Saturday, September 13, 2008

Good (picking) time had by all at Basignani

It was time to pick the Seyval at Basignani Winery in Sparks, Md. What turned out to be the first public harvest of the seasoin drew a big crowd, many people coming back for a second and third time. Part of the attraction is spending the morning outside in the vineyard, picking grapes. But if we were all honest, we come for Lynne Basignani's food -- today it was lasagna and platter of fresh vegetables, etc. -- plus, oh, a couple bottles of wine and beer. Always enjoy the Zinfandel, and finally got a chance to taste the 2006 Chardonnary, the only Maryland wine that Bin 604 in Baltimore carries. Lynne and Bert, thanks. See you again soon.

They will pick again on Saturday in two week, and then at least the first Saturday in October. You can call to RSVP.

New winestand opens in NYC

This courtesy of the New York Wine and Grape Foundation:

LAKE EFFECT mist is a sure sign that harvest is approaching, and this week brought a spectacular example at Tuesday morning’s sunrise. With the air temperature at 53 degrees, the 80-degree Keuka Lake water created delicate vertical ribbons of mist that rose against a backdrop of deep red-orange blanketing the opposite hillside. It was a vivid reminder of how beautiful nature can be, and how fortunate we are to inhabit this earth. As fall progresses and the air temperature drops, the thin ribbons will morph into a layer of thick fog hovering above the lakes before it rises and spreads over the hillsides before evaporating into the heat of the day. Lake effect weather, both from Lake Ontario and the individual Finger Lakes, is vital to winegrowing in the Finger Lakes region, especially for the delicate European (Vinifera) grape varieties like Pinot Noir and Riesling. Similar benefits of temperature moderation accrue to vineyards in New York’s other major regions—Lake Erie in that region, Lake Ontario in the Niagara Escarpment, the Hudson River, and on Long Island the Atlantic Ocean, Long Island Sound, and Great Peconic Bay. The emerging Thousands Islands Seaway region also benefits from the broad St. Lawrence Seaway, though the winter temperatures get so low that growers there are wisely planting cold-hardy Minnesota varieties like Edelweiss and Frontenac.

VERAISON TO HARVEST is another sure sign of harvest season, and the first edition of the weekly newsletter appeared this week. With funding from our “Total Quality Focus” program, the Cornell Cooperative Extension Enology and Viticulture program specialists keep a watchful eye on how the crop progresses from veraison (when the grapes turn color, about now) all the way through to harvest. The information is gleaned from 55 vineyards across the state, and is supplemented by practical advice on how to maximize quality under whatever conditions exist in a particular year. Regional Cooperative Extension professionals provide details from their area, leading to an overall view like this beginning of the season’s first newsletter: “Last year at this time, we were talking about drought stress and reduced berry weight across NY—and the prospect of a compressed, early harvest season. This year, growers have had ample soil moisture, and have been coping with excess vigor instead of drought stress.” It’s a good reminder that wine is farming, first and foremost, and weather matters. This newsletter is just one of many examples of how Cornell has been a key player to the dramatic improvement in the quality of New York wines. For more information on the newsletter, contact Tim Martinson at or 315-787-2448.

NEW YORK STATE FAIR wraps up tomorrow, with this year’s Fair having at least three major improvements. The main entrance leads right into a new Pride of New York pavilion which sells hundreds of products from New York agricultural entrepreneurs, replacing the New York Lottery (what does that have to do with farming, other than common risk?). Pride of New York is a terrific program created by the Department of Agriculture & Markets to help consumers identify products produced by their New York neighbors—a great example of the “locavore” trend before it even existed. The Fair also a Witter Agricultural Museum, where this year we created a comprehensive display on the grape, grape juice and wine industry highlighting its history, diversity, growth and opportunities for entrepreneurs and employment. A new Wine Village was a major highlight, thanks to Assembly Agriculture Committee Chairman Bill Magee, the Department, and State Fair Director Dan O’Hara. Responding to concerns from wineries about last year’s Fair, Assemblyman Magee convened a meeting in December which ultimately led to the change. He also secured legislation allowing fairgoers to walk around the grounds with a (plastic) glass of wine, as they have always been able to do with beer; last year they had to stay in a small confined area when consuming wine, causing congestion and dissatisfaction. The new Wine Village in a spacious tent was supplemented by another prime location where wineries sold their products to consumers on the way to the grandstand for concerts or other activities; and a separate concessionaire who purchased and sold their wine as well. One winery owner with years of experience at the State Fair said their sales doubled this year. Commissioner Patrick Hooker and First Deputy Commissioner Bob Haggerty of Ag & Markets, which oversees the Fair, also deserve a lot of credit for their commitment to making things better.

NEW YORK WINESTAND at Union Square Greenmarket in New York City is Pride of New York’s latest venture, and yet another benefit to our wine industry. Situated in lower Manhattan, Union Square Greenmarket was the brainchild of Barry Benape and Bob Lewis, now Director of Marketing for Ag & Markets. It has transformed a previously run down and dangerous park into a bustling farmer’s market and friendly social network. While a few New York wineries (Anthony Road, Barrington, Chateau Renaissance) have been selling their wines at Manhattan greenmarkets for years, the New York Winestand is a new concept, bringing together New York wineries and Manhattan restaurants like Back Forty, Republic, and Parlor Steakhouse. A New York magazine blog dubbed it “locapour”. Last Friday, marking the Winestand’s debut, Anthony Road Winery sold all its wines. It will be open each Friday, and just look for the big green banner that says, “Buy Local. Buy Pride of New York.”

SILVER MEDALS are a solid achievement in any wine competition, and even more so in the tough international Decanter World Wine Awards. So congratulations to Casa Larga Vineyards (2005 Fiori Vidal Ice Wine), Glenora Wine Cellars (2006 Dry Riesling), and Sheldrake Point Vineyards (2005 Cabernet Franc) for their strong showing.

WINE CONSUMPTION among Americans is up, while beer consumption is down, spirits is about flat, and overall alcohol consumption is down, according to a new study published in the American Journal of Medicine. The lead researcher was Dr. R. Curtis Ellison, who appeared twice on 60 Minutes to explain the “French Paradox”, founded the Institute on Lifestyle and Health at Boston University School of Medicine, and frequently speaks at our conferences. Middle-aged people are consuming about a third less alcohol than 50 years ago, due to a combination of more people who don’t drink and more moderate consumption among those who do. Average alcohol consumption among men has gone from about two and a half to one and a half drinks per day. While the precise reasons for these trends aren’t clear, it’s reasonable to suggest that the public has heard about the health benefits of moderate wine consumption, the dangers of binge drinking, and the importance of integrating wine into a healthy lifestyle. If so, that’s good news all around.