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Cornell's 'Name that Grape' Request Goes Viral


By Tim Martinson

NY95.0301.01 is a dark red wine grape
NY95.0301.01 is a dark red wine grape with a hint of blueberry flavor and good disease resistance, suitable for organic production.

Naming new wine grape cultivars is not as simple as it sounds.  Not only do you have to navigate a thicket of trademarked words to find something unique, but the name also has to "be marketable, reasonably easy to pronounce and conjure positive connotations" according to Bruce Reisch, professor of horticulture and grape breeder at Cornell. He has two new cultivars, currently known as NY95.0301.01 and NY76.0844.24, that are ripe for naming.

Reisch and Anna Katharine Mansfield, assistant professor of enology sent out an email to grape research and extension colleagues asking for suggestions in early July. Dozens of suggestions came back.  A follow up article entitled The name game: Contest seeks names for two new grapes written by Cornell's News Service appeared in the Cornell Chronicle on July 30. Then pandemonium broke out.

Local and national news media picked it up. The Syracuse Post-Standard posted the story, and NPR Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep ran a brief story called Name that (New) Grape and posted Reisch's email address on their Facebook page. Mentions in Bon Appetit online as well as several wine blogs drove the distribution worldwide.  

The result? A flooded email inbox.  By the contest deadline of August 6, Reisch had received over 1,100 suggestions for the two varieties in over 400 email messages.  Submissions came in from not only many locations in the United States but also from Spain, Italy, Canada, Indonesia, China, France, and elsewhere – including many Spanish-language suggestions.

"At one point after the NPR story, new messages with name suggestions were popping in every 5 to15 seconds," said Reisch. "While I was really elated to see such an excellent response, I regretted not having set up a special email address for submissions."

And the names?  While Reisch was reluctant to offer specifics, several names had Cornell connections, like Ezra (after Cornell's founder and namesake Ezra Cornell), A.D. White (Cornell's first president) or Big Red (Cornell athletics nickname). Others suggested using names of famous comedians like Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart, with the thought that the publicity would ensure the new grape varieties' success.

"Many other interesting suggestions came in with complete explanations of their derivation from Latin or Greek roots or connections to mythology," said Reisch.

The contest ended August 6, so please don't send any more suggestions.

"I'm sure we'll find names for our two new grapes from among the many excellent suggestions," said Reisch.

NY76.0844.24 ranks high for winter hardiness
NY76.0844.24 ranks high for winter hardiness and productivity, with excellent wine quality and aromatic characters reminiscent of Gewürztraminer or a citrusy Muscat.

So what are these new grapes?

Dark red NY95.0301.01 resulted from a cross made in 1995 and was fast-tracked into production because of its promise as a variety with exceptional disease resistance and the potential to be produced organically. The first grape to be released from the "no-spray" vineyard, it has good resistance to downy and powdery mildews. Reisch said it exhibits moderate body, good structure and blueberry flavor on the palate.

NY76.0844.24 was first created in 1976; this white grape variety ranks high for winter hardiness and productivity, with excellent wine quality and aromatic characters reminiscent of Gewürztraminer or a citrusy Muscat, he said.

These varieties will join other wine grape cultivars released by Reisch's program, including Chardonel (1990), Traminette (1996), Geneva Red (2003, formerly GR7), and three varieties - Valvin Muscat, Corot Noir, and Noiret  – all released in 2006.

The winning names will be revealed next February at the Viticulture 2013 conference in Rochester, New York.

Tim Martinson is statewide viticulture extension associate in the department of horticulture at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station. Stacey Shackford contributed to this article.