Cornell and the University of Minnesota have developed hybrid grapes that withstand brutal winters and disease — and provide the quality and consistency needed to produce fine wine in places like Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska and Ohio.
CORINTH, N.Y. — The Marquette grapevines clinging to a steep, rocky hillside in the southeastern Adirondacks are among a host of new grape varieties that have enabled a boutique wine industry to take root in areas of the Northeast and Midwest that were previously inhospitable.
There were about 2,000 wineries in the United States in 2000; today, there are more than 8,000, according to the industry publication Wines and Vines.
“Across the country we’ve seen a huge expansion in wine and grape production and wine-related tourism,” said Bruce Reisch, who leads Cornell University’s wine and grape research and development program in New York’s Finger Lakes.
And the new influx of tourism dollars can be traced to, among other places, Cornell and the University of Minnesota, which have developed these hybrid grapes that withstand brutal winters and disease — and provide the quality and consistency needed to produce fine wine in places like Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska and Ohio.
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In New York, the number of wineries has grown from 35 in 1980 to nearly 500, with the third-highest production in the nation.
“New York has had a bad reputation for red wines, mainly because of a lack of consistent quality,” said Gary Akrop, owner of Ledge Rock Hill Winery. “But we grow grapes that are suited for cold regions and produce more consistent wine.”
Ledge Rock Hill uses Marquette, a hybrid developed by the University of Minnesota and released for commercial production in 2006. “I believe Marquette could become the standard for New York red wines,” Akrop said.
One of the Cornell program’s biggest successes is the Traminette, a cold-hardy white wine grape producing a floral, fragrant wine reminiscent of Gewürztraminer. Since its release in 1996, Traminette has produced numerous award-winning wines and has been embraced by winemakers in the Midwest. Indiana winemakers have even dubbed Traminette the state’s “signature wine.”
New grape varieties are just one factor in the growth of the wine industry, of which California remains the leader with nearly 4,000 wineries producing 90 percent of the nation’s wine. Washington state ranks second, with more than 850 wineries and producing 227,000 tons of grapes.
Other factors in the industry’s growth include changing consumer tastes, promotion by state and private agriculture and tourism organizations, collaboration among growers and research on how to optimize production and quality, Reisch said.