advertisement

Our favorite business gifts

wine in the news

Please make the Cache directory writable.
finesse in the finger lakes Print
Written by Nikitas Magel   

Finger Lakes in the Spring[Needless to say, the Finger Lakes region is growing in leaps and bounds.  But there's an interesting wrinkle in the picture: the continuing popularity and prevalence of non-European (vinifera) grape varietals.  Although these are not the wines that are garnering attention from the mainstream wine press, given that they rarely lend themselves to the production of what is commonly considered fine wine, they nevertheless comprise a considerable amount of the total wine produced in the region.  The conversation quickly segued into a discussion of the role of American/native grape varietals in the Finger Lakes wine industry.]

NM: What changes do you see for the Finger Lakes region as a whole in the coming years?

MD: I think some of that will depend on whether or not there's going to be enough outside investment.  I think it's a matter of reaching out to wine markets elsewhere in the country and educating consumers in those markets by actually getting the wines in front of them.  One benefit is, with the growing trend [in the U.S.] of food and wine pairing, that Rieslings tend to be very food friendly and that could play well for the region overall.  Among the producers themselves, there's a move towards greater consistency in style and quality.  But with over 100 wineries, there will probably be a bit of a separation between those who are still planting the native grapes and playing on the sweeter palate, as opposed to those who are planting vinifera grapes and going with a drier style.

NM: Oh, now that's interesting!  So, you feel there's going to be an increasing separation between these factions — the native North American varietal producers on the one hand, and the European vinifera varietal producers on the other — whom each appeal to a different palate, a different consumer.

MD: Yes.  I've heard that quite a bit from people in the industry I've been speaking to.  With some producers, even within their own line of wines, they are struggling with whether and how much to continue producing wines from native grapes.  And then there are other producers who are looking to expand their vinifera wine production while not alienating their original customer base who came to know Finger Lakes wines through those native grapes made into the sweeter style.  Wines in that style are known as "gateway wines" because they tend to appeal to people who haven't drunk wine before, as something to start off with before gradually moving into more drier styles [made with vinifera varietals].

[Winemaking grapes in the Finger Lakes region are divided into three general categories: European (vitis vinifera) varietals, native American varietals and their hybrids (vitis labrusca), and French hybrids, which are a crossbreeding of the two.  Normally associated with jellies and fruit juices, the black-skinned Concord is the most widely planted of American varietals.  Vinified by itself, it has what's known in the industry as a very strong foxy flavor — making it more likely to be blended with other varietals.  Left with a good deal of residual sugar, it's often made into sweet dessert wine.  Other native varietals are the red-skinned Catawba and Delaware, which tend to be made into sparkling wines, and Niagara, a white-skinned grape that also has a strong foxy quality appealing to some.  French hybrids were created (primarily during the period from 1880-1950) to be cold-weather hardy and disease and pest resistant.  The most significant of these is the white Seyval Blanc, which has two different styles: vinified in stainless steel for a clean and fruity style, or barrel fermented for greater depth and complexity.  Two other white French hybrids, Vidal Blanc and Vignoles, tend to made into late-harvest, dessert wines (the latter often being beneficially affected by noble rot).  Common red hybrids are Baco Noir, Chambourcin, and Maréchal Foch, all of which can be made in a very light Beaujolais-Nouveau style using carbonic maceration.]

NM: Would you say, then that the sweeter style of wines in this region tend to be made more often with the native varietals?

MD: Yes, that's my understanding.  While discussing this with one of my clients, Morgen McLaughlin, president of the Finger Lakes Wine Country Tourism Marketing Association, she told me she believed that the reason many wineries still produce sweet wines is because they sell better in tasting rooms, whereas the drier, vinifera-based wines do well with journalists, restaurants, retailers, and with certain consumers.  The wineries in the Finger Lakes rely heavily on tasting room sales (over 80% of sales for many wineries) and at the end of the day the wineries need to stay in business.  She said that even those producers who focus on dry-style vinifera wines have at least one "cash cow" wine — maybe not always a native or hybrid blend, but something with residual sugar.  Most people talk dry but drink sweet.



 

advertisement

wine in the news

Please make the Cache directory writable.

advertisement