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Cornell professor develops new grapes for Finger Lakes vineyards

Rows of Aromella and Arandell grapes grow on the grapevines at Grafted Grapevine Nursery, Clifton Springs, New York, during the month of February.
Rows of Aromella and Arandell grapes grow on the grapevines at Grafted Grapevine Nursery, Clifton Springs, New York, during the month of February.
After thirty years of research, Bruce Reisch, a researcher at Cornell University announced that he completed the development and testing of two new species of wine grapes. Reisch made the announcement at the Viticulture 2013 Conference & Trade Show on Feb. 7., in Rochester, N.Y.

The new varieties, Aromella and Arandell, are the latest creations of Cornell’s New York State Agricultural Experiment Station on the north shore of Seneca Lake in Geneva, N.Y.

Specifically molded to combat the difficulties that come with growing grapes in the Central Region of New York, Reisch worked to ensure the Aromella grapes were hardy when faced with winter conditions. The Arandell grape was bred with resistance to downy and powdery mildews, common throughout New York State and associated with damp climates around the world.

Reisch said, grapevine diseases could cause growers to invest millions of dollars and numerous hours to reduce losses, which in turn, creates a demand for grapevines with improved disease resistance. The reduction of pesticide and sprays by even one or two times per year would cut the cost of production significantly, while reaping untold benefits for the environment.

“The grapevine breeding program at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva is using both traditional breeding methods as well as biotechnology to develop disease resistant vines,” Reisch explained.

Improvement in wine quality throughout the Finger Lakes and increased recognition nationally have all contributed to the popularity of wines produced in upstate New York, said Susan Spence, of the New York Wine and Grape Foundation, an organization representing vineyards throughout New York State.

“The Finger Lakes are a beautiful wine producing region accessible to fairly large population centers,” Spence said, “Where people used to fly to Napa or France, they can drive to the Finger Lakes.”

Despite these positive traits, inhospitable winters, a short growing season and the specter of mildew enveloping grape vines have posed a threat to the profitability of local growers’ crops.

These were the factors that Reisch, a professor in the Department of Horticulture at Cornell’s College of Agricultural Life Sciences, had in mind when he started developing his grape varieties.

The two species, which have been in the works for quite some time, could be a boon for local vineyards, which are already attracting the attention of wine enthusiasts around the country.

“These new grapes were actually growing as seedlings in 1977 for the Aromella, and 1996 for the Arandell,” Reisch said.

The substantial amount of time it takes seedlings to mature greatly contributed to the length of the project.

“Before the testing phase, you have to grow the seedlings up a few years, before the vines begin to bear fruit. Then you can start testing them for wine quality, propagating new locations and each new location takes 3 to 4 years before you can really work with the fruit,” Reisch said.

Reisch’s new discovery is the latest achievement for a wine-growing region experiencing previously unprecedented levels of popularity.

As early as 2005, an article in the weekly periodical, Bloomberg Businessweek, noted Rieslings, a white grape variety produced in the Finger Lakes, were on par with the legendary yields of German and Alsatian vineyards.

Data from the United States Department of Agriculture shows that grape production within the State of New York has increased 16 percent between 2006 to 180,000 tons. Grapes used for juice accounted for 77 percent of the total grapes processed with the remaining 23 percent going for wine.

In order to meet the rising demand for regional grapes the funding for Reisch’s project has not only come from Cornell, but also from local growers and grape nurseries.

Grafted Grapevine Nursery, LLC in Clifton Springs, N.Y., has a long history of collaboration with Cornell’s Geneva Experimental Station, said Eric Amberg, Operations Manager of the nursery.

“We realize that the Cornell breeding program is something that is necessary for the development of our industry to become greener, more sustainable and more competitive,” Amberg said.

Amberg readily recognizes the benefits of such a relationship.

“The more we can work with [the horticultural experts] and help them, the better nurseries can help the wine industry as a whole. And when the industry does better the nurseries are going to draw more customers and do better. When everyone helps each other, everyone benefits,” Amberg said.

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