Extension Helps North Country Grow Grapes, Wine Community
by R.J. Anderson
Growing grapes in northeastern New York and Vermont requires a hardy vine and a committed hand. Researchers and extension educators from Cornell and the University of Vermont are offering wineries a helping hand with the agriculture, viticulture, and commercial challenges of growing grapes in a rugged climate.
The green and red partnership was on display at the 2017 Northeastern New York and Vermont Grape School, held on March 9 in Lake George, New York. Co-hosted by Cornell Cooperative Extension’s (CCE) Eastern NY Commercial Horticulture (ENYCH) program and the University of Vermont Grape Program, the one-day workshop brought together 47 current and potential vineyard and winery owners from the region.
“Cornell’s role is an important one in this region because the cold climate grape and wine industry in the North Country of New York and Vermont is very young,” said Anna Wallis, grape and tree fruit specialist with ENYCH who also oversees planting of cold-hardy grape varieties at Cornell’s Willsboro Research Farm. “And it is undergoing significant growth in terms of the number of producers, acreage planted, employment, and development of growers’ expertise.
“The community aspect is also still a work in progress,” she continued. “We’re working to develop relationships between all the industry players.”
Lindsay Campagna, a winery owner in New York’s Champlain Valley, appreciated the broad variety of topics covered, as well as the opportunity to connect with experts and peers. “We look forward to networking with individuals who ‘have been there and done that’ to get some firsthand knowledge of specific hurdles we are facing,” she said. “The vineyards in the Champlain Valley recognize that we need to work together to grow our industry and increase tourism. Since the Champlain Valley hasn’t been formally seen as a wine region, we are the pioneers in this voyage and have to work especially hard to brand our wines.”
Supplying expertise at the Grape School were CCE business management, fruit, and viticulture specialists, along with a UVM fruit specialist and officials from the New York Grape and Wine Association.
Many of the presenters are members of the Northern Grapes Project, a multistate team providing viticulture, enology, and marketing guidance to rural vineyards and wineries in the Northeast and Upper Midwest. Plants developed through the Northern Grape Project inhabit many of the North Country vineyards and can withstand temperatures as low as minus 30° Fahrenheit.
Tim Martinson, Cornell viticulture specialist and senior extension associate, is the team’s project director. Specializing in crop-load management and training systems in commercial vineyards in northern New York, Martinson’s Grape School presentation updated attendees on weed and floor management best practices.
Anna Katharine Mansfield, Cornell associate professor of enology, and extension associate Chris Gerling were a highlight of the event, presenting an afternoon program on using olfactory receptors to identify wine faults. Both are members of the Northern Grape Project and under their tutelage attendees used their noses to identify wine traits consumers find favorable and flaws that rate as unfavorable.
“Based on the post-event feedback, attendees appreciated learning about elements that affect wine quality,” said Lindsey Pashow, agriculture business development and marketing specialist with CCE’s Harvest New York regional agriculture team. “In order for the cold-climate wine industry to have an economic impact, gain recognition and expand, our wineries need to continually strive to improve wine quality – just like our counterparts in more established regions such as the Finger Lakes and Long Island have done.”
Campagna said the Grape School epitomizes CCE’s commitment to that growth – both regionally and with her operation. “Extension has been such a huge help in getting us where we are today and they are always our first call when we encounter a problem or have questions,” she said. “Anna and Lindsey have been great at guiding us through things or steering us in the right direction on who to ask. I think the North Country is truly an exciting place right now, just being recognized as a wine region, and I’m excited about seeing our region grow in the coming years.”
R.J. Anderson is a writer/communications specialist with Cornell Cooperative Extension. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.