Photo by K. Colton, NYS Experiment Station, Geneva
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GENEVA, N.Y. -- Wrestling with New York's cool climate is the pain and the glory of their profession for the region's winemakers and grape growers. Much of the Finger Lakes' increasing reputation for good wine over the past decade is because the region's microclimate is similar to the fine grape growing regions of Germany and France. But whether or not grapes will survive sudden hard freezes, or temperatures that plummet by as much as 70 degrees as they did in just 12 hours last January, are questions of bottom-line survival. It can take 20 to 30 years of careful breeding, testing, and evaluation before a variety is ready for release. New grapes that have been bred for the climate are eagerly anticipated.
Under the leadership of Bruce Reisch, Professor of Grape Genetics in Cornell University's Department of Horticultural Sciences at the Geneva Agriculture Experiment Station, two new "cool climate" grape varieties are ready to make their debut. They will make their official entrance at a "name and release" party at the International Symposium on Cool Climate Viticulture & Enology, in Rochester, on July 16.
Traminette is a vinifera-type wine grape. Marquis is a table grape. Both are white hybrids that combine excellent fruit quality with cold-hardiness derived from American species. They are able to stand up to short Northeastern growing seasons and exhibit some disease resistance.
Growers were instrumental in both the testing and the naming process. Until they are released, grapes are referred to by number only. A name can make or break a grape's commercial acceptance. "A bad name can hamper a good grape," said Reisch, who won the New York Wine & Grape Foundation's annual Research Award in April.
Robert Pool and the late John Einset, of Geneva, project leaders for the grape breeding program at Geneva prior to 1980, were active in the early development of both new varieties. Reisch has released three white wine grapes -- Chardonel, Melody, and Horizon -- and one red seedless table grape -- Einset Seedless -- since coming to the grape breeding program at Geneva in 1980.
EDITORS: A press conference is scheduled for July 16, from 5:30-6:30 p.m., at the Radisson Hotel, Rochester, to officially introduce both grapes. The press conference will be held in conjunction with the opening reception of the 4th International Symposium on Cool Climate Viticulture and Enology.
Traminette, For Wine
Traminette -- formerly NY65.533.13 -- is a Gewrztraminer hybrid which produces spicy wines of excellent quality, with similarities to its well-known vinifera parent.
"It is much more winter hardy and disease resistant than Gewrztraminer with a better balance of sugar, acid, and pH levels," said Reisch. "Traminette should help to disprove the notion that hybrid wines are inferior to vinifera. These are vinifera type wines from vines that are much easier to grow in cold climates."
Traminette descends from a cross between Joannes Seyve 23-416 and Gewrztraminer made by Herb Barrett of the University of Illinois. Seed were planted by the Geneva breeding program in 1968. Reisch worked closely with the Enology program under the leadership of Thomas Henick-Kling to evaluate the quality of Traminette wines and to develop suitable fermentation techniques.
John Brahm III, of Arbor Hill Grapery in Bristol Springs, N.Y., who has been growing the variety since 1985 and making wine with it since 1990, has just started selling his 1994 varietal label, which he calls "Traminette '94."
"This grape produces a flavorful, spicy wine with certain honey and apricot flavors that seem to age well," said Brahm, who has been in the wine and grape growing business for over 30 years. Because his vineyard is situated above Canandaigua Lake at an elevation of 1150 feet, Brahm would never consider planting a true Gewrztraminer vinifera grape. He is tremendously impressed with the cold-hardiness of Traminette. Yields average 4 to 4.5 tons/acre.
Herman Amberg of Amberg Wine Cellars in Clifton Springs, N.Y., has also been instrumental in testing Traminette. He has been selling it as a blend in his "Pearl" and "Gypsy" wines.
Marquis, For Eating
Marquis -- formerly NY64.029.01 -- is a seedless white table grape -- an Athens x Emerald Seedless cross which combines the mild Labrusca flavor and winter hardiness of its female parent with the seedless trait of its male parent.
"Clusters are large and somewhat loose with moderately large -- 3.5 to 4.0 gm -- berries," noted Reisch. Marquis is moderately disease resistant. The fruit ripens in mid-September, after Himrod. Yield averages 5 tons/acre. Mildly fruity at first, Marquis will develop a rich Labrusca flavor if left to ripen on the vine.
The cross which produced Marquis was made in 1964 by George Remaily. Seventeen seedling vines were planted in experimental grape breeding plots in 1968. Fruit has been observed since 1974. Promising results have been reported from Marquis trials in Arkansas, Indiana, and Michigan. A Cornell trial of Marquis at the Lawrence Farm in the Hudson Valley has been very successful. Semi-commercial trials are being prepared in southwest Michigan.
Because there is international interest in large-berried seedless table grapes, Cornell has applied for a plant patent for Marquis. Patenting a grape carries an expensive up front cost for the University. "Cornell cannot afford to patent every grape released," said Reisch. Traminette will not be patented. Free non-exclusive licenses for Marquis may be obtained from the Cornell Research Foundation in Ithaca.