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New York OKs Out-of-State Grapes

October 2014
by Linda Jones McKee
Est. crop reduction
Source: Cornell Cooperative Extension

Albany, N.Y.—From Iowa to New England, the winter of 2014 was unusually cold. New York was no exception, and it endured a series of low-temperature episodes in January and February that resulted in significant bud injury in many vineyards. Cold-sensitive vinifera grape varieties were damaged across the state, and the extreme cold affected even cold-hardy northern varieties such as the Minnesota and Cornell hybrids grown in the Thousand Islands region of northern New York. The table “2014 Winter Injury” shows the low temperatures during the past winter in three regions in New York.

In late August, state agriculture commissioner Richard A. Ball announced that New York’s farm wineries would be permitted to purchase grapes and juice from outside the state because “a loss of grapes of 40% or more has occurred for the 15 grape varieties, due to adverse weather conditions during the winter of 2013-14.” The specific varieties that are covered by commissioner Ball’s announcement include vinifera varieties Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Gamay Noir, Gewürztraminer, Lemberger, Merlot, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Riesling and Syrah as well as the cold-hardy hybrids Brianna, Frontenac, La Crescent and Noiret.

Commissioner Ball based his decision on two surveys conducted by Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE). First, CCE sent out a brief online survey to New York grapegrowers, asking for an estimate of the reduction in yield from a “normal” crop, the acreage of each variety and a three-year average tonnage from their vineyards by variety. A total of 65 responses were received, representing 209 vinifera and 159 hybrid blocks. The results for cold-sensitive vinifera cultivars showed average crop reduction of more than 40% for 10 varieties. More severe injury was reported in the Lake Erie region, while Long Island growers noted little or no winter injury-related crop reduction. Growers estimated crop reduction of more than 40% for six of 33 hybrid cultivars, all of which were cold-climate varieties grown in the North Country region.

To supplement the online grower surveys, CCE agents visited 188 vineyard blocks across New York, including 91 blocks in the Finger Lakes, 18 blocks in the Hudson Valley, 63 blocks in the Lake Erie region and 16 in the North Country. The Long Island region was not surveyed, as the region did not have any significant winter injury. In each block, extension agents did a 30-vine sample, estimated the number of clusters for each vine and then rated each vine on a zero to five scale. The ratings were then used to calculate the percentage of a full crop.

The table “Statewide 30-Vine Survey Estimates” shows the results of the statewide survey for the 15 varieties that had the most winter damage and the estimated percentage of crop reduction.

While the results of the on-site vineyard block surveys showed a somewhat lower estimate of losses than the grower self-reporting surveys, the 30-vine surveys revealed significant crop reduction. Of the 146 blocks of vinifera varieties surveyed, 11 varieties showed more than 40% loss in yield. In the 42 blocks of hybrid varieties located primarily in the North Country region, CCE found four varieties above the 40% threshold.

Based on the CCE’s surveys, commissioner Ball determined that farm wineries must file an application with the Department of Agriculture and Markets by Oct. 31 in order “to be considered to manufacture or sell wine produced from out-of-state grapes or juice” for the varieties included on the list from the commissioner. A winery must show that they have been unable to acquire the varietal(s) in the amount desired from at least three New York state grapegrowers of that varietal. In addition, “the tonnage and/or juice requested should not exceed the product lost that normally comes from (their) vineyard or other New York state-grown source.”

Hans Walter-Peterson, viticulture extension specialist at CCE, told Wines & Vines he has no idea how many wineries will take advantage of the opportunity to buy out-of-state grapes. He noted, “Wineries have put so much effort into building the Finger Lakes name that some may not want to put ‘American’ on their labels.”

New York currently has 324 wineries. By state law, farm wineries must use grapes, fruits or agricultural products grown within the state unless the Commissioner of Agriculture and Markets gives wineries authorization to use grapes grown outside of New York. Commissioner Ball’s declaration in August was the first time wineries have received permission to acquire out-of-state fruit since 2005.

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