Hid-In-Pines Vineyard

A Taste of the Champlain Valley

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Press-Republican Oct 11, 2009


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Lamoy won a gold medal for this wine he entered in an amateur wine-making contest held by Wine Maker magazine. The wine is made from locally grown Le Crescent grapes, a white French hybrid that is also cold hardy.
Melissa Hart / P-R Photo

A variety of table, or seedless edible grapes that Lamoy is growing on 3 acres at his vineyard in Morrisonville.
Melissa Hart / P-R Photo

Clusters of Frontenac grapes that Richard Lamoy is growing on 3 acres at his vineyard in Morrisonville. Frontenac is a cold hardy variety grown in the Midwest, New England and Quebec, as well as parts of the North Country.
Melissa Hart / P-R Photo

Richard Lamoy of Hid-In Pines Vineyard in Morrisonville, talks about the varieties of grapes he grows. Lamoy recently won six medals for eight wines he entered in an amateur wine-making contest held by Wine Maker magazine. Like many area grape growers, Lamoy hopes to open his own winery in the next few years. /span>
Melissa Hart / P-R Photo

Published October 11, 2009 12:10 am - Grape growers preparing to make leap into wine making

Flavorful future
Grape growers preparing to make leap into wine making

CContributing Writer

The Plattsburgh area is poised to become the "Napa Valley of the North Country," say local grape growers who hope to put the Champlain Valley on the map of places making really good wine. br />
And bit by bit, progress is being made toward that goal, enthusiasts say, pointing to the fact that where no wineries existed five years ago, now there are four commercial vintners in Clinton County. And with cold-hardy varieties gaining new ground, area wine makers have found a unique niche and can add value to their product with locally grown grapes.

The Cornell University Agricultural Research Station in Willsboro has been conducting trials of cold-hardy grapes for the past five years and many area growers are trying new hybrids as well.

With recent headway being made into the wine market, more growers are considering taking the leap into getting licensed to make and sell locally made wine.

Good grapes
Before taking the steps toward starting a winery, Richard Lamoy of Hid-In Pines Vineyard in Morrisonville wanted to make sure he had the right ingredients.

"My route is to make sure I'm using good grapes, trying to get good quality and make sure the product is good before I start selling it," he said.

Lamoy has been growing about 20 varieties of cold-hardy grapes on three acres for the past four years. He's conducting trials through a USDA-funded Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education grant to determine what types of vine training and canopy management can produce the best yield and quality in cold-hardy hybrids. In addition, he works about 20 hours a week taking care of the vines at the Willsboro research station.

This spring, Lamoy went public with his wine making. He entered eight wines made from 2007's grape harvest into a competition held by Wine Maker magazine. Five of the six medals he won were awarded to wines made from cold-hardy grapes grown at the research station or directly by Lamoy at his Morrisonville vineyard. A wine made from La Cresent grapes, a white French hybrid, received a gold medal.

For Lamoy, receiving recognition out of 4,474 entries in one of the largest amateur wine competitions in the world gives validity to grapes produced in the North Country.

"We keep having people tell us that these can make really good wines, but have nothing to compare it to," he said. "What better way than to put your wines against the rest of the world and country."

In addition to seeing how cold-hardy grapes stack up in competition, Lamoy was pleased with the results as a vintner, too.

"If I can't make the wine myself, and I want to be a wine maker, then I'd have to pay someone else to do it and that's not economically feasible," he said.

Dual approach
According to Kevin Iungerman, Cornell Extension associate and cold-hard grapes project leader, having that dual approach ensures the best chances of success.

"You don't make viable income growing and selling the grapes, but making the wine and assorted activities you can link to it," he said, such as tasting rooms, restaurants, etc.

The downside can be the amount of work it takes to be adept at not just growing, but crafting a quality beverage.

"It takes a degree of seriousness and enterprise. The difficult part is that people have two sets of skills to develop," he said. That being said, Iungerman remains optimistic that North Country wineries can one day catch up to similar ventures in Quebec, Vermont and other parts of New York. "I'm pretty confident it can be done here. (What Lamoy is doing) and Lincoln Peak in Middlebury are two examples of where we're meeting the bar."

Iungerman has worked closely with Lamoy at the Willsboro research station and as a consultant on Lamoy's own research and speaks to his dedication as both a grower and wine maker.

"Richard is ahead of the curve as far as I'm concerned. (Making wine from Willsboro grapes) has been a really valuable exercise."

Wild flavors
Rob McDowell of Purple Gate Vineyard, located on Route 9 north of Plattsburgh, would like to open a small winery and tasting room in the near future.

McDowell agrees that the returns look promising when wine is sold on the same site as vineyards.

As a value-added crop, vintners can expect to make $10,000-$30,000 on an acre, he estimates. If just growing, the profit is in the realm of around $5,000, he said. It doesn't take much land to get started, either.

"It's not as acre-intensive as other crops," he said.

McDowell has been growing grapes for 12 years and is a founding member of the Lake Champlain Grape Growers Association. One of the advantages he sees in cold-hardy grapes is they don't have the classical flavors of traditional vinifera.

"We've got something that's absolutely unique," he said. "Some have wild flavors."

He cited the whites in particular as carrying a tropical flavor, such as Brianna, which has notes of pineapple.

With younger people getting into wine and more accustomed to different varietals, McDowell hopes that will spur more people to try wine made from cold-hardy grapes.

"We're thinking that in 20 years, people's tastes will change," he said. "It's just the early stages of the industry. Everyone's really poised for this to take off."

With three established wineries already on Route 9, McDowell envisions a wine corridor springing up along that road in the next few years.

"It dovetails really well on local food movement," he said.