Lake Erie Region
The Lake Erie grape belt is an area about five to ten miles wide extending from the lake shore to the Lake Erie escarpment, which rises about 1000 feet above the 600 ft elevation shore of Lake Erie. Near the lake, deep, heavy clay soils derived from lake sediments predominate. The most productive soils are Chenango gravelly loams on the bench adjacent to Rte. 20 (700 to 800 ft elevation), which are derived from glacial till and can be very deep. These soils comprise about one third of the 20,000 acres of grapes in the region, and slopes are moderate at 2 to 8%. Grape production extends midway up the escarpment to about 1000 ft in elevation. Soils on the escarpment tend to be shallow clay loams. Soils are derived from shales and acidic, with native pH in the 4.0 to 5.0 range. The Lake Erie region tends to accumulate more heat units (2,500 to 2,700 growing degree days, base 50 ºF) than the Finger Lakes region. Moderation of winter lows is provided by Lake Erie (the shallowest of the Great Lakes), but it can end abruptly when Lake Erie freezes over. This generally happens in late January about nine years out of ten.
Grape production on Long Island has expanded enormously in the past 15 years, with 2,500 acres planted almost exclusively to V. vinifera cultivars. Almost all of the acreage is located on the North Fork at the East End of the island, from Riverhead out to Greenport. The North Fork is bounded by Long Island Sound and Peconic Bay, and therefore enjoys a maritime climate, which offers protection from spring frosts and damaging winter low temperatures. East of the North Fork, spring frosts can be a limiting factor for grapes. Fewer vineyards are located on the South Fork, due to escalating land values and a slightly cooler growing season relative to the North Fork. Soils are naturally acidic and low in organic matter. Many vineyards on sandier sites benefit from irrigation.
The Finger Lakes region has been a center for wine production since the 1860s, and has perhaps the most diverse array of native Labrusca, interspecific hybrid, and V. vinifera cultivars of any production area in eastern North America. Over 30 varieties are processed into wine, with Labrusca types comprising 60%, hybrids about 25%, and V. vinifera about 15% of the 10,000 acres in production.
Grape production in the Finger Lakes extends from the southwest side of Canandaigua lake to the east side of Cayuga Lake. Temperature moderation for the region comes from Lake Ontario, with additional moderation on a local (mesoscale) scale from the Finger Lakes themselves. Seneca (446 ft elevation, 632 feet deep) and Cayuga (380 ft elevation, 435 feet deep) Lakes are the deepest and lowest, and they rarely freeze. They provide the most moderation and longest growing season. Keuka Lake (710 ft elevation, 187 ft deep) and Canandaigua lake (686 ft elevation, 262 ft deep) provide a lesser, but still substantial amount of winter moderation locally. Higher elevation, however, leaves these areas prone to earlier fall frosts than the area immediately around the larger lakes. Slopes surrounding the lakes rise 500 to 1,500 ft above lake levels, with surrounding elevation increasing from north to south. Most vineyards on Seneca and Cayuga Lakes are below 1,000 ft of elevation, while on Keuka and Canandaigua lakes vineyards are between 1,000 and 1,200 ft in elevation.
Hudson River Region
The Hudson River region has a strong agricultural heritage and provides good soils and climate for fruit production. Once an important table grape area, the Hudson region now has thousands of acres of apples while more and more wine grapes are planted each year. Wine has some serious history in this area as well, however: Brotherhood, the oldest continuously operating winery in the US, is located in Washingtonville, NY. The Hudson River region contains three wine trails. The area has also become a cradle for a new generation of craft distilleries and fermented cider producers. The climate is moderated by weather sent up the Hudson river from the Atlantic Ocean.
Since 2000, there has been great interest in growing grapes and starting wineries outside of traditional production regions. Cold climate wine grape varieties developed in Minnesota that withstand winter low temperatures down to -30 °F have sparked interest in the Thousand Islands, Champlain and upper Hudson Valley—areas previously considered too risky to support grape production.