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Understanding the Roots of New York Wine Country

Fun Facts About the New York Wine Country

New York State is home to more than just Manhattan, Broadway and the Statue of Liberty. Stepping outside of the city you’ll find rolling hills and farmland to mountain ranges and waterfalls. There is a lot to uncork in New York, including wine country. In conjunction with the Carpe Travel Finger Lakes Wine Travel Guide we’ve poured into a few interesting facts about the New York Wine Country we wanted to share. Happy sipping!

1. New York State is the third-largest producer of grapes in the United States, with 200 million bottles of wine produced each year.

2. Back in the year 1890, New York surpassed every State except California for the total quantity of wine produced. The East Coast fights back!

3. New York State is home to more than 470 wineries, 250 of which were founded in the past 10 years.

4. Vineyards were planted in New York as early as the 1810s and 1820s, with brief attempts as far back as the mid-17th century but given the cooler climate in New York, Vitis Vinifera vines inevitably died. But some of the native American hybrids—especially Isabella and Catawba—proved hardy enough to survive the cold winters and diseases and produced enjoyable wines.

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Vitis Vinifera is the common grapevine native to the Mediterranean region, Central Europe, Germany, and southwestern Asia and northern Iran that is used to produce wine. It is not a cold loving grapevine…

5. The first successful commercial winery in New York State, which eventually took the name Brotherhood Winery, was established in 1839 along the Hudson River. It is said to be the nation’s oldest continuously operating winery…but there are a few others that make the same claim.

6. In the 1960’s Dr. Konstantin Frank, a Ukrainian immigrant who held a Ph.D. in viticulture, proved that growing Vitis Vinifera could be done using the right rootstocks and techniques. The New York wine country was about to bloom once more but this time with grape varietals other parts of the world were growing…

7. Following the National Prohibition of alcohol the wine industry of New York consisted of just a handful of wineries in Finger Lakes regions like Gold Seal, Taylor, Canandaigua, Widmer’s and Great Western. In 1976 the Farm Winery Act was passed enabling smaller wineries to begin producing wine. This, in conjunction with Dr. Frank’s finding elevated the New York wine country.

8. Today the New York wine country is made up of 10 different American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) that are spread out across the state.

Champlain Valley of New York | Hudson River | Long Island | Finger Lakes | Seneca Lake | Cayuga Lake | Keuka Lake | Canandaigua Lake | Lake Erie | Niagara Escarpment

New York Wine Country Map
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AVAs are American Viticultural Areas. They are designated regions throughout the United States for the growing of grapes and the production of wine. Each AVA offers something unique, with wine connoisseurs knowing what to expect from each AVA.

9. Most of New York’s wine comes from the Finger Lakes. This AVA produces 90% of the State’s wine despite having just 25% of the total harvest.

10. Lake Erie’s AVA has the most vineyard acreage in the State, and it even expands outside of New York. It includes the complete southern shore of the lake that extends into Ohio and Pennsylvania. Roughly 60% of all the grapes planted in New York are here, but around 95% of the harvest actually consists of Niagara and Concord grapes, which are used for juice rather than wine.

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The New York wine country cultives more than 40 different types of grapes but about 70% of all grapes grown in New York go into juice, not wine.

11. It should come as no surprise given the grapes coming from the Lake Erie AVA that Welches grape juice – one of the most popular brands of grape juice in the world – has its headquartered in New York State.

12. The Long Island AVA is a large region that takes up everything to the east of New York City. However, most of the agricultural land is actually located towards the eastern region of the island where the land splits into two peninsulas. These are known as the North Fork and the South Fork, which are split into two AVAs. Most of the vineyards can be found on the North Fork given the popularity of The Hamptons.

13. The Finger Lakes AVA can be found right in the center of the State. It is also the largest, totaling some 80 miles in length and incorporating 12 different counties that all have substantial lakes. Canandaigua Lake is home to some of the biggest mega wineries, whereas Hammondsport is the center of wine activity in the region. You’ll find it on Keuka Lake. Geneva, where you’ll find Seneca Lake, is also home to the Agricultural Experiment Station of Cornell University.

Finger Lakes Wine Country

14. The Concord grape, which is more commonly used for juice and flavorings, is the most important grape in New York. It makes up around two-thirds of the total crop of grapes, meaning vineyards aren’t always necessarily used for wine.

15. The Niagara grape is the most popular white variety in New York. It is a hybrid of the Concord and a different Labrusca hybrid. Not only is the grape used for wine, but it is also popular for juice and jams. Both the Concord and Niagara grapes are the dominant species in the vineyards across the south shore of Lake Ontario in the Niagara Escarpment AVA.

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A hybrid grapevine is the offspring of parents from two different species of grapevines.

16. The Cayuga grape was originally hybridized at Cornell University’s Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva. It is a mid-season ripening wine grape that was made from the Seyval Blac and Schuyler grapes. It is known for being resistant to bunch rot.

17. Out of the Vitis Vinifera varieties, the Riesling grape is the most commonly planted in New York wineries. Chardonnay comes second.

18. New York’s climate is typically too cold for red wine grapes to fully ripen, though some seem to manage it fine! Specifically, you will find quality Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir and hybrid Baco Noir wines coming out of the State.

So the next time you’re in New York, why not make some time to explore some of the best NewYork wineries? As you can tell from the above, you won’t be short of places to visit!

What makes the New York wine country so amazing? See Carpe Travel’s Finger Lakes Wine Travel Guide.

Sip In More of New York…

Elaine Schoch

Elaine N. Schoch

Elaine Schoch (pronounced the German way – Shock) is the editor and founder of Carpe Travel as well as an award-winning travel writer, wine judge, certified by the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) Level 2 and certified American Wine Expert. She is married to The Husband and has two kids, Princess One and Two – who’s interest and knowledge in wine is quite extensive. Not to mention the stamps in their passports.

Peter Johansen

Wednesday 5th of February 2020

There are also several wineries in the St. Lawrence Seaway-Thousand Islands region that deserve mention, some of which (Cape Winery in particular) produce very good vintages indeed.

Elaine Schoch

Thursday 6th of February 2020

Great tip, thanks so much!