The History of New York’s Wine Industry

The skyscrapers of Manhattan. The Statue of Liberty. Times Square on New Year’s Eve. These are iconic images known the world over as symbols of New York City, one of the most popular destinations in the United States. In a typical year over 46-million people visit this celebrated city. But the great state of New York is far more than its landmark metropolis. For those who enjoy wine, New York’s vintners have much to offer travelers who leave the city behind to explore the region’s bounties. New York wines are making their mark in some circles.

History of Wine in New York

New York’s wine history is as old as the late 1600s when some of its earliest settlers planted grapes in several areas of the state. The first bonded winery ever licensed in the United States was in New York and it is also home to the oldest operating winery in the country today.

Although New York has long been the wine capital of the eastern part of the US, the focus was traditionally on Native American varieties such as Concord grapes. It was not until the late 1950s that Ukrainian-born Dr. Konstantin Frank began experimenting in earnest with higher-quality European vinifera grape stocks in the Finger Lakes region.

In the 1970s fine wine production began to expand with a small handful of New York winery start-ups. While Concord and French-American hybrids continue to be the source of the majority of wine made in the state, a large shift toward the noble European varietals has quietly taken place and today, New York State hosts over 240 wineries, making it the fourth largest in the country. It is also home to the single largest wine company in the world, Constellation Brands.

New York Wine Production

New York’s nine AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) fall under five main regions, Long Island, Finger Lakes, Hudson Valley, Lake Erie and Niagara Escarpment. Over 40 different types of grapes are cultivated but about 70% of all grapes grown in New York go into juice, not wine. But fine wine grapes are a rapidly growing sector and winemakers continue to experiment to find the varietals that best suit their wide array of micro-climates.

Cooler growing areas such as the Finger Lakes are seeing very good success with white wine varietals like Riesling and Gewurztraminer, and warmer spots like Long Island show promise for reds, mainly Merlot and other Bordeaux varietals. Over 200-million bottles of wine are produced in New York State. Tourism is a thriving part of the wine business in New York with more than 4-million visitors each year enjoying New York’s diverse wine regions.