By Amanda Garris
How long can I age this wine? It's a question that consumers often ask as they exit a tasting room, bottle in hand, and also the focus of the 40th Annual New York State Wine Industry Workshop held April 13-15 in Geneva, N.Y.
"This annual conference focuses on winemaking and its challenges in eastern, cool climate wine regions," said Anna Katharine Mansfield, Cornell assistant professor of enology, who organized the meeting with enology extension association Chris Gerling. "We were looking for a theme that reflected the fact that the New York industry is maturing and coming into its own, so we decided to address the issues involved in producing and understanding age-worthy wines."
Wines are often described as softer, more complex, and less fruity with age. Speakers explained the chemistry behind these changes and how winemakers' choices will affect these reactions.
Tannins—compounds that can cause a wine to feel rough or smooth—change significantly with aging. According to invited speaker James Kennedy, professor and chair of the Department of Viticulture and Enology at California State University-Fresno, grapes ripen on the vine, but tannins ripen in the bottle. His research shows that the shape of young tannins allows them to easily interact with our salivary proteins to give a "dry" feeling, but with age their molecular shape becomes more chaotic, interact less with our salivary proteins, and are perceived as "soft."
Aromas may also change with time in bottle, and Cornell assistant professor of Food Science Gavin Sacks discussed how factors such as oxygen, pH, and storage temperature influence the rate at which aroma compounds are formed or lost in white wines. Dr. Thomas Karbowiak of the University of Burgundy, France, and Glenn O'Dell, director of quality control at Constellation Brands, addressed the effect of bottle closures, such as natural corks and screw caps, which affect wine aging by regulating the amount exposure to oxygen during storage.
>Technical talks on Friday included presentations on new techniques developed at Cornell to manage or prevent undesirable wine aromas, including an inexpensive and accurate way to measure elemental sulfur pesticide residues on grapes and a new method to remove "ladybug taint"—an earthy off-aroma that appears in wine made from grape clusters with a few stowaway ladybugs.
The workshop featured talks on legal, regulatory and marketing issues sponsored by New York Wine and Grape Foundation. Speakers addressed current marketing concerns, such as strategies for getting New York wines onto wine lists in New York City restaurants and a new labeling program developed by the industry to identify sustainably produced wines.
Jim Trezise, director of the New York Wine and Grape Foundation, awarded the meeting's top honor—the Unity Award—to Peter Saltonstall CALS '75. Saltonstall, co-owner of King Ferry Winery, was instrumental in changing national and state laws to allow direct shipment of New York wines to other states, crucial legislation that allowed New York wineries to maintain direct relationships with their customers from other states.
Amanda Garris is a freelance writer in Geneva, N.Y.