Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Wine Regions to Explore: The Finger Lakes in New York

New York was one of the first winegrowing states in the country.  It now has the second largest wine-producing region in the United States, behind California, which accounts for 90% of our wine production. Washington and Oregon rank third and fourth in wine-production.

The Finger Lakes wine region is located in Upstate New York, south of Lake Ontario.  It is the largest winemaking region in the Eastern U.S. 
This area is set apart with eleven glacial lakes and moderate temperatures resulting in a longer growing season.  The perfect conditions for many grapes – but especially for Riesling grapes – the Finger Lakes signature wine.

Grapes have been growing in the region since 1829 when Reverend William Bostwick arrived near Keuka Lake with Catawba vines.  Catawba grapes would become one of the most successful varieties grown in the state during the next one hundred years.  Only seven years later, in 1836, Samuel Warren created the first commercial winery, located in the town of York, at what is now the western edge of the Finger Lakes region.

In 1860, Charles Davenport Champlin, along with 12 businessmen from Hammondsport, New York, founded the first winery in the region.  It was called the Hammondsport and Pleasant Valley Wine Company and designated as U.S. Bonded Winery No. 1.  Winemakers for the company were Frenchmen Jules and Joseph Masson. The winery was sold to Great Western Producers in 1955.  The Taylor Wine Company bought it in 1962. Then Coco Cola purchased it in 1977.  Seagram took ownership in 1983, and finally Vintners International Company in 1987.  The winery finally landed once again in control of a family, the Doyle family, in 1995.  It is now the oldest winery still in operation in the state. 

1880 saw the Taylor family begin the Taylor Wine Company.  They followed a similar path as Pleasant Valley and actually purchased it when it was known as Great Western.  In 1977, Taylor was acquired by Coco Cola, then Seagram purchased it in 1983, and Vintners International bought it in 1987.  Mercury Aircraft owned it as of 1995, and it appears to now be part of the Pleasant Valley Wine Company.

Small wine producers were growing steadily at the turn of the last century, but Prohibition cost the fledgling wine industry a lot.  In fact, many in the New York wine industry believe that Prohibition cost them the title of winemaking leader of the U.S.  So many small wineries were put out of business by Prohibition; by 1933 all that could afford to restart were the large producers.

In 1962, Konstantin Frank released his first vintage of Johannisberg Riesling, grown from European Vitis vinifera grapes planted in the Finger Lakes.  He encouraged local vineyard owners to move away from growing the native American grapes and experiment with the vines that were being used by European winemakers. Thanks to his foresight and ability, Riesling is now the most planted, and most popular grape in the Finger Lakes, amounting to around 150,000 cases produced each year.

It took another 43 years for the ‘little guy’ to get a foothold in the industry again. That occurred in 1976, with the passage of the Farm Winery Act which allowed the small and medium sized wineries (only 19 at the time) a chance to grow and develop their own wines instead of being forced to sell their grapes to the big three; Taylor, Gold Seal and Great Western/Pleasant Valley.

As small family-owned wineries began to get reestablished, they started to take over the Finger Lakes wine industry again.  By 1985, only nine years after the Farm Winery Act was passed, another 30 wineries were in business.

Today there are 103 wineries located around the region, mainly found near the Cayuga, Seneca, Keuka and Canandaigua Lakes.  The area is similar in climate and seasons to the German Rhine region.  Besides the popular Riesling, other grape varietals grown there include Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay and Gewurztraminer.   Seyval Blanc, Vignoles, Cayuga, and Vidal Blanc are also American grape favorites. The region produces some of the best ice wines available.  (Ice wines are harvested after the grapes have frozen on the vine.)

There are four wine trails, each identified by the lake it surrounds. 
Cayuga Lake Wine Trail is located on the longest of the Finger Lakes.  It is made up of 15 wineries, one cidery, one meadery, and four distilleries.

Seneca Lake is the deepest.  The Seneca Lake Wine Trail has the most wineries of any trail with the number currently at 34.  It is well know for its Riesling, Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc.

The Canandaigua Wine Trail has seven wineries, two wine centers, and a brewery.

The Keuka Lake Wine Trail is the oldest of the wine trails.  Keuka Lake is the area where the New York wine industry began in the nineteenth century.
It boasts eight wineries.

The Finger Lakes AVA is an American Viticulture Area made up of 11,000 acres of vineyards, growing native American grapes, French American hybrids and European viniferas.  It is the largest wine growing area in New York.
But the Finger Lakes region offers more than wineries.  There are also breweries, distilleries, ciderys and meaderies.  Almost half-a million people visit the region each year.

The Finger Lakes Wine Festival is held annually in July.  This year's dates are July 13 – 15, 2012.  This is the largest festival showcasing over 600 New York state wines, with over 80 wineries participating.  The American Bus Association has called it one of the Top 100 events in the U.S.  

The Finger Lakes Wine Region continues to grow and prosper.  It is becoming one of the most popular wine regions in the country. So why not grab a bottle of wine from the Finger Lakes tonight and see what all of the fuss is about?  


Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Organic Wines – What’s in a Name?

Organic wine is defined in the U.S. as a “wine made from organically grown grapes, without any added sulfites.”  This definition comes from the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) as listed in their National Organic Program, the federal regulatory body governing organic food.

The terms organic or organically grown mean that synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides or herbicides were not used during the growing process.

Traditional vs Organic
Wine grapes are an agricultural product.  Traditionally these grapes have been grown and treated like any other ag related crop.  Vineyard owners and managers use chemicals on the grapes to control viruses, weeds, fungus, pests, and to help increase their yields. Just like grain farmers do.  The problem with grapevines is that they absorb these chemicals through the roots.  The chemicals sprayed directly on the grapes can also be absorbed and end up in the pulp.  Either way, this chemical residue may be found in the finished wine.

Organic farming deals with keeping the soil healthy and free of chemicals.  Rainwater may be gathered and used to irrigate the vineyard.  Rather than using synthetic fertilizers, composted animal manure is used.  Instead of using herbicides, cover crops are grown.  No pesticides are sprayed, instead natural predators of grape pests are introduced.

What About Sulfites?
Contrary to popular myth, organic wines are NOT sulfite-free. ALL wines contain sulfites, naturally.  Sulfites, also known as Sulfur Dioxide, (SO2) are a natural by-product of the fermentation process.  Sulfites may also be added during fermentation by the winemaker in order to stop the growth of mold and unwanted bacteria, and to preserve the quality and flavor of the wine, thereby reducing spoilage once the wine is bottled.  Traditionally, sweet wines contain more sulfites than dry wines, and white wines have more sulfites than red wines.

Traditionally-grown wines can legally contain sulfite levels up to 350 parts per million (ppm.)  Wines that have been labeled “Made from Organic Grapes” can contain 100 parts per million of sulfite – less than 20 milligrams per glass. Since 1987, the TTB (Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, formerly known as the BATF; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) has required that all imported and domestic wines, beers and spirits in the U.S. must include the wording on the label “Contains Sulfites” if the wine, beer or spirit contains more than 10 parts per million of sulfites. Most organic wines contain from 6 to 40 parts per million of sulfites, naturally.

Currently the U.S. upholds the strictest organic wine standards in the world.  In order to be labeled as completely organic, a wine cannot be produced with any added sulfites.  These two words make the difference in the definition of organic wine. But this again presents the problem of crafting a stable wine that can retain its quality over time without the addition of extra sulfites. This could lead to organic wines creating a more negative perception when they cannot hold up to most traditionally accepted wines due to oxidation or bacterial spoilage in the bottle.

In 2010, UCLA ran an experiment involving wine consumers and their opinions about wines labeled as organic.  All told, consumers held a lower opinion of the organic wines than of the conventional wines.  The reason? They felt organic wines did not taste as good, were not easy to store, and generally, lacked the quality of traditional wines.

Other Countries Organic Rulings
In the European Union, organic wines are allowed to contain 100 parts per million of sulfites.  In order for these wines to be sold in the U.S. they must be labeled “made from organic grapes.”  Until this year, there was no legal definition of an organic wine in the EU.  The term organic was not legally allowed on any wine labels. But that has changed.  The new organic wine designation will apply from the 2012 harvest. The EU organic logo must also appear on the label.  Before this change in regulation, the term organic could only be used when applied to an agricultural crop in its raw or unprocessed state.  Hence grapes could be designated as organic, wine could not.

In Australia a wine can be labeled as organic, even if it has sulfites added.  But the level of sulfites is less than for a traditionally made wine.

Organic wine producers exist all over the world, from the United States, to Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Europe, Israel, and Chile, just to name a few.  But the term organic is only as meaningful as its definition in that country.


~ Joy

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Wines of the Titanic

This Saturday, April 14th will mark the 100th Anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, the largest vessel afloat in 1912. Registered under the British White Star Line, R.M.S. Titanic set sail from Southampton, England on April 10 with 2,207 passengers, including 885 crew members.  The ship struck an iceberg around 11:40 P.M. April 14th and sank just before 2:30 AM, April 15th in the North Atlantic.  Over 1,500 people were lost.  Only seven hundred people survived, mainly first class passengers.

The Titanic was launched in 1911, but a formal naming ceremony was never held.  Nor was she christened with a bottle of Champagne, although that was the wine of prevalent choice for passengers.  When the Titanic pulled out on her maiden voyage, she was carrying over 1,500 bottles of wine, 20,0000 Champagne glasses, 20,000 bottles of beer and stout, and over 850 bottles of liquor.

The White Star Line preferred to offer passengers white wines like Champagne and Moselle, wines that could be served chilled.  Red wines presented a problem since the vibration of the steam engines could dislodge sediment in the older wines and make them unappealing to guests.  According to a 1910 White Star Line Wine List for first class passengers, included on a trip were ten different Champagnes, along with Sauternes, Moselle, Claret, Port, Sherry, Burgundy, and Vermouth.  This is probably similar to the types of wine the Titanic was carrying.

The one wine we do know that was on board was   Heidsieck Gout Americain (Ameican Taste) Champagne.  The R.M.S. Titanic, Inc. salvaged unopened bottles of Heidsieck Champagne from the wreckage. Corks were also discovered in the wreckage from Moet Champagne.  Rumor has it that 6 bottles of the Titanic Champagne were sold to a private Asian buyer in 2004 at an undisclosed price. 

Interestingly enough, this is the same Champagne that was on board the Swedish ship, Jonkoping, when she sank in 1916.  Unopened bottles were discovered in the wreckage, off the coast of Finland, in 1997.  When bottles of this rare Champagne were opened, tasters said that the sweet flavors of the wine took time to develop in the mouth, but the light-bodied wine had a nice, mellow character.  One bottle sold for almost $300,000.

Last month, a Nova Scotia resident reported that she has a bottle of wine that supposedly came from the Titanic.  Betty Thomas of Halifax told reporters that the bottle of Jeanne d’Arc Vin Mousseux, Cuvee Reserve, was rescued by one of her ancestors, floating in the wreckage from the Titanic.  Although this wine was never shown on wine lists for the ship, it could have come from a passenger’s luggage.

Wine was served with each course of the first class passenger’s ten-course banquet dinner that fateful night and included Champagne, white wines, red wines, Madeira, and Cognac.  Most of the wines served were European.

What follows is the first-class menu as served in the first-class dining saloon of the R.M.S. Titanic on April 14, 1912:

First Course: Hors D'Oeuvres or Oysters

Second Course: Consommé Olga or Cream of Barley Soup

Third Course: Poached Salmon with Mousseline Sauce and Cucumbers

Fourth Course:   Filet Mignons Lilly, Sauté of Chicken Lyonnaise, or Vegetable Marrow Farci

Fifth Course: Lamb with mint sauce, Roast Duckling with apple sauce, or Sirloin of Beef; green peas, creamed carrots, boiled rice and Parementier & boiled new                                              potatoes.

Sixth Course:        Punch Romaine

Seventh Course:    Roast squab and cress.

Eighth Course:      Cold Asparagus Vinaigrette

Ninth Course:       Pate de Foie Gras, celery.

Tenth Course:      Waldorf pudding, Peaches in Chartreuse Jelly, Chocolate and Vanilla Éclairs, and French ice cream.

Actual wine bottles from the ship, along with other items are being auctioned today in Manhattan by Guernsey’s Auctioneers & Brokers. 
Over 5,000 salvaged items are to be sold as one lot. The artifacts are owned by the American company, RMS Titanic, Inc., which has the salvaging rights to the site.  The collection was appraised in 2007 at $189-million.

Other items included in the auction are a bronze cherub that once adorned the Grand Staircase, table settings, jewelry and watches, clothing, and money.

The items cannot be sold individually by order of the court.  The court issued 19 pages of rules the buyer must agree to before the collection can change hands.  The buyer must also agree to properly maintain the collection and keep a portion of the artifacts on display for public viewing.  The final sale is subject to court approval.

So tonight, I believe I will pour a glass of Champagne and toast the memory of the Titanic, her passengers and crew.  After one hundred years, we are still captivated by this ship.

~ Joy