Northern NY Agricultural Development Program Small Grants Project Report 2007-2008 Addenda
Cold Hardy Willsboro Wine Grape Cultivar Trial – Stage Three – Addendum
Kevin Iungerman, CCE Northeast NY Commercial Fruit Program
- Local grape growers
- Extension Associations of CCE’s NENY Commercial Fruit Program (Albany, Clinton, Essex, Saratoga, Washington Counties)
- Lake Champlain Grape Growers Association
- Michael H. Davis, farm manager, Cornell Willsboro E.V. Baker Farm, Willsboro
- Steven Lerch, Cornell Grape Program, Geneva, NY
- Dr. Tim Martinson, Cornell Statewide Viticulture Extension Program
- Ben Gavitt, Cornell Wine Analytical Lab, Geneva, NY
- Chris Gerling, Cornell Wine Analytical Lab, Geneva, NY
|Stone House Vineyard
|Purple Gate Vineyard
|William & Kathryn Reinhardt
|Blue Stone Vineyards
|Maple Gate Farm
The Willsboro Wine Grape Trial is a unique, 300-vine vineyard planted in 2005 to comparatively evaluate 25-hybrid cold-hardy-wine-grape-cultivars, with the help of private and land-grant collaborators. It has also had the benefit of Cornell Extension support as well NYFVI and NNADP funding assistance since its inception.
Performance differences were extensive in the first year because of initial vine quality variability due to a number of reasons as previously described, and so, 2005 performance variability was not due to site or climate factors.
In 2006, growth performance and vine pruning and training practices largely leveled the initial differences of vine condition. Very small crop amounts were carried on healthy vines in 2006 to ensure fall vine acclimation going into winter (2006-2007). An exception was the nearly 33% mortality with Petite Amie vines which were received as marginal quality softwood cuttings. Cuttings were successfully propagated at the NYSAES, Geneva for replacement planting and these were planted in 2007 and should begin bearing appreciably in 2009.
The focus for 2007 was to allow the vines to become more fully established. Vines were minimally maintained, again, as previously described. Post-veraison tasting and brix readings, and periodic juice sampling helped familiarize staff and volunteers with relative maturity sequences, and this and maturation set the stage for more extensive cropping and also the making of the first finished wine in 2008. The small 2007 crop was utilized for purposes of identification and grower education and was divided up among our volunteers, a number of whom made wine which has been informally reviewed and tasted by the regulars assisting and participating in Willsboro’s working seminars.
The fall 2007 acclimation period was outstanding, superior to 2006. Unfortunately, the 2007 – 2008 winter was again mild — as they have been since the vines were planted. Contrary to expectations, virtually all of the grapes in the trial have done quite well to date and virtually all of the cultivars (except the replacements) have begun to produce. The basic plan for 2008 was to step-up viticulture care and exercise more rigorous pest management oversight to support increased cropping and first wine production. This was greatly enhanced by the seasonal assistant who was able to more closely coordinate and attend to the vineyard care and observational needs.
Methods – Request Tables from local Cornell Cooperative Extension:
Growing season data collection was enhanced in 2008 because of the 0.25 time seasonal assistant being on site. Richard Lamoy noted dates of bud break, cane growth stages, bloom, capfall, berry set, and veraision for each of the wine grape cultivars by individual vine. The results of which have been included Tables 1 and 2 accompanying this seasonal report. Through weekly and more frequent consultation with Kevin Iungerman, Lamoy monitored for insect and disease issues and applied pesticides according to the provisions of the NY-PA Pest Management Guidelines for Grapes. Lamoy also prepared juice samples and these were sent to Tim Martinson, of Cornell’s Statewide Viticulture Program, for analysis at the Geneva Experiment Station.
Over the course of the growing season, the tasks of vine tying, pruning, and training were largely carried out with Willsboro volunteer assistance in our “working seminars”. Lamoy also monitored maturity weekly providing the data foundation for our comparative phenology by cultivar (Table 1). Lamoy greatly aided maturity assessment from mid-August through the September and October harvests. Together, Lamoy and Iungerman coordinated the organization and direction of volunteers for our harvests on September 24, 26, and October 1, 4, 2008. All grapes were picked and weighed by individual vine, and transported the same or the next day to the Cornell Wine Lab. Summary information by cultivar can be found in Tables 1 and 2.
The 2008 growing season was both cooler and wetter than the 2007 season, but vine condition was very good and late summer conditions were very favorable for berry maturation. The accompanying Table 1 provides comparative information regarding vigor, growth stage attainment, harvest dates, and projected yields on a per acre basis.
Vine Phenology information only hints at what may be the more optimal grapes of the trial because – at this time still – the vineyard is yet rather juvenal in character; harvest dates and brix (sugar) targets have yet to be characterized uniquely to the site, owing to the novelty of the planting to the region, the still unfolding climate and weather constraints, and also the quite human challenge of utilizing volunteer help for many endeavors, particularly the most critical: harvest. (Our volunteer colleagues have been immensely important not only to the work at hand but in helping to realize the learning potential of the endeavor overall.)
At the conclusion of the 2008 season, and upon reviewing information, despite earlier expectations, it is apparent that virtually all of the vines in the Willsboro Trial are likely capable of producing commercial quantities per se. Seventeen of the twenty-five cultivars (see Table 1) were projected as producing 5 tons or more of fruit. Cayuga White, Niagara, and NY 76.844.24 projections came in at 8.62, 8.28, and 8.78 tons per acre respectively. This being noted, it is important to emphasize that large crop loads do work against adequate or full maturation of both fruit and vines. Heavy crops mitigate the prospects for full maturation of fruit and wood.
The 2009 live node evaluation (Table 2) is beginning to turn up winter injury levels despite continuing mild conditions (historically). (A note: the spring frost pattern appears to be emerging as the greater cold threat to wine grapes in the region than absolute winter cold.)
Marquette was one vine that exhibited a more favorable brix profile together with a projected yield rate of 5.13 tons per acre (Table 1).
Most brix readings for the trial were on the low side across the board. Only seven cultivars had readings in the 20 to 22 brix range (Table 2); these grapes had projected production ranges of 4.3 to 6.2 tons per acre.
Canopy management techniques to reduce crop load via cane and/or cluster thinning, and further vegetation management techniques should help to boost brix readings and move outlier production levels — 3.33 T/A on the low side and 8.62 T/A on the high side as example — to more of a modal representation that would be capable of sustained production (say 5 to 7 tons per acre).
A strong caveat to above scenario is the continuance of relatively protracted autumns and mild winters as have occurred at Willsboro since 2005.
According to Dr. Bruce Bordelon of Purdue University, who has extensively examined hybrid grape production in the Midwest, production levels of 500 tons per acre and wholesale grape prices of $500 per ton mean that it will takes 23 years to recoup the investment and production costs associated with vineyard establishment! However, payback drops to 12 years at prices of $600 per ton, and to 9 years with prices of $700 per ton. However, prices can range 50% to 125% of these base rates depending upon sugar content. (“Business Planning and Economics of Midwestern Grape Production”, Bruce Bordelon, Extension Viticulture Specialist, Purdue University.)
The Willsboro site was carefully chosen over several proffered alternatives, and the process has to-date underscored the potential economic import of exercising due diligence in choosing vineyard location. Dr. Bordelon notes that unanticipated miss-steps can easily add $1000 per acre to vineyard establishment costs. For instance, each modification adapted to buffer a site’s shortcomings — soil amendments for pH, or fertility; tiling for drainage; plantings for windscreens; sprinklers and wind machines for perennially frosty sites; mismatching vines to trellis system or soil; failing to trial vines prior to large scale planting: etc. etc. — all add costs, many of which could be minimized through superior vineyard site selection.
Whether one grows for others, or for one’s own winery operation, these production and quality concerns impact saleable product, whether in sold hoppers of grapes or bottled wines. The 2008 Willsboro harvest marked the first time that grapes of some of what are believed to be the more promising of the Willsboro wine grapes, were selected, harvested, and transported to Geneva NY for controlled wine making by the Cornell Wine Lab. Extension enologist Chris Gerling and his staff handled the wine making part of this research.
Wines were made from five red grape cultivars (Marquette, MN 1200, Sabrevois, St. Croix, and Frontenac) and six whites (ES 6-16-30, LaCrescent, Petite Amie, NY 76.844.24, Prairie Star, and St. Pepin). These eleven wines from the 2008 Willsboro harvest (Table 3) indicate that quality wines are indeed possible to be had despite our non-traditional and colder production region. All of these Cornell Wine Lab wines were made in a “skeletal” dry fashion, according to Cornell enologist, Dr. Anna Katherine Mansfield.
The wines were not your more commercial products as such; rather, they were made to exhibit more baseline characteristics of the grapes involved. All were treated uniformly; indeed, though the EC1118 yeast was used generically as it typically ensures more reliable and complete fermentation, it also tends to dampen aromatic aspects of white wines, as the particular yeast is more typically used with red wines.
Despite this apparent limitation, it was the whites, which appeared to receive the more favorable reception at our two wine tasting and evaluation sessions, led by Dr. Mansfield and also Chris Gerling (both of the Cornell Wine Lab). Improved brix levels especially, but also expanded wine making techniques, and more selective yeasts, will further add commercial definition to these wines and blends. Willsboro volunteer participants have thoroughly pursued and enjoyed blending possibilities in the past and the challenge was informally picked up to good effect at the Slyboro session at Granville on June 3.
Commercial levels of wine grape production, and the making of quality commercial wines from these grapes, are quite attainable by agricultural entrepreneurs of the Upper Hudson and Champlain valleys of NY. Both horticultural skills development specific to viticulture and proficient enology practices will be required in a matched venture or market to permit this to be realized.
The demonstrable teaching task ahead for the Willsboro Wine Grape Trial is to enumerate practices now to further improve fruit quality by matching cropping loads to vigor, by narrowing upon optimal harvest windows, and in the wine making, to evaluate a range of other yeasts and commercial approaches that might add pizzazz to the wines and wine blends made from these and other cold hardy grapes.
In 2009, there will be stepped-up attention to canopy care with greater shoot positioning and light cane removal, and post-verasion cane shortening to better position grapes for sun exposure and better air circulation, to achieve on the one hand enhanced carbohydrate partitioning (sugar formation, acid reduction) and greater disease avoidance.
Four small wineries now exist in the NENYF program’s 5 county area. Collectively, most of their raw product is sourced out-of-area. Shifting to hardier wine grapes capable of fully ripening in our short season, and improving local winemaking expertise with these hardier grapes are the two underlying goals of this continuing grape project.
I fully expect that this Willsboro work will aid several “pre-commercial” persons who are now cooperating with the NENYF program to assertively move their own vineyard and winery ventures to ones of commercial level. Our results should also boost “native” output of our existing wineries. Together, these outcomes should double the NENYF program area wineries in the next several years.
- In 2008, Iungerman organized “working seminar” sessions with volunteers, assisted by Richard Lamoy (seasonal horticulture field assistant) and several members of the Lake Champlain Grapes Growers Association. The working sessions covered dormant pruning, vine training and tying, overviews of vine health (disease and insect issues), bird netting, and finally, maturity and the four harvest events. Participants were contacted via postings to the NENYF program cce-cold-country-viticulture-L site and via the Lake Champlain Grape Growers email list.
- Iungerman and Lerch also participated in a dormant pruning session with approximately 20 attendees at Phil Favreau’s Stonehouse Vineyard & Winery, at Mooers, NY on April 5, 2008.
- Iungerman and Tim Martinson organized the “Cold Climate Viticulture: Wines & Vines in the North Country.” meeting at Willsboro’s Noblewood Park on June 4, 2008. The workshop dealt with vineyard establishment issues, IPM, and also the Willsboro Trial and the wine grapes of the trial, and wine types that can be made. Speakers were Iungerman, Martinson, Chris Gerling, and Grape IPM Coordinator Tim Weigle. The Willsboro planting was visited as part of the day’s program, and was followed by a wine tasting at the vineyard. The wines were obtained from Chris Granstrom of Lincoln Peak Winery in VT because they were blends of several of the wine grapes growing in the trial, most notably the Marquette grape. Seventy-five persons were in attendance. On June 5, the program was repeated at the Jefferson County CCE office in Watertown and a visit to the Yellow Barn Winery.
- Iungerman organized the “Cornell Tree Fruit & Berry Program Work Team Tour of the Champlain Fruit Production Region.” over June 17 – 19. The Cornell Baker Farm, and the Willsboro Grape Trial were among the stops in the region that Iungerman arranged.
Work remains to further develop optimal cropping techniques and increased production performance. The next logical step is to consider approaches to managing vigor and how such measures might impact the different cultivars and especially their wines. Such work will support extension educational practices for new and experienced grape growers alike via demonstrable practices.
Cropping practices will be geared to enhancing grape sugar and acid formation as much as possible within the available light and temperature parameters of our northern latitude location.
Additionally, we would need to illustrate how differences of practice can impact wood maturity for these various wine grape cultivars, a growth stage that is critical to the vines winter acclimation potential.
In closing, my thanks once again, to Steve Lerch, Cornell Grape Program, Geneva; Richard Lamoy, who was an exceptional seasonal colleague; Mike Davis and the Cornell Willsboro Baker Farm Staff; the Lake Champlain Grape Growers Association; Willsboro volunteers Rob McDowell, Phil Favreau, and a number of others – all of whom have assisted this year’s work at the Willsboro Trial. Thanks, too, to the growers and CCE Extension Associations of CCE’s NENY Commercial Fruit Program; CCE; and the Northern New York Agricultural Development Program, who provided the funding support for the technical and seasonal assistance and the wine making effort at Cornell.
Reports and/or articles in which the results of this project have already been published.
* Standard And Hardier Cultivars Being Evaluated For Suitability, Willsboro NY Cold Hardy Wine Grape Trial: A Subset Of Hardier Vines. Cold Climate Viticulture: Wines and a Vines in the North Country, Willsboro and Watertown, NY, June 4, and 5, 2008.
* 2008 CCE Northeast NY Commercial Fruit Program Annual Report Success Stories: “Professional Outreach and Education for Commercial Fruit Producers”, “Developing Volunteer Skills at the Willsboro Cold-Hardy Wine-Grape Trial”, and “Willsboro Cold-Hardy Wine-Grape Trial Promising Wines”.
For More Information :
Kevin Iungerman, CCE Northeast NY Commercial Fruit Program, email@example.com