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New York unveils a 'working man's red' wine

Posted: Sunday, March 09, 2003

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- A new wine grape more than 50 years in the making is being touted as a healthy, hardy ''working man's red.''

''The grape's time came,'' said Bruce Reisch, who helped breed the new variety at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station, a world-renowned fruit-breeding center in the Finger Lakes.

The grape, known as GR 7, started from a 1947 cross between the Buffalo and Baco noir grapes and survived decades of planting and testing to achieve its commercial status. It comes of age as red wine enjoys increasing popularity.

While cultivating upward of 6,000 seedlings at any given time, the Station's breeders bring only a select few to fruition -- about one every five to seven years. The last was the Traminette, a white variety unveiled in 1996.

''A day like this doesn't come along very often for us. It's very exciting,'' said Reisch as he released the vigorous new variety. It was unveiled at Viticulture 2003, the state grape industry's annual trade show.

Reisch announced at the show that the new grape would be called ''Abundance,'' but he later withdrew the name after being contacted by a California winery that owns a trademark on it. Reisch and a committee are at work on an alternative name.

In New York's burgeoning wine industry, the release of a new grape brings with it significant economic potential. A 1972 variety, the Cayuga White, for example, has been grown at the rate of 800 to 1,000 tons per year since the mid-1980s, according to Reisch. That has meant $350,000 to $400,000 in income for growers selling to wineries, who then turn it into $5 million worth of wine.

The economic promise of wine in a state losing in manufacturing and other areas has breeders determined to give winemakers the tools they need, Reisch said.

''Because sales of red wine have soared in recent years due to reputed health benefits, winemakers need a good red wine grape to meet increased demand. (GR 7) can help them do that,'' he said.

Several studies have indicated moderate red wine consumption can help prevent heart disease.

The new grape is praised by winemakers for its deep color, moderate acidity and cherry-berry flavor, as well as its ability to survive the cold and resist the tomato and tobacco ringspot virus infections that plague other red varieties.

Michael Doyle, president of Pleasant Valley Wine Co., in Hammondsport, has been blending the grape into the winery's sparkling burgundy to tone down the stronger Concord flavors as well as a port for its pleasing color. Doyle's is among a handful of wineries that have been testing the grape and using it commercially.

''It comes off very well with sophisticated wine drinkers as well as everyday wine drinkers,'' Doyle said.

The name Abundance would have been fitting in that the variety produces a high yield of five to seven tons per acre. The Traminette, by comparison, yields about four tons an acre.

Northeast grape growers face challenges unseen by their counterparts in the warmer, arid climes of California and elsewhere, including high humidity, a lot of rain and long, very cold winters.

''Cold hardiness is a real factor for us,'' said Reisch, who came up with the description of ''working man's red.''

In its 125-year history, the Geneva station has developed and released five other grapes used for wine-making, along with 47 table grapes sold to be eaten.



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