New York State: a winemaking melting pot

Peter Weis, owner and winemaker at Weis vineyards

If New York State’s so-called vinifera revolution had its main instigator in German-born Dr. Konstantin Frank, it could be said that another revolution, happening now, is also a product of equally passionate migrants. Winemakers both from other American regions and far-flung countries are still drawn to the Empire state, as a place where challenges and opportunities provide an ideal context to develop their skills and craft. It’s against this backdrop of collaboration and possibility that a vibrant community of growers and winemakers have turned New York wine from local passion to international phenomenon.

Experience, knowledge, fresh blood

The enduring pull of New York’s many wine regions owes much to the outstanding community of stakeholders, and the many highly regarded projects providing aspirational benchmarks and learning opportunities. Peter Weis, born and educated in Germany like Dr. Frank, was visiting a friend working at the winery when he was hired on the spot. The serendipitous opportunity became a 12-year period of commitment and learning, which ultimately led him to set up his own project, Weis Vineyards.

Weis acknowledges that he went through a period of adjustment to fully understand how to work within a viticultural ecosystem dramatically different from that of Mosel, his home region. However, if the viticultural challenges and the inconsistent practices of some growers were initial forces of resistance, Weis says that the possibilities for experimentation and the willingness to improve far surpassed any negative friction. ‘Standards and quality have increased tremendously. There’s more knowledge, better equipment and outstanding new talent, much of which is a product of the school in Geneva [see below].’

Indeed, the region’s renowned educational institutions have played a fundamental role in New York’s ascension to the international wine stage. Cornell University, with its leading viticulture department, and the Finger Lakes Community College Viticulture and Wine Center in Geneva, attract undergraduates from all over the country (and beyond) nurturing a unique pot-pourri of knowledge and energy.

Australia-born and raised Seb Hardy, of Living Roots Wine & Co

Evolving together

Julia Hoyle, Philadelphia-born and raised and now winemaker at Hosmer Winery, was herself attracted to the Finger Lakes as an undergraduate. What started as a casual job at the tasting room at Fox Run Vineyards ultimately led her to find her true calling and become a winemaker. Hoyle highlights the importance of these early experiences not merely as an inspiration and learning tool, but as the first threads linking her to a support network that is still fundamental to her work and development.

A big part of the energy and drive of New York’s community is the thriving community itself, which – bringing winemakers, growers, researchers and hospitality together – has collectively contributed to a fast and robust evolution.

Julia Hoyle, winemaker at Hosmer Winery | Photo by Rima Brindamour

With and against the elements

Winemakers in New York work both with and against the challenges of a harsh viticultural landscape where skill, creativity and technical expertise have been complementary tools over decades of evolution. The resilience of the state’s wine industry has progressed through valuable, empirical local experience, specialised expertise from the world’s oldest wine regions, and leading research. In a constant battle and dance with the elements, winemakers develop an acute lucidity and adaptiveness, which is proving essential (and a competitive advantage) against the threats of climate change.

Finger Lakes native Ben Riccardi, of Osmote

If other wine regions are now toying with the idea of introducing hybrid varieties, New York state has a long experience with growing and vinifying native and hybrid grapes (many of which developed at Cornell). ‘The real…

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New York State: a winemaking melting pot  
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