Variety-system matchmaking yields first-year results
As a volunteer at the 300-vine Willsboro Cold-Hardy Wine Grape Trial at the Cornell University E.V. Baker Agricultural Research Farm in Willsboro, N.Y., Richard Lamoy worked, watched and learned.
As he helped tend the 25 grape cultivars established there with Northern New York Agricultural Development Program funding assistance in 2005, Lamoy developed insights regarding the likely advantages of matching varieties to specific training and canopy management systems to improve the quality of the wine grapes grown in the colder northern New York region.
In 2009, the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program provided funding for him to test his expectations, and Lamoy established research trials at his young Hid-in-Pines Vineyard in Morrisonville, N.Y., southwest of Plattsburgh.
Lamoy’s first-year results showed a range of 40 to 67 percent improvement in yield and quality in a year that was about 200 degree days short of the region’s normal of 2,400.
With fastidious recordkeeping, Lamoy determined that specific variety-system matching could bring yield gains of 3.91 tons per acre.
His economic calculations showed certain combinations could result in $830 to more than $5,000 in added net value of the crop per acre.
He says, “With just one year of results, I can generally say it certainly is possible, but not yet conclusive, that the value of wine grapes may be increased both through increased yields and improved quality, and that farm income could be increased by getting higher crop returns in combination with diminished labor requirement during the growing season and at harvest.”
Testing an idea
In the spring of 2009, Lamoy set out to evaluate the comparative yields and berry quality using vertical shoot positioning (VSP) and four-arm Kniffen vine training systems with the Frontenac, Chardonel and Leon Millot grape varieties.
Within the systems, he compared shoot thinning and cluster thinning methods against a control.
Damage caused by an unusually cold winter eliminated the Chardonel grape from the trial. Two instances of temperatures of minus 22 degrees Fahrenheit (normal lows range between minus 10 to minus 12 degrees) caused dieback to the snow line about 15 inches aboveground.
In Chardonel’s place, and because of LaCrosse’s trailing tendencies, Lamoy substituted LaCrosse grapes trained to Top Wire Cordon and four-arm Kniffen systems.
Starting in September, he collected fruit samples to monitor ripening and quality development. The berries were crushed for juice evaluation, and Brix was measured with a hand-held refractometer. The pH was measured with a portable electronic pH meter, and titrable acidity (TA) was measured with a Hanna Instruments 8410 Mini Titrator.
In October, each variety was harvested the same day to assure consistent results. The Frontenac was harvested on October 15, LaCrosse on October 17 and Leon Millot on October 21.
Each vine of each treatment was picked into its own grape lug, individual weights were taken and harvest clusters were counted. Average vine and cluster weights were determined for each treatment.
“Data collection was designed to make it possible to give acre-equivalent yields based on vine and row spacing,” Lamoy says.
Combo comparisons show opportunity
The highest-quality Frontenac grapes were obtained using the four-arm Kniffen with shoot thinning combination.
“The four-arm Kniffen system stayed visibly more open with the fruit more exposed for ripening, thereby also reducing the need for pruning and leaf pulling,” Lamoy says.
“The four-arm Kniffen with shoot thinning produced an average yield of 28.3 pounds per vine average. This represents a 67 percent increase over the VSP shoot-thinned system, and the result was two-thirds more yield of a higher-quality product,” he adds.
The Leon Millot grapes grown with the combination of the four-arm Kniffen system plus shoot thinning produced significant yield, though not as stellar as the Frontenac. That combination extrapolated to a 40 percent increase in value per acre over using VSP.
That combo also required less summer pruning and training time, and the less-dense canopy in a normal year would be expected to reduce spraying time and cost by at least one application.
Lamoy says the LaCrosse vines were not all well-formed and shade from trees bordering the trial area may have lowered sugar levels and impacted acid levels, so yield gains of 2.71 to 11.4 should be verified with another a year of testing.
Lamoy plans to cut the trees back and advises caution before drawing conclusions about which system works best for producing LaCrosse grapes. With that caveat, however, he says the LaCrosse grapes generally demonstrated a yield increase when grown with four cordons.
In addition to yield and quality data, Lamoy tracked the labor/time invested in each system and each treatment. “For example, using the four-arm Kniffen system with Frontenac equates to a savings of 123 hours of labor per acre over the VSP system. That is a considerable savings,” he says.
He adds, “July and August were very wet months, which dictated an extra spraying for disease, thus impacting cost calculations over what might be expected in a drier year.”
Added value: award-winning wine
“By combining variety with system to achieve increased yield and reduced labor, and then making the grapes into wine instead of selling them as grapes, there is potential for even greater return to net farm profit,” Lamoy says.
Lamoy currently grows grapes on 3 of his 90 acres, and he is transitioning the fresh vegetable and fruit farm and former small dairy to a vineyard and winery business.
