Hybrids, natives and viticultural techniques?

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Hybrids, natives and viticultural techniques?

Postby Andrew Hall » Sat May 13, 2006 10:30 pm

This is about the only place on the web to discuss this, so here goes :

I spent today visiting a couple of wineries in Ohio. Spent a fair amount of time at each as I was with a group for a geology grad seminar on terroir. I learned a fair amount about the viticultural practices of both. And, summed with similar experiences at other times, I am appalled. In at least Ohio, it seems like the wine producers see their job as being the cellar first and foremost and in the vineyards when they can. They proudly show off their mechanical implements and speak wistufully of even better ones.

Does anyone know of any serious viticulturalists working with hybrids or natives? Organic? Green harvesting? High density planting? Any of practices and techniques that Burgundians will proudly tell you about?

I can't help but wonder if the key to making better wines with these varietals is to start in the vineyard.

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Re: Hybrids, natives and viticultural techniques?

Postby Paul B. » Sun May 14, 2006 1:56 am

Hi Andrew! First of all, welcome to our wine-loving community and thanks for your question. There is a small but noisy cadre of us Northeastern folks, Ontarians, and those interested in regional non-West-Coast North American wines here on the WLDG and as perhaps the noisiest of the bunch, I'm glad to be the first to reply.

I completely subscribe to the view that all quality wines begin in the vineyard. This is true simply because the "stuff" of the wine - the grapes - clearly needs to be clean and of proper physiological ripeness for a good wine to result. Just today I visited an out-of-the-way country winery near Bolton, Ontario, and mentioned to the person at the counter a quote that I recently read which basically said "Grape growing is not a lazy man's hobby." I also told her how my greatest respect when it comes to people involved in wine is reserved for winemakers who are also farmers - they could be farmers in general, but grape farmers specifically.

Wine today is often seen as a lifestyle thing; people often enjoy what's in the bottle, but they don't always connect that fermented grape juice to the site or the vines that gave birth to the fruit. This is all the more true with soul-devoid industrial wines that come from wherever.

In the Northeast, we have the conditions to create many diverse artisanal wines, and this is what our region should focus on. We should not, IMO, be making wines to compete on price points with the huge bulk exports coming out of hot-climate regions. And as such, I do believe that our region, hybrid-amenable as its terroir is, should be focusing on hands-on quality assurance in the vineyard first and foremost.

Quality is often not solely determined by a grape's pedigree; to say so is to not give the complete picture. Indeed, there are grape varieties that create noble wines - but they often do so in very limited areas: e.g. Nebbiolo really only shines in Piedmont; Gewürztraminer really shines best in Alsace, and so on. Cabernet Sauvignon, for example, makes fantastic wine in Bordeaux (arguably its pinnacle) and in California, but makes lousy wine in Ontario most years. Yet conditions of market and fashion demands are such that it gets grown in what is a largely unsuitable terroir - just so it can show up in the tasting room. Just today, I had two separate conversations at two separate wineries and both people put those words right into my mouth before I had a chance to do so myself.

If there is hope for a great Ontario vinifera red, I believe that our best bet lies with Pinot Noir and the lesser-known Central European varieties (e.g. Blaufränkisch and Zweigelt to name but two).

In our climate, hybrids work. This is why I support them and desire that every winery working with hybrids treat them as royal, noble vines deserving of the same exact hands-on meticulous care as the great vineyardists of France's most revered regions lavish on their vines. It is only with a mentality that accepts nothing but the best practices that the best quality can be realized. We already have grapes that suit our terroir; we just need to completely wipe out the price-point mentality and make true artisanal wines with precision and commitment.

A bit long-winded, but that is my heartfelt answer.
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Re: Hybrids, natives and viticultural techniques?

Postby Howie Hart » Sun May 14, 2006 7:41 am

Hi Adnrew,
Three wineries I would look at are Johnson Estate and Merritt Estate from Chataqua County, NY and Chiappone Cellars from Niagara County, NY. If you can make it to NiagaraCOOL on June 10-11 I'm sure some of these wines will be present. (see Offlines).
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Re: Hybrids, natives and viticultural techniques?

Postby Andrew Hall » Sun May 14, 2006 10:14 am

Thanks for the replies. I've been around since the old board and join the Cinci off-lines. Had a riesling and a foch-vidal from you, Howie, last year at one.

I see the exact same tasting-room mentality you describe here in Ohio. One of the producers told me that it is more profitable to plant CS and CS even with the large factor of loss. Everyone also says they have to make sweet wines which are the financial backbone. I think the "lifestyle" issue is a big part as well. A lot of the producers are interested in the whole package replete with a B-n-B and the whole Amish country experience. If it is a small, family operation that doesn't leave much time for the vines.


What does it take to break out of the price-point mentality? And does anyone have any idea if doing so results in more profits? There is one winery I know in Ohio who really pushes the edge on that, but I have no idea what their bottom line is. Maple Ridge Vineyards has the stones to sell a Cab Franc and a Pinot @ ~100$! I have not tried either, but their Riesling @ 65$ was pretty impressive. I poured some for David Schildknecht who was also impressed. Of course, they want nothing to do with non-vinifera.

Another winery in Ohio, Kinkead Ridge, has garned a lot of praise and produces good quality vinifera wines. They are going to release a Traminette in the very near future and I am very intrigued. I had a Traminette yesterday for the first time and see potential there.

Thanks for the producer recs. I wish I could make it to NiagaraCool. I have family obligations that weekend and am also going down to Cinci that Monday for our offline. I hope to go in the future. I looked over the wineries (the two that had info) and I see that they also aim at the same price point where the wines are 10$. What seperates them out? I am not trying to be tetchy, but I am also not sure how to reconcile that price point with the costs of low yields and other practices. Obviously I will have to go with what is in the bottle. What do you know about these wineries that seperates them out in the vineyard?

I did notice that two of them make a wine from a grape called Delaware that originated right near me in Delaware, Ohio. Any experiences with this? I am very curious. Ohio was a large-scale grape producer over a century ago and I wonder what kind of viti-legacy we might have. I am intriqued enough to poke around. One of the producers has cuttings from 60+ yr old vines that survived just North of here and were supposedly brought from Italy. No one know what it is. There are some interesting possibilities in the legacy grapes as well.

One of thing - most of these wineries like to boast about various medals and whathaveyou their wines garner. Do you think these competitions help or hurt the drive for quality? Are there any medals or awards that should be taken seriously?


I did get some bottles of the wines to share with a local merchant who is making a niche specialty with some Ohio wines. I am looking forward to pursuing this further.

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Re: Hybrids, natives and viticultural techniques?

Postby Dan Smothergill » Sun May 14, 2006 12:20 pm

I did notice that two of them make a wine from a grape called Delaware that originated right near me in Delaware, Ohio.


A couple of producers here in New York also make Delaware. As far as I know all of them do it sweet, but some of us home winemakers make it dry and it can be very nice that way. Not long ago it was grown extensively in the Finger Lakes, Chattaqua, and Lake Eire regions. A lot of it has been ripped out with the changeover to hybrids and viniferas.
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Delaware

Postby Howie Hart » Sun May 14, 2006 12:38 pm

Delaware is my favorite Native grape. Most are made off-dry and Johnson Estate makes a late harvest Delaware they call Liebstraufrachen (SP?) that is very pleasant. About 25 years ago I harvested some Delaware grapes on the Niagara Escarpment that had ripened to 27 Brix and to this day I think it is one of the finest wines I've ever made. As PaulB points out, the vineyard management is very important and I believe that is why I was able to make that wine. Too bad the vines were torn out. For many years, before the hybrids came along, wineries in the Finger Lakes used Delaware and Catawba as the basis for their sparkling wines. I planted a home vineyard of 80+ vines last year and decided to go with all hybrids. If some of them don't work out Delaware is my next choice to plant.
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Re: Delaware

Postby Thomas » Sun May 14, 2006 1:54 pm

I don't think Delaware is a native grape. And I am partial to a good, dry Diamond anyway...

In any event, Andrew, business decisions make or break a business. What goes on in the wine business, from vineyard to bottling, are business decisions.

Paul has a marvelous outlook--for Paul. He has never tried to operate a profitable business using his model; others have; some have succeeded (Bully Hill, Johnson Estate, et al. in New York).

Maybe guys like Paul (and maybe you too) will one day take matters in your own hands and start up a winery based on personal principles. It's been known to happen to both success and to failure--that's what business is all about.
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Diamond - Native American

Postby Dan Smothergill » Sun May 14, 2006 2:39 pm

I am partial to a good, dry Diamond

Come to NiagaraCool and taste my '05 Diamond. Absolutley guaranteed to satisfy (one of) those requirements.

I don't think Delaware is a native grape


Are any truly native American grapes (i.e., zero vinfera) used in winemaking these days? Norton? Concord?
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Re: Diamond - Native American

Postby Thomas » Sun May 14, 2006 6:00 pm

Dan,

The answer is somewhere between maybe and possibly. Concord isn't a true native either; is Norton? It's likely the best place to look for true native vine wine production is in the South--I think Norton comes from Virginia.

If I can get to Niagara this year I will. I do think Diamond is an interesting wine. I like a good dry Delaware too--our friend John Z. produced one that almost did it for me.
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Delaware

Postby Dan Smothergill » Sun May 14, 2006 8:16 pm

Tom,
Come! I'll bring an '05 Delaware too. It will be dry. Whether it's good will be for you to decide.

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Re: Delaware

Postby Paul B. » Sun May 14, 2006 9:20 pm

Thomas wrote:Paul has a marvelous outlook--for Paul. He has never tried to operate a profitable business using his model; others have; some have succeeded (Bully Hill, Johnson Estate, et al. in New York).

You know, Thomas, as I've often pointed out, moneymaking and quality wine don't always go hand in hand; often it is indeed the plonkish stuff that actually makes money.

I know that much of wine is business, but my personal view prefers to view wine from the non-business sphere; for this reason I am extremely partial to having a half-acre or whatever of private vineyard and just making wine for one's personal use each year - sort of like having a "family plot" if you will ... much like Howie is setting out to do with his private vineyard. I like to look at wine in the way that Battista Columbu sees it. Wine is, to me - quintessentially - something to share with friends; in its essence, I don't view wine as a commodity.

For what it's worth, the freedom that my view allows for creativity makes it all worthwhile.
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Re: Diamond - Native American

Postby Paul B. » Sun May 14, 2006 9:26 pm

Thomas wrote:If I can get to Niagara this year I will. I do think Diamond is an interesting wine. I like a good dry Delaware too--our friend John Z. produced one that almost did it for me.

That is all very intriguing. Come to NiagaraCool if you can, Thomas. I think that you will really enjoy the vinous spread that we will be putting out. Last year at the picnic viniferas were in the minority, though this year with the Rieslings, it will probably balance itself out a bit. But come, regardless. This event is definitely the place to be for anyone who has the slightest sentiment for our native labruscana and hybrid varieties.
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Re: Diamond - Native American

Postby Thomas » Sun May 14, 2006 10:23 pm

I'm tryin' for the Niagara thing Paul.

I understand what you do with your acre and your philosophy. What I am saying is that you can't apply that attitude to running a real wine business.

As an example: I think Wal Mart and national chains like it are an abomination. I much prefer shopping at local, quirky stores. But I am having a hard time finding any local, quirky stores. They have been subsumed by the lowest common denominator.
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