Benjamin Mitrofan-Norris on July 12, 2016 0 Comments When we think of New York, many, many things come to mind. The towering skyscrapers of Manhattan, the vibrant art and music scene, the food, the buzz, the iconic buildings and parks…all such things have become ingrained in our cultural consciousness. To visit New York is, for most of us, like visiting a film set – it is familiar, because we’ve all grown up watching that city unfold on our screens and in photographs and stories. We may immediately think of all these things, but for most people, one of the items which doesn’t immediately come to mind is wine. There is no doubt that the American wine industry has been one of the great success stories of the past two centuries – not only did vines grow in the New World, but they flourished and took on a character all of their own. The soil, the sunlight, the distinctly American bravado of the vintners produced something distinctly American, and changed the way we see wine forever. But think of US wine, and we think of California, of Washington and Oregon…not New York. The fact that this is the case is surprising, to say the least. New York State is the US’s third biggest producer of vines and grapes, and has a fascinating wine history that pre-dates the rest of the country by a significant margin. Furthermore, New York wines are as characterful and interesting as those made anywhere else in the country, and it looks as though the next decade is finally going to see New York wines take their rightful place as some of the best in the land. Pioneering Origins As with most things in this part of the United States, the first vines in New York State were planted and cultivated in the 17th century by the Dutch, back when it was New Amsterdam and the settlers from the Netherlands were first making their mark on the New World. Along with a bunch of Huguenots fleeing France, these visionaries, these hard-working newcomers set about experimenting extensively with a wide variety of crops, seeing what would flourish and what wouldn’t on this strange new continent. New York proved quickly to be great wine country. After all, there’s a huge amount of water and highly fertile land across the state to be taken advantage of, and the Hudson River was soon seeing fervent viticultural activity all along its banks. The wine industry in New York state was, for the most part, a busy but relatively small and domestic industry up until the 19th century, when the city first began forming its identity and the industrial revolution swept the world. In the early years of that century, America’s oldest professional wineries were set up to provide wine for the waves of new people pouring into the harbor, and one of them – The Brotherhood Winery – continues to this day after 175 years in the business. What Happens to All of New York’s Grapes? One of the reasons why New York isn’t much recognized for its wine production, despite making a high percentage of the US’s overall wines by volume, is due to the simple fact that 80% of its vines are not used for wine at all. While the wines we know and love are produced from various strains of the Vitis vinifera plant, which almost every wine in the world is made from, the vast majority of New York’s grapes are of the Vitis labrusca plant, generally seen as an inferior species for wine, but ideal for grape juice. As such, New York produces vast quantities of grape juice and sacramental wine. That isn’t to say that the other 20% is useless or not worth looking into. Indeed, wineries in New York throughout the 19th and 20th centuries were savvy enough to not try to emulate the southern European wine styles you’d find in California. The climate in New York is cool for most of the year, and bitterly cold in winter…and not unlike the mountainous regions of northern central Europe. As such, it comes as no surprise to find that the key grape varietal of that region – Riesling – is a great success in New York, too. Discover Other Unique American Wines What Are the Best Wine Regions of New York? The best place for Riesling wines – those bone dry, crisp Germanic wines perfect for ageing – in New York state is around the Finger Lakes AVA, about five hours northwest of New York City. The region was really set up as a world class wine region in the 1950s by a certain Dr. Konstantin Frank, a viticulturalist from Ukraine, who recognized the potential for fantastic Riesling wines in this part of the world. The reason for the region’s monumental success is down in part to Frank’s tireless work in the last century, but also due to the geographical features of the region. The lakes themselves don’t only provide crisp, fresh water for the vineyards, they also have a significant effect on the climate of the area. The water keeps the region warm in the winter, and cools the air in the summer, thus creating a long, temperate period, perfect for the growth and ripening of healthy white Riesling grapes. Closer to the big city, we also find Long Island AVA. Here, we have a hotter climate, yet again, one which is cooled by its geographical peculiarities. In this case, the winds coming off the Atlantic Ocean. Long Island has proven itself to be a great location for Bordeaux style wines, made from Merlot and Cabernet Franc. It has also shown great promise with sparkling wines, and white varietals such as Sauvignon Blanc. What’s to Come for New York Wines? The future is bright for New York wines. A renewed interest in the region is seeing great activity returning to the state, including a lot of new wineries jumping on the ever-quickening bandwagon for natural, organic and biodynamic wines. People are looking to New York to provide quirky, European-style wines, perhaps as an antidote to the Californian numbers everyone has grown so used to. The state may still be finding its feet as a global wine producer, but the winemakers are taking risks again, and looking to their unique and impressive heritage for inspiration. We can only wait and see what wonders are to come.