2. Sacred Wine, Sacred Soil
An investigation of the depth of experience that exists in the Finger Lakes wine story is one avenue towards establishing a sense of "place" in the region. The wine industry is truly an integral piece of the identity of the Finger Lakes, and it interacts with the natural environment of the region closely. Vintners from throughout the region are dedicated to defending the nature that surrounds them and enables them to exercise their livelihood.
This 1872 wood engraving of a Hammondsport vineyard poignantly demonstrates the nearly two-century connection of the pristine environment of the Finger Lakes to viticulture. Exceptionally detailed, and slightly romantic in its depiction, workers are shown harvesting grapes in front of an incredible view of the southern tip of Keuka Lake. The carving powerfully displays the vineyard as an organic member of the hills surrounding the lake--it belongs there. Indeed, that is a collective feeling of the Finger Lakes community, that the wine industry is an integral member of their beautiful home.
These grapes are part of the "Labrusca" family. The most influential grape of this family for the Finger Lakes is by far the Catawba variety, which most likely developed somewhere in the Carolina area. Rev. Bostwick, one of the first people known to successfully cultivate grapes in the Finger Lakes, planted Catawba grapes in his Hammondsport garden in 1829 to produce sacramental wine for his church. Samuel Warren of York most likely used Catawba for some of his sacramental wine as well.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, in the mid 1850s, found Catawba wine to be so delightful that he dedicated a poem to it, titled "Ode to Catawba Wine":
The "Beautiful River" to which he refers is the Ohio River, as he was sent sparkling Catawba wine from a vintner in Ohio, while living in New York City.
These varieties originated from accidental cross-pollinations between the indigenous grapes of the Americas, which produced unpalatable wine, and European vinifera grapes, which were originally unable to be grown in the region due to difficulties with phylloxera in the soil.
While grafting techniques now allow vinifera grapes to be grown in the area, the "native" grapes (in quotes because they are the results of cross-pollination, and therefore not truly native) remain important in the Finger Lakes wine industry. Because the vinifera grapes, which produce sophisticated and historic wine varieties like Riesling (the variety a vintner would most likely desire to send to a competition), are not necessarily designed for the Finger Lakes conditions, they often require more spraying of substances like sulfur to protect them. This is causing a movement away from the "wine snob" cliché which favors more expensive European wines, as more people choose cheaper, good-tasting wines from the more environmentally sustainable native grapes.