Grapes love warm weather and sunshine, ripening them to a high sugar fruit with rich, deep colors from amber to purple. A few grape varieties are considered ‘hearty’ in a cooler climate, including Riesling, Seyval Blanc, and Gewürztraminer. While our Finger Lakes provide temperate zones around the lakes for growing some spectacular whites, red grapes are more difficult to ripen and have to be planted more diligently in temperate areas. Moreover, the reds have different characteristics when growing here than in ‘big red zones’ such as California. Comparing grapes and wines from the two climates is easy, right? Heavy reds are good, light are bad. Right? Sort of…but not really.
Depending on what you personally enjoy, you might have a preference where your vino comes from. There’s a REASON certain wines come from certain areas. In many European regions, wine making is steeped in old tradition, and there are rules maintained to continue and preserve the old ways. The particular variety of grape has grown well throughout the ages, and the artistry has been passed down from grower to grower. The soil content has what the vines need, the climate is perfect for ripening on schedule. Each season is different, but the benchmark has essentially been reached. There are expectations, guidelines, and very structured rules.
Comparatively, our Finger Lakes are the wild, wild West of winemaking! Viticulture (study of grape growing) is relatively new to our area. Cornell has had a huge hand in our latest grape developments (pun intended-tip of the hat to Cory Ferguson, tattooist and pun maker extraordinaire), from creating a new hybrid named Cayuga White, to helping to educate growers on battling pests and mold. Red grapes have a much shorter growing season here, which completely changes the style of red wines produced. Finger Lakes Pinot Noir is completely different than Pinot from Washington State. Our Pinot grapes often ripen with lighter colors, less sugar, and make a much softer red wine. Lighter does NOT MEAN BAD, just different. Taste, let your palate decide for you! WINE TASTING IS LIKE LIFE ITSELF, and if you get too stuck on rules, you will miss out on crazy, adventurous, and often wonderful shit.
Wine rules in the end are just that, and rules were meant to be broken. Vintners in our area have structure, form, and education…but they also have adventurous spirit, a love for the land, and the balls (women included) to work outside of the comfort zone. New blends! New hybrids! Bold new wines!