibition wine industry on the east coast of the United States, however, little of it survived. The modern wine industry and particularly vitis vinifera production is much due in thanks to a couple of Europeans hellbent on exploring cool climate viticulture with vitis vinifera grapes in the Northwestern part of New York State, known as the Finger Lakes Region.
It was the New York State Farm Act of 1976 that ushered in new life for the NYS industry. It significantly lowered the fees required for a winery or distillery license. At the time, there were only 14 wineries in New York. Today there are nearly 500!
The eleven long, thin, “finger-like” lakes run parallel north to south in the northwest corner of New York State. Closer to Canada than New York City. It’s said that a giant dragged its fingernails down the map. In reality, it was a glacier - also responsible for the great lakes to the north, the Hudson River and really the rest of the topography of New York State to the south.
In the middle of the region you’ll find Seneca Lake, the largest of the Finger Lakes - 61km long and 3km at its widest point, and 118m deep! It’s so deep, it practically never freezes over in winter - an amazing feat. It’s so deep that the United States Navy tests sonar equipment here. That depth has a profound effect on the conditions in the surrounding areas. The “lake effect” moderates the temperatures on the surrounding shores - it doesn’t get as cold in winter or as hot in summer. Unlocking the key for vitis vinifera production. And the winters get COLD! Frost and even trunk damage is a real concern.
The glacier left varying soil deposits, but largely you’ll find schists - young slate. Fissile layers perfect for vine roots to wriggle deep into. Just look at this photo of Watkins Glen State Park, which sits at the base of Seneca Lake, and you’ll see what I mean. Flanking Seneca Lake you have Canandaigua Lake and Keuka Lake to the west and Cayuga Lake to the east. In these areas surrounding Seneca you’ll find the majority of producers and vineyards. The Finger Lakes AVA covers a large swath of land with all 11 lakes. Each lake boasts of its own unique viticulture characteristics lending to unique flavor profiles. Seneca Lake and Cayuga Lake are also recognised AVA’s within the larger Finger Lakes appellation.
While still a young region for vitis vinifera, Riesling has emerged as king grape. A focus for both Konstantin Frank and Hermann Wiemer (modern-era pioneers of the region), about 90% of the state’s riesling comes from the Finger Lakes, and is considered world-class. On the red end, Cabernet Franc is leading the pack. Cool climate aromatic grapes thrive here. You’ll find: Gewurztraminer, Chardonnay (Unoaked), Gruner Veltliner, Blaufränkisch, Pinot Noir, and many more. Hybrid grapes are historically relevant here and still a big part of production for many producers.
Long Island begins in the New York City boroughs of Queens & Brooklyn and runs east for about 190km. It is a true island, with the Atlantic Ocean on it’s south shore and the Long Island Sound on its north shores, separating it from the mainland United States (Connecticut). Towards the east end, the island splits into a North and South Fork by the Peconic Bay. It’s here where the first vineyards were planted in 1973.
Long Island, and the North Fork in particular, have a long agriculture history, with potatoes being the primary crop starting in the 1900s. As the agricultural scene has developed on the East End, many crops have been planted with the introduction on vineyards in the early 1970s.
The first vineyard was planted on Long Island in 1973 by Alex and Louisa Hargrave. Pioneers in the industry, they were followed by a group of enthusiastic investors, grape growers, and winemakers bringing a wide range of experience from across the globe.
The Long Island AVA is the entirety of the two counties on the eastern part of the island - Nassau and Suffolk - home to approximately 90 wineries. The overwhelming majority of vineyards and producers are in eastern Suffolk county. The forks each have their own AVA’s - The North Fork of Long Island AVA, is protected from the Atlantic by the south fork and Peconic Bay and therefore is where the majority of producers are found. The south fork has less protection, and therefore fewer vineyards and producers. The Hamptons, Long Island AVA can be found here, also known for being a popular celebrity haunt!
The region boasts a Maritime climate with warmer winters & hot, humid summers. I consider the island to be a giant sand dune left there by glacial activities. Soils are well-draining loams over a gravel base. They focus on classic European grape varieties, Chardonnay & Merlot are standouts, along with Bordeaux varieties and sparkling wines.