Timothy E. Martinson, Senior Extension Associate, Department of Horticulture
New York's varied climate and topography means that not all areas in New York are equally well suited for grape production. Careful attention to both macro-climate (regional scale) and meso-climate (local scale) is needed to successfully establish vineyards-and to match the proper variety with climate and site characteristics.
New York has approximately 32,000 acres of grapes, divided between three major production areas. The Lake Erie region, is the largest production area with 20,000 acres of grapes, over 90% of which are Concords for juice and bulk wine production. The Finger Lakes, with 9,000 acres under production, is the most diverse production area, with over 30 varieties (65% Labrusca, 20% Interspecific Hybrid, and 15% V. vinifera) under production. Long Island is the newest production area, with 2,500 acres of almost exclusively V. vinifera cultivars. The remaining production is centered on the Lake Ontario plain (Notably Niagara County), and the lower Hudson Valley. Since 2000, cold-climate varieties have been planted in the Thousand Islands and Champlain regions of Northern NY, and other non-traditional areas.
Macroclimate in New York is strongly influenced by two Great Lakes, Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, and by the Atlantic Ocean, including Long Island Sound and the lower portion of the Hudson River. In the Finger Lakes region, the larger lakes (Canandaigua, Keuka, Seneca, and Cayuga) range from 300 to 650 feet deep, and rarely freeze. Though much smaller than the Great Lakes, they provide local moderation of winter lows, and buffer temperatures at sites within a few miles of them.
The lakes buffer temperature extremes, reducing the risk of winter injury and spring and fall frosts. Ten-year expected low temperatures range from –2º F on Long Island to –10 to -14º F along the Great Lakes Plains and Finger Lakes. Cold isotherms change rapidly in the Hudson River Valley as one moves northward from New York City. In the western part of the state, the moderation from Lake Erie extends approximately 10-15 miles from the lake, up to the higher elevations on the Niagara escarpment. Lake Ontario buffers a larger area along the lake plain, and provides some temperature moderation to the northern part of the Finger Lakes.
The number of frost-free days in the growing season shows a similar pattern, with the longest growing seasons along the Lake Erie belt, Lake Ontario and south to the Finger Lakes, and on Long Island. South of the lake plains in western NY, and north and east of the Finger Lakes, higher elevations shorten the growing season.
New York Growing Regions
Descriptions of New York's growing regions including the Lake Erie , Finger Lakes, Long Island, Lake Ontario, and the lower Hudson Valley regions.
New York Vineyard Site Evaluation System
An interactive, map-based tool for evaluating site suitability developed by Cornell and the Institute for Application of Geospatial Technologies, in Auburn, NY. The Basics of Vineyard Site Evaluation and Selection, housed at this site, provides a comprehensive description of important soil and climate factors to consider when choosing a vineyard site.
NY Macroclimates and Site Suitability
Based on NY climate maps, this document details geographic limitations in frost-free days, heat units (growing degree-days), and winter low temperatures that reduce the suitability of many locations for successful grape production.