New York State’s wine history dates back to the late 1600s, when early settlers planted a few varieties of grapes in various parts of the state. New York is home to the first bonded winery ever to be licensed in the U.S., along with the oldest operating winery in the entire nation today.
New York is considered the eastern United States’ wine capital with a focus on native American varieties, like Concord grapes. It wasn’t until sometime in the late 1950s that growers began to seriously experiment with higher quality vinifera grapes, particularly in the Finger Lakes region.
By the 1970s, wine production began expanding within the state with a small number of up-and-coming New York wineries. While it’s still Concord grapes and a few French-American hybrids that continue to be sources of most of the wine vinted within the state, a significant shift toward more noble European varietals has been seen for years. Today, New York is host to more than 240 wineries, giving it the distinction of being the fourth-largest wine-producing state in the nation.
New York Wine Production
There are currently over 40 different varietals of grapes cultivated within the state. Surprisingly, almost 70% of all the grapes grown in New York State are actually used for making juice, not wine, but grapes used in fine wines are an expanding sector.
Annually, New York State produces more than 200 million bottles of wine. State tourism is a major factor in the success of the wine business, drawing over 4 million visitors per year.
New York has nine AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) scattered throughout five regions: Finger Lakes, Long Island, Hudson Valley, Lake Erie, and Niagara Escarpment. The first two – Finger Lakes and Long Island – represent the most active and productive of the regions.
Finger Lakes is the largest and most lauded region for winemaking in the Eastern U.S. It owes a great deal of its success to the very lakes for which the area is named. The steep slopes that surround the lakes provide natural means for the flow of rainwater and natural drainage during the critical spring and summer growing season.
The deep lakes moderate the region’s weather during the fall months, which extends the growing season. The overall cool environment makes the region particularly suited for growing white wine varietals, like Gewurztraminer and Riesling. The latter is considered the area’s premier wine grape.
The first vineyard in Long Island was planted in 1973. After more than four decades, the region continues to expand. In that time, Long Island’s wine industry has grown from just one small vineyard to nearly 2,500 acres of grapevines and close to 60 world class wine producers.
Extending some 120 miles into the Atlantic, Long Island’s maritime climate, soil, and geography provide conditions that are ideal for producing exceptional quality wines.
The Long Island wine region extends through Nassau and Suffolk Counties. The vast majority of the region’s vineyards and wineries are located at the East End, on both the North and South Forks. Time-honored growing techniques combine with state-of-the-art winemaking technology to create a wide range of wines from both specific varietals and artfully crafted blends.
The moderate, sunny climate allows a broad array of grapes to be grown on Long Island. The most widely planted grapes are Merlot and Chardonnay, but varieties like Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Riesling, Pinot Grigio, Gewurztraminer, Gruner Veltliner, and many others are also grown in the region with much success.
In upcoming articles, we’ll have a look at the three other active regions within New York State and discover the broader diversity that exists between each.