Finger Lakes Wine Facts for your Mental Cask
•The Finger Lakes was established as an American Viticulture Area (AVA) on October 1, 1982. An AVA is the U.S. federal government’s designation for a geographic area where wine grapes are grown and where the growing conditions—such as soil and climate—are easily distinguishable from other areas. The boundaries of an AVA are defined by the U.S. Department of the Treasury, through the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.
•About 90 percent of New York State’s wine is produced in the Finger Lakes, the state’s largest wine region.
•Finger Lakes facts and figures (as of spring 2014): 130 wineries, 9,393 acres of vineyards, 54,600 tons of grapes produced each year.
•The Finger Lakes is home to 828.60 acres of Riesling, including more than 200 different Riesling brands, producing an average of 220,000 cases each year. The average Finger Lakes winemaker produces 2-3 styles of Riesling a year.
•Following Riesling, the most common grapes grown in the Finger Lakes include: Chardonnay (340.53 acres), Cabernet Franc (220.74 acres), Pinot Noir (179.19 acres), Gewürtztraminer (104.94 acres), Merlot (62.25 acres), Pinot Gris (51.45 acres)
•The Finger Lakes’ growing season lasts between 190 and 205 days.
•The earliest instance of grape growing in the Finger Lakes can be dated back to 1829, when Reverend William Bostwick planted Catawba and Isabella grapes in his Hammondsport rectory garden.
•The Finger Lakes’ first winery, named Pleasant Valley Wine Company, was a cooperative formed by Hammondsport growers in 1860. Just three years later, Pleasant Valley was awarded a gold medal at the Vienna Exposition for its Sparkling Catawba—much to the shock and awe of many European wine snobs!
•The New York State Agricultural Experiment Station on Seneca Lake in Geneva, with grape breeding and viticultural research programs, was established in 1882.
•In the 1950s, Ukrainian immigrant Dr. Konstantin Frank, armed with a Ph.D. in viticulture and his experience winemaking in the cool Ukrainian climate, was the first to successfully plant vinifera grapes in the Finger Lakes, where previously only hybrids were commercially grown. The “Vinifera Revolution” had begun!
•A pivotal moment in the history of the region’s wine industry as we know it today came in 1976 with the passing of the New York Farm Winery Act, which reformed tax and marketing regulations to allow New York grape growers to sell directly to the public. Within 20 years of the law taking effect the number of Finger Lakes wineries grew from half a dozen to 50.
•Acids vs. Tannins: Acids are the fresh and tart attributes to a wine that provide balance and structure to the sweetness of the grape juice. Tannins are the bitter compounds that come from the skin of the grapes and from oak barrels. Particularly in red wines, which have more tannins than white wines, it can be difficult to determine whether a wine has strong acid or strong tannins. A good way to distinguish is to note the mouth feel of the wine: Does the wine leave your mouth refreshed, even salivating? That’s acid. Does it cause a puckering sensation, leaving your mouth dry? That’s the effect of tannins.
•Meritage, or New World Bordeaux, is a brand of Bordeaux-style wines that don’t infringe upon the Bordeaux region’s legally protected designation of origin. Meritage blends made in the Finger Lakes are commonly composed of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc.
•Ice wines are produced from ripe grapes that are pressed while frozen. This causes some water in the grapes to remain on the skin, producing very sweet, thick and concentrated dessert-style wines. Finger Lakes ice wines are commonly made from hybrid grapes like Vidal.
Information provided by: Finger Lakes Wine Alliance, New York Wine & Grape Foundation, Culture in a Glass: Reflections on the Rich Heritage of Finger Lakes Wine by Richard Figiel, and Wine Tour of the Finger Lakes by Grady Wells.
These facts originally appeared in 2014 Wine issue