9 Sep 2011

Wine from Eastern USA: a look from afar

I confess that I have always been intrigued by the fact that the state of New York is the USA's third largest producer of wine, after the giant California (some 90%) and the state of Washington, yet without feeling any particular urge to go there and explore. I suppose that what has deterred me is the knowledge that most of the wine made there comes from vitis labrusca, one of North America's native vine species which is infamous for producing wines with strange (sometimes called "foxy") flavours. Or else from French or American hybrids using local species crossed with the Asian/European vitis vinifera. In fact it was not until quite recently that vitis vinifera, properly grafted of course onto phylloxera resistant root stock, was planted commercially in this region.

(my photo of this bottle, whose label has suffered a bit, shows a lake in the backgound. This is not one of the Finger Lakes, but the one at the bottom of the land in my base in South-West France)

My low level of awareness of this wine-growing region of New York (which exports little, having plenty of consumers on its doorstep) was raised recently when a friend in France who imports wines from various points around the globe, mostly far away, produced a bottle of a Riesling from a winery in the Finger Lakes area called Sheldrake Point. We tried this wine at lunch one day and I found it much better than drinkable. It was clean, fresh and with just the right amount of crisp, citrus-like character to get the bottle drunk in a fairly short space of time on a warm day. In fact it would have shown well alongside many Rieslings from Alsace, with a character perhaps midway between such wines and the more delicate German dry Rieslings. Because yes, it was perfectly dry. Even if a Gewurztraminer from the same producer was not nearly so good (in fact quite poor), this Riesling made me think that maybe I should get across the Atlantic and explore the wines of New York State someday soon. And, if any readers out there have some recommendations to make about the wines from here, I am all ears and eyes. 

For those of you who (like me) know little about wine from New York State, here is an excerpt from the entry in Wikipedia :

The state has four major wine-growing regions, including Lake Erie AVA on the western end of the state, the Finger Lakes AVA in the west-central area, the Hudson River Region AVA in eastern New York, and the eastern end of the Long Island AVA. In 1976, when the Farm Winery Act was passed, the Finger Lakes and Long Island regions had 19 wineries. By 1985, there were 63 wineries, and now the regions hold approximately 212 wineries. The wine regions' soils originated from the last glacial advance which left gravel and shale type soils with heavy clay deposits in the Finger Lakes region and sandy soil in the Long Island region. The climate differs amongst the regions based on the Atlantic Gulf Stream and the numerous bodies of water and mountainous regions around the state. The annual precipitation ranges from 30 inches (76 cm) to 50 inches (127 cm). The growing season in the Lake Erie and Finger Lakes regions ranges from 180 to 200 days a year, while on Long Island, the season is extended to 220 days and the humidity is higher and the fall precipitation is somewhat higher as well.


  1. Did it strike your mind, David, that this area is the largest unsalted-water reserve of the world (250.000 square km), roughly the size of UK ? And yet, its main city, Chicago, harbours the largest number of Poles in the world, after Warsaw. Therefore, it is only fortunate that you find booze around !

  2. This is a touch of enlightenment to me. I knew there was a lot of water there, but the biggest unsalted reservoir in the world? As for the reputation of Poles and their capacity to absorb alcohol, well that is a legend that may contain some element of truth. Apart from that, what else do you know about Finger Lakes?

  3. Not a lot : I’m not allowed access to American territory since I decided I liked Fidel Castro and his beard – not much else from the man, mind you. So, I’d better shut the f..k up. I know finger prints are enough to send you to jail forever, even in the absence of other evidence, except in UK where “habeas corpus” is still the rule. I respect you a lot for that. Victor Hugo – a great man – could have been a Brit. And he did live in Guernsey for quite a while !
    Apart from anything else, did you taste Cuvée Majou 2008 ? The Hachette jury did, and liked it. Right they are !

  4. I'm not agreat fan of Fidel or his beard myself, but that's another story. Left some semples of Coume wines today at a restaurant. Will taste with my colleague soon. Agree about Habeas Corpus, which is a good principle.