New York may not be particularly famous for its wines, but the state is home to a significant number of vineyards and wineries. It ranks third among the U.S. wine-producing states in terms of volume produced, surpassed only by Washington and of course California. Most top New York wines are made from Riesling, most often in crisp, dry styles but also as lusciously sweet ice wine. The finest of these come from the vineyards around the Finger Lakes. Other successful varieties here include Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot and hybrid varieties such as Vidal and the all-American Concord.
Although a great deal of New York wine is consumed locally, the state's inhabitants maintain a keen interest in wines from elsewhere in the world. The shelves of the best New York wine stores are better stocked than those anywhere else on Earth.
(© David L. Hansen)
New York State is located in the north-eastern United States, between the Atlantic coast and the U.S. border with Canada. Because of this zone's cool, frost-prone climate, most New York vineyards are located near the coast, next to rivers, or huddled around the state's various lakes. Because of their vast thermal mass, large bodies of water such as these reduce the severity of winter frosts – a service without which vines would not be able to survive here (see lake effect).
Water is abundant in New York. As well as being sandwiched between the Atlantic coast and the Great Lakes, the state is also peppered with smaller lakes and criss-crossed by numerous rivers. In the context of quality wine, the most important water bodies here are the lakes which dominate the state's north-western corner – particularly the Finger Lakes Seneca and Cayuga, but also Lakes Ontario and Erie, around whose shores are the Lake Erie and Niagara Escarpment AVAs.
Far east of the Great Lakes, right on the Atlantic coast beyond Manhattan, is another of the key New York wine regions, Long Island. Surrounded by the shallow waters of the Atlantic coast, Long Island enjoys a significantly milder climate than the rest of the state. It sits right at the northern edge of the Gulf Stream (the warm ocean current which flows up the U.S. east coast), whose warmth lengthens the growing season and enables the growth of red-wine grapes – notably the Cabernets and particularly Merlot. Unlikely as it might seem, there is such as thing as a New York Bordeaux Blend.
The first New York vineyards were planted in the 17th Century by Dutch and Huguenot settlers along the Hudson River. After a few centuries of trial and error, in the 1950s and 60s it became clear that Riesling was the variety of choice here, particularly in upstate locations. There are now more than 200 New York wineries producing around 35 million gallons (1.3 million h/l) of wine each vintage.
New York's contribution to world wine culture goes far beyond Finger Lakes Riesling; it also extends into the halls of Cornell University in Ithaca, an upstate town right at the southern tip of Cayuga Lake. The university's Viticulture and Enology department has carried out a great deal of viticultural work over the years, including the creation of Chardonel, Traminette and Cayuga.