In 2009, he won medals for six of eight entries submitted to WineMaker Magazine’s wine competition, reputedly the world’s largest amateur winemaker contest.
Five of the award-winning wines were made with North Country-grown, cold-hardy grapes harvested from his vineyard and from the Willsboro trial.
Kevin Iungerman, of the Cornell Cooperative Extension Northeast New York Fruit Program and Willsboro project leader, encourages volunteers who help harvest at Willsboro to make use of the unneeded, surplus grapes.
One of Lamoy’s gold medal wines was made with locally grown French Hybrid White grapes (the LaCrescent variety), and he earned three silver medals for varietal wines made with French Hybrid White grapes (St. Pepin, Adalmiina (ES6-16-30), Petite Amie) and one bronze medal for a wine made with Leon Millot French Hybrid Red grapes.
Lamoy plans to enter the 2010 WineMaker contest. Once licensed, he wants to enter the commercial category of wine competitions and open his on-farm winery.
Lamoy says, “The success of the Willsboro trial and private plantings shows the colder regions can indeed produce cold-hardy grapes as a valuable crop for northern New York. I am pleased to contribute to research that adds to our ability to grow them. Plus, it’s fun to enter the wine competitions, hold vineyard tours and talk with other growers and winemakers.”
E.V. Baker Agricultural Research Farm Manager Michael Davis says, “Richard has been invaluable as a volunteer, and now as staff here, with both the grapes trial and high-tunnel season extension research. He is a fine example of how growers can make practical application of the northern New York regional research to grow their own farm-based income.”
Iungerman says, “Richard stood out among our volunteer Willsboro crew as an innovator with a keen interest in research. I was contemplating a more rigorous vine phenology notation and pest management-monitoring regimen at Willsboro to support increased year-to-year review, mature cropping levels and the first finished wine production and needed a colleague locally to assist with the work. Happily, Richard agreed to become a part-time seasonal assistant and the Northern New York Agricultural Development Program approved funding for the research in 2008,” Iungerman continues. “Both the trial, and now Richard’s SARE-funded research, are contributing to the database that will strengthen the cold-hardy grape industry for all of our northern New York growers.”
Lamoy has requested new funding to continue his research trials. “I see this first-year project as validating the concept. Additional testing would give reliability to the findings, as well as allow expansion of the number of training systems and varieties evaluated,” he says.
“I believe it is possible to predict the best combination of variety, training system and canopy management type to increase net farm income and the sustainability of the farmers interested in adopting cold-hardy grape production,” Lamoy adds.
Data compiled by Iungerman on variety-specific bud break, cane growth, bloom, capfall, berry set, veraison and projected yields from the Willsboro Wine Grape Trial and the first-year results of Lamoy’s varietysystem matching research are online at www.nnyagdev.org.
Cold-Hardy Grape Production Resources and Associations
Northern New York:
• Lake Champlain Wines (10 members, four current licensed wineries, two awaiting licensing), membership levels for growers, supporting businesses and noncommercial wine enthusiasts. Contact Dan Vesco at 518-846-8544 or email@example.com, or visit www.lakechamplainwines.org
• Northern New York Agricultural Development Program. Farmer-driven research, technical assistance and outreach for cold-hardy grape growers (and other types of farmers) in Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties, www.nnyagdev.org.
• Northern New York Grape Growers Association. Meets monthly, attendance can reach 50 members from three counties and plans include a 2011 cold-hardy grapes conference. Contact President Phil Randazzo at 315-686-3630.
• Seaway Coldhardy Grapevines & Vineyard in Evans Mills, N.Y. Specializes in starter vines developed by Elmer Swenson and University of Minnesota cold-hardy grape breeding program. Contact Duane Smith at 315-629-8728 or visit www.seawaycoldhardygrapes.com.
• Thousand Islands-Seaway Wine Trail. Began in 2007 with five members on a 78-mile trail. Contact Nick Surdo at 315-489-1518 or visit www.thousandislandsseawaywinetrail.com/.
• Upper Hudson Valley Wine and Grape Association. Promotes commercial enology and viticulture and collaborates with Lake Champlain Wines group. Contact Gerry Barnhart at 518-692-7349 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Vermont Grape and Wine Council. Twenty-one members, events and newsletter. Visit www.vermontgrapeandwinecouncil.com/.
• Northeastern Vine Supply in West Pawlet, Vt. Wholesale and retail sales of cold-hardy wine and table grapevines, specializing in University of Minnesota Elmer Swenson Selections, French Hybrids. Call 802-287-9311 or visit www.nevinesupply.com.
The author is a freelance writer who keeps horses and sheep on a 100-acre farm in Mannsville, N.Y.