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March 23, 2011

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This is a fascinating project. I've noticed many universities getting involved in growing the wine industry of their state (Virginia Tech, Iowa State, U of Minnesota for example), but this might be the most involved project I've heard of. What would be cool would be to see this as an overlay on the geologic makeup of an area, if that information is available at that level, to help further see what varieties would be viable at a site.

Great question. I've asked Professor Lakso to stop in with an answer on that! But I can tell you that evaluation of the soil components is part of the equation.

Uh, does this project cover NY State in its entirety?

Dan -

Yes, absolutely. Given my own geographic location, I focused a bit on the Finger Lakes, but the Foundation serves the state, and Cornell research benefits the state. My apologies for lack of clarity.

Yes thanks Evan, I just linked to the site.

I appreciate all your reports.

I haven't been to the Finger Lakes since I was a lad so every time I read your reports, I am encouraged.

Looking forward to reading your book.

Thanks, Dan. There are a lot of interesting and impressive things happening in the Finger Lakes. It's an exciting time in the local wine industry's history.

Dan, I thought the same thing originally, but I checked out the site and yes, it covers the whole state... even some areas that I don't think of as wine regions.

This is a very cool project -- one that deserves funding in my opinion.

On the web site there is a page for Educational information on site evaluation that does show a general NY state map of the main soils, plus a map showing the patterns of glaciation that occurred. For example Long Island was the end of the glacial push in that area leaving a raised gravelly, sandy strip called a terminal moraine. That is consistent with the geology. However, in most of NY the glaciers mixed up the bedrock and soils so much that soil variability is extreme. Also in Western NY after the glaciers melted, there were huge lakes that laid silt over all the mixed up soil for hundreds of years. So in many areas in NY where grapes are grown the main geological features don't necessarily predict very well the soils in any specific spot. Each site needs to have soil analyses done. Its a real challenge for NY growers.
By the way, there is a large new research and extension grant funded by the USDA for helping eastern US growers led by Dr. Tony Wolf in VA Tech that includes work on site selection in several states in the East. We will continue the development and improvement of the NY site and collaborate with others to develop web-based systems for their states. That grant project is just starting but it should be a big help in the near future!

Just to expand on Dr.Lakso's excellent explanation of Long Island geology - there were actually 3 glacial retreats that took place during the Wisconsin stage of the Pleistocene Epoch which left 3 separate and distinct moraines on Long Island. The first one was the Ronkonkoma Moraine which was laid down about 50,000 years ago and carved out the south shore of the Island. Around 20,000 years ago the Harbor Hill Moraine stopped to deposit a ridge that trends SW to NE from Brooklyn to Port Jefferson. Lastly the Roanoke Point Moraine formed the geology of the North Fork and follows a path from W to E from Port Jefferson to Orient Point.
From these separate moraines, the glacial melt water brought rocks, gravel, sand and silt down to form the farmland we have today known as glacial outwash plains.
Throughout our district soil types are quite distinct and even within the soil types themselves, we are seeing lots of variation and terroir effects due to the changing proportions of silt, sand and gravel in the soil profiles. These can change quickly within the same vineyard and have led us to recognize the areas best suited for certain varieties: i.e. greater concentrations of sandy, gravelly loam are more conducive for Sauvignon Blanc - higher levels of silt loam favor varieties like Merlot.

Fascinating, important work. I think we often neglect Cornell's impact on the region, but this again proves what a tremendous resource it is - and how it is building the foundation necessary to really make the region all it can be.

Rich - I'm wondering if you could elaborate a bit on your view of SB preferring sandy/gravelly soils, versus Merlot doing better on soils with more silt content. Do you think it's a water/vigor issue, or do you see other effects? Not doubting your statements, just wondering if you could elaborate a bit.

Evan - thanks for highlighting this work. The site has been a great help to those of us who get calls from people wanting to start vineyards in NY. