Hid-In-Pines Vineyard

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Press-Republican August 30,2008


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Grapes are a new North Country crop that shows promise for growers.
Staff Photo/Michael Betts /

Lamoy checks the sugar level of a Frontenac grape using a refractometer. He said the juice measured about 15 brix (a measurement of sugar level). The grapes will be ready for harvest when they are at 26 brix.
Staff Photo/Michael Betts /

Richard Lamoy of Hid-In Pines Farms has about 30 varieties of grapes on about 750 grapevines.
Staff Photo/Michael Betts /

Lamoy also volunteers at the Cold Hardy Grape Wine Cultivar Trial in Willsboro. There are 25 varieties of grapes at the trial.
Staff Photo/Michael Betts /

Lamoy also volunteers at the Cold Hardy Grape Wine Cultivar Trial in Willsboro. There are 25 varieties of grapes at the trial. Data is being collected to determine what grape varieties grow best in the North Country. The project is headed by Kevin Iungerman, an extension associate with the Cornell Northeast New York Commercial Fruit Program.Caption Here
Staff Photo/Kelli Catana /

Published August 30, 2008 08:15 pm - Researchers seek suitable grapes for winter's wrath.

North Country Grapes

Staff Writer

WILLSBORO -- Research is helping determine what type of grape vines can handle the chill of a North Country winter and the region's short growing season.

Richard Lamoy volunteers at the Cold Hardy Wine Grape Cultivar Trial, which is located on the Cornell E.V. Baker Agricultural Research Farm in Willsboro. Lamoy attended an open house there after he planted his own vineyard in 2005.

"I saw a lot of the varieties I had decided to try were there," he said.

Some of those varieties are borderline for this region, grown more for research comparisons with the cold hardy grapes. There are 25 varieties of grapevines, planted in three vine blocks that are replicated four times in random locations along 10 rows throughout the small, fenced in plot overlooking Lake Champlain.

"Cold hardy grapes are helping the industry (wine making) catch on in Northern New York," Lamoy said.

Kevin Iungerman, an extension associate with the Cornell Northeast New York Commercial Fruit Program is the project leader. The farm has received funding and support from that program as well as State Sen. Elizabeth Little, the Northern New York Agricultural Development Program, the New York Farm Viability Institute and numerous volunteer growers.

"It's not a project of the (E.V. Baker Agricultural Research) farm," he said. "We are using no funds from the Baker Farm project."

This is the third growing season. It takes three growing seasons before a substantial harvest will be available.

Five of the varieties at the trial were picked for their reputed excellence in cold winters of Wisconsin and Minnesota. Others were used for comparison.

"I expected more cold injury. That hasn't really occurred," Iungerman said. "I expected one-third to half to be damaged."

He said recent warmer winters may be to blame. Last year, the lowest temperature recorded at the trial was 11 below zero Fahrenheit.

Lamoy said a number of varieties are good down to 15 below.

"We figured they would die during the winter, which would be good for the study," he said. "But, not many have died."

Two of those varieties, Cayuga White and Niagara, are more suited to the Finger Lakes region, Lamoy said. They have been successful here, which has surprised some growers, he said.

Iungerman hopes the trial will help encourage a number of small vineyards in the region, similar to what's happening in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa.

"I think the potential is there to a degree. We can have a small (wine making) industry here," Iungerman said. "Our counterparts on the Vermont side of the lake are ahead of us."

That includes several small commercial vineyards that are in operation, he said.

Next year's proposal includes making wine from five different varieties, but also a study of the effects of different forms of vine maintenance and growth patterns.

Volunteers are at the trial several times a year, for pruning, canopy control, to put up bird netting and harvest. Iungerman usually gives a short presentation on those and other topics at those times.

He was the one who chose the location, which overlooks Lake Champlain. Lamoy said the Champlain Valley works for growing grapes because temperatures are higher than the surrounding area.

There are several keys to a successful vineyard, he said. One is to carefully select a site. Lamoy said grapes grow best on poor soil.

"Grapes, in general, like well-drained soil," he said.

If the soil is too rich, the canopy growth can be difficult to control, Lamoy said. It's best to properly match the variety of grape to the soil available, he said, and it's also important to not plant all one variety until you know what works well in your area.

Some pesticides are used at the research plot, Lamoy said.

"We want to control disease and insect damage so we can compare the different types better. It controls some of the unknown variables," he said.

Lamoy said many of the grapes have reached veraison, a French term for the point where fruit starts to change color, get softer and increase in sugar level.

Harvest usually takes place in mid- to late-September through October.

"Different varieties mature at different times," Lamoy said.

He said some nice, warm weather from now until harvest would be best. The heat causes sugar levels to rise and lowers the acid levels, he said

After harvest, five varieties will be used to produce wine at Cornell, Lamoy said.

A potential vintner should do as much research as possible, he said. It's nice to have a resource like the cold hardy grape trial in the area, Lamoy said.

All of the cold hardy grapes at the trial are hybrids, crossed with native grapes that are able to survive in the cold.

In cold climates, two canes (main trunks) are often used. That way, if one dies during the winter, the other will be available in that spot the next growing season.

There are several methods of arranging growth, Lamoy said, each with benefits and disadvantages. Several different types are being used at the trial, to study which works best with each type of grape.

Frontenac grapes grow well in northern New York. They are capable of surviving temperatures as low as 30 degrees below zero Fahrenheit.

The grapes are used to make a red wine. Another variety that grows well in colder climates is Frontenac gris, which is used to make a white wine, Lamoy said.

The Frontenac varieties and one called Marquette are well suited to the Champlain Valley, Lamoy said. Another variety developed in Minnesota, Le Crescent, also works well, he said. "It makes a really nice white wine," Lamoy said.

The right amount of sun is important to make grapes ripen, but too much can cause them to burn, Lamoy said. He showed a cluster of noirette where several of the grapes had been ruined by the sun.

Lamoy operates his own vineyard at his Hid-In Pine Farm in Morrisonville. He first planted grapes in 1978.

"It was a small planting. There wasn't much of a selection (of grape types) back then," he said.

Lamoy gave up after a few unproductive seasons, and waited more than 20 years to give it another go 3 years ago. He is now experimenting with a number of cold hardy wine grapes.

His backyard vineyard has about 750 grapevines. That includes 30 varieties of grapes, 25 of which will be used to make wine.

He also has a nursery with about 1,200 seedlings for the future.

Hybrid grapes such as the cold-hardy varieties produce about one gallon of wine per vine. Each gallon can fill five wine standard-sized wine bottles.

"They will produce between a ton-and-a-half to two tons of grapes. That will make between 150 and 200 gallons of wine," he said.

His property features fairly sandy soil, which is good. It is surrounded by large trees, which is not so ideal. It would be better if there was more of a chance for the air to circulate, he said.

Wine grapes often carry a much higher sugar content than table grapes, Lamoy said. Typically, they are ready for harvest between 20 and 26 brix, the scale used to measure sugar content.

Lamoy used a refractometer to check the sugar level of some Frontenac grapes. A few drops of juice are squeezed onto the device, which measures the sugar level.

The juice was at about 15 brix, and will be ready for harvest when it reaches 26.

"This year we're a little ahead on ripening. Last year the Frontenac were about 11 (brix) at this time," Lamoy said.

Lamoy has more than cold hardy grapes. There are several vines of Chardonelle, a hybrid grape developed from Chardonay.

He said it is supposed to need a longer growing season, but seems to be working well in his vineyard.

Lamoy said his vineyard offers a chance to experiment and provide enjoyment and exercise.

He is using a wide variety similar to the research trial, an attempt to find out which ones work best on his property.

"When I figure out which ones work, I will put in a bigger vineyard with a smaller variety," Lamoy said.