By Susan Lang
This spring, the Finger Lakes newest vineyard will be breaking ground, but the harvest will be measured in training rather than tons. Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) and Finger Lakes Community College (FLCC) are establishing a teaching and demonstration vineyard at the Anthony Road Wine Co. on Seneca Lake.
The 2.5-acre vineyard will serve as a site where CCE's Finger Lakes Grape Program can conduct applied research projects and demonstrations for current and prospective grape growers in the Finger Lakes region and beyond.
"Every other regional grape program in New York has a vineyard available for research, teaching, and extension," said Hans Walter-Peterson, viticulture extension specialist and team leader for the Finger Lakes Grape Program. "Because this is a research vineyard we can push the envelope, testing practices that might harm the vines, such as hormone treatments or potential mechanization options, without concern that that we might be hurting a collaborator's livelihood."
Students from FLCC's Viticulture and Wine Technology program will help conduct the research, provide most of the vineyard labor, such as pruning, shoot thinning and harvesting, and learn how characteristics of grapes translate into winemaking. The students will tend to a wide range of vines in the new planting, including such well-known varieties as Catawba, Riesling, Cabernet Franc and Cayuga White, and others that are new and upcoming such as Corot Noir and Marquis (both developed at Cornell), Grüner Veltliner, Marquette and a promising but unnamed Cornell selection.
"Growers are always looking for more choices, and this will be a place for unbiased evaluation of potential candidates," said Walter-Peterson. "We haven't been able to see many of our main 'varieties of interest' growing in identical conditions in one location, and the new vineyard will be helpful for comparing relative development in and across years."
The vineyard will also include a small planting of seedless table grapes, including Marquis, which have been bred to grow well in Finger Lakes conditions.
"Including table grapes was a suggestion from a grower," said Walter-Peterson. "They are not currently a major part of the industry, but some growers are selling table grapes at farmer's markets, farm stands and some to grocery stores. The newer varieties are well-adapted to our conditions and demonstrate what might be possible for this segment of the market."
Walter-Peterson approached Paul Brock M.S. '07, FLCC instructor of viticulture/wine technology, earlier this year with a proposal for the demonstration vineyard after learning about a grant that could fund the project. CCE of Wayne County, on behalf of CCE's of Genesee, Livingston, Monroe, Ontario, Orleans, Steuben, Wyoming and Yates counties, was awarded a $200,000 grant from the Genesee Valley Regional Marketing Authority to improve production of value-added agricultural products and the public's access to them, with a portion of those funds designated for the development of the teaching and demonstration vineyard. FLCC and the Finger Lakes Grape Program will evenly split the annual costs to operate the vineyard.
"The partnership with Cornell Cooperative Extension will allow the students firsthand access to current topics in Finger Lakes viticulture while expanding their networking opportunities," said Brock.
About 35 students are enrolled in the FLCC viticulture program, which was developed with the help of winemakers, grape growers, faculty and staff from the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station and other industry members to train students for immediate employment in the growing wine industry or to transfer into Cornell's four-year viticulture program.
"We hope to demonstrate new and improved vineyard practices that will help Finger Lakes grape growers to improve the quality of their fruit while also increasing the sustainability and profitability of their farms," Walter-Peterson said. "Sharing this vineyard with FLCC will enable us to provide cutting-edge information and education not only for our current growers, but for the next generation of vineyard managers and winemakers as well."
Susan Lang is a staff writer for Cornell University. Amanda Garris and Chris Gerling contributed to this article.