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May is a pretty unique month for us. Instead of choosing one variety or one grape family, we’re going to explore the world of grapes developed by the Finger Lakes Grape Program (FLGP).

To take a few steps back, Cornell University in Ithaca, NY created a Cooperative Extension for each of the states counties to help bring NYS families and communities the information they need to thrive. Each county in the state has it’s own unique needs and programs, but ones you’ll find in the Finger Lakes is are Farm to Table programs in the local schools, classes and webinars that the residents can access to learn about gardening, canning, and more. They provide paper shredding and electronic recycling resources to the community, as well as run recycling programs for some of the counties. They also run the 4-H Youth Development Program, provide information on saving energy and water, and provide endless amounts of information and resources to the large agriculture community in upstate NY.

One of the programs developed by the Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) specifically serves the grape and wine industry in 6 of the Finger Lakes counties by providing research-based information to the regions grape growers on various topics such as vineyard and pest management practices, farm business management, marketing and business development, and grape development.

Grape research and development takes place at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station (now Cornell AgriTech) in Geneva, New York. In the past 100 years, Cornell AgriTech has released 59 juice, table, and wine grape varieties adapted to cool climates.

I don’t plan to teach you about all 59, but I do want to cover some of the ones that you’ve likely tasted in recent visits to the Finger Lakes. (For the full list of grapes, visit https://blogs.cornell.edu/grapes/production/cornell-grape-varieties/)

By far, the most common Cornell-developed grape you’ve encountered is Cayuga White. It was first bred in 1945 but wasn’t released commercially until 1972. It was bred from Seyval and Schuyler (another Cornell grape) for its cold hardiness and resistance to disease. Although it isn’t actually as cold-resistant as other varieties, it’s high-yielding and produces quality grapes. It’s typically a mid-season grape that produces a semi-sweet, crisp white wine with bold citrus flavors, fresh apple, and ripe pear. This grape works great as a blend or stand-alone and has even been seen in some sparkling wines.

2 of the newest grapes to be developed are Arandell and Aromella.

Arandell:

  • a mid-season red wine grape characterized by a high degree of natural disease resistance and producing dark red wines with clean, berry aromas.
  • 55th grape developed
  • A cross between 2 specific hybrid grapes was made in 1995
  • 23 seedlings were selected and planted in 1997
  • 1 was selected for propagation and further testing in 2001
  • Officially released in 2013
  • Disease Resistance: Arandell is bred to be highly resistant to powdery mildew, downy mildew, and botrytis bunch rot.
  • Winter Hardiness: Vines are moderately winter hardy and could have up to 50% bud damage around -13 F with limited trunk damage.

Aromella:

  • a winter-hardy white wine grape with high potential productivity and excellent aromatic muscat wine characteristics.
  • 56th grape developed
  • A cross between Traminette 3 and Ravat 24 was made in 1976
  • Seedlings were planted in 1978
  • Wine was first made in 1983
  • Original seedling vine was propagated for further testing in 1990
  • Officially released in 2013
  • Disease Resistance: Aromella has medium resistance to downy and powdery mildew and performs well with the same disease control program as most hybrid grapes would.
  • Winter Hardiness: Vines are extremely winter hardy and are suitable for most sites. Tests indicate that 50% bud kill will occur around -16F without trunk damage. Vines remain productive even after lows of -15 to -16.

The FLGP has also developed 2 red wine grapes that are specific to thrive in the northeast climate:

Noiret:

  • “a mid-season red wine grape suitable for the production of varietal wines. The distinctive red wine is richly colored and has notes of green and black pepper along with raspberry, blackberry, and some mint aromas. A major distinguishing characteristic of this selection is the fine tannin structure that is complete from the front of the mouth to the back. The tannin structure and the absence of any hybrid aromas strongly distinguish this selection from other red hybrid grapes.”
  • A complex hybrid red wine grape crossed in 1973
  • From 251 seeds, 116 seedlings were evaluated
  • 28 of those seeds were fermented to evaluate wine characteristics and 10 were propagated for further testing
  • The original seedling wine was germinated in 1974 and planted in a permanent site in 1975
  • Available for testing by growers since 1994
  • Officially released in 2006
  • Disease Resistance: Moderately hardy and only slightly susceptible to powdery mildew.
  • Winter Hardiness: Moderately hardy with  50% bud kill taking place around -14.3F with trunk damage.

Corot Noir:

  • “is a mid to late-season red wine grape suitable for either blending or the production of varietal wines. The wine has a deep red color and attractive cherry and berry fruit aromas. Its tannin structure is complete from the front of the mouth to the back, with big soft tannins.”
  • A complex hybrid red wine grape crossed in 1970
  • From 250 seeds, 160 seedlings were grown in a nursery then transplanted to a vineyard in 1975
  • 33 seedlings were fermented for wine characteristic evaluation and 15 were propagated for further testing
  • Initial testing began in 1978
  • Available for testing by growers since 1994
  • Officially released in 2006
  • Disease Resistance: Moderately resistant. No special disease concerns, though additional sprays for downy mildew may be needed on occasion.
  • Winter Hardiness: Moderately hardy. 50% bud kill takes place at -15.1% with little to no trunk damage.

Some other common grapes developed by Cornell:

Traminette:

  • “a late to mid-season white wine grape which produces wine with pronounced varietal character likened to one of its parents, ‘Gewurztraminer.’”
  • A cross between Joannes Sayve 23.416 and Gewurztraminer made in 1965
  • Planted in 1968
  • Fruit was first observed in 1971
  • Original vine was propagated in 1974
  • Officially released in 1996
  • Disease Resistance: Moderately resistant and controlled with standard commercial practices
  • Winter Hardiness: Moderately hardy. 50% bud kill takes place at -15.3F with some trunk damage

Melody:

  • ‘Melody’ is a late midseason, white wine grape which produces a vinifera-type wine with varietal character that does not require cluster thinning.
  • A cross between Seyval and Geneva White 5 was made in 1965
  • The fruit was first described in 1969
  • Propagated for testing in 1972
  • Available for testing by growers since 1982
  • Officially released in 1985
  • Disease Resistance: Moderate to highly resistant
  • Winter Hardiness: Moderately hardy

Check out these offers along the trail* for the entire month of May:

Swedish Hill Winery-

  • 2/$21 bottles of Mooscato. In-store and online
  • Cornell Grape: Valvin Muscat

Goose Watch Winery-

  • 2/$20 bottles of 2019 Melody or 2016 Aromella. May mix and match. In-store and online
  • Cornell Grapes: Melody and Aromella

Buttonwood Grove Winery-

  • Complimentary tasting of Tuesday with purchase of a standard tasting
  • 15% off 3 or more bottles
  • Cornell Grape: Cayuga White (blended with Riesling)

Hosmer Winery-

  • 2/$20 bottles of Cayuga White. In-store only
  • Cornell Grape: Cayuga White

*at participating wineries