5 things I learned at New York's biggest wine conference

North Country wines are on the rise. These were featured at the Viticulture conference luncheon in Rochester Wednesday. Photo: David Sommerstein.

I grew up in Buffalo, so I have long associated New York wines with what they perhaps used to be known for – sweet, cloying reds and weird labels from Bully Hill.  Old prejudices are hard to kick.  I'm ready to step into today's New York wine scene.

Viticulture 2013 was held in Rochester this week.  I came in knowing little, except that the Finger Lakes region is now considered a serious wine making region of the world, and the Riesling is its signature grape.

The conference bills itself as the biggest wine conference in the East.  That makes sense, given that New York is the third biggest producer of wine in the country, after California and Washington.

That little tidbit is just one thing I learned at the conference that surprised me.  Here are five more:

  1. New York produces 1/3 of the grapes used in Welch's grape juice.
  2. New York is home to five official major wine regions, called AVAs (American Viticulture Areas): the Finger Lakes, Long Island, the Hudson Valley, Lake Erie, and the Niagara Escarpment.  There's a movement afoot to get northern New York an official AVA designation.  That in part explains why all four wines served at the conference's opening lunch were from the North Country: two from Coyote Moon in Clayton, one each from Thousand Islands Winery in Alexandria Bay and Tug Hill Vineyards in Lowville.
  3. North Country wines are on the rise.  Master Sommelier Thomas Belelieu of the New York Wine and Culinary Center told me the diversity of soils and microclimates along the St. Lawrence River, and the creation of new hardy cold climate varietals, gives the region great untapped potential.
  4. A pocket of wineries is developing an Adirondack wine trail in Clinton County.
  5. There's something called "urban wineries".  Brooklyn Winery in Williamsburg, for example, buys grapes from vineyards in farm country (2/3 from Upstate New York) and makes their own wines on site.

John Stires co-owns Brooklyn Winery, an "urban winery" in Williamsburg.

New York wineries are looking to the booming microbrewery movement for inspiration.  Instead of trying to compete with the stereotypical deep, full bodied wines of France and California, they're staking out their own, unique territory.  Said esteemed wine writer Dan Berger, there are no "great wines".  Rather wines become great by having a "distinctive" taste.  In other words, don't sweat the magic number ("is it a 95?").  Don't worry about the "great" grapes like Cabernet, Pinot, etc.  Follow your taste buds.  Try a bunch of wines and decide what you like.

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  1. I'll take the challenge! We buy three of four bottles per week and I think it will a good exercise to buy only New York wines for the rest of the winter. I'll let you know what I find, and it would be great to compare notes from other wine drinkers.
    David, Set us up for a longer term conversation.

  2. Thanks, David. Very interesting. Are you aware if any of these New york State wines are available in stores in Canton (or Ogdensburg)?

  3. David, you should check out Prince Edward County, Ont, for some comparisons and a vision of where this could go. There are many extremely fine wines coming out of that part of Ontario very near the Jeff Co wineries: http://beerblog.genx40.com/tag/princeedward

    Watch the tax on the return trip, Hank. The mark-up at the border for good beer is around 30% but for wine more like 80%.

    • Thanks, Alan. I had no idea it was so high. I've never brought wine back into Canada before (unless I was away long enough to qualify for an exemption). Guess I'll have to consume it on site!!

      And I certainly concur on your comments about PEC (Prince Edward County) wines.

  4. Hank, someone at the conference told me you could bring two bottles into Canada duty free, but you should check that.

    Alan, I'd love to do anything that gets me to Prince Edward County. I love it out there.

    Michael, sounds great. Last night I had a Lamoreaux Landing Riesling. Nice.

  5. I brought home a bottle of "Dr, Konstantin Frank" semi-dry Riesling yesterday. Janet likes white wines, but pronounced this one a "headache wine"….You can't win them all.

    • yeah, Dr. Frank is considered the godfather of Finger Lakes wines…

      I ain't no sommelier (I can barely spell it), but I think newer wineries have leapfrogged him in quality and value, IMHO!

  6. Champlain wines are showing up more and more at our farmers' market. Probably the thin edge of the wedge.

    • Yes, I met the owner of Vesco Ridge Vineyards in West Chazy and she said there's a growing Adirondack Wine Trail movement growing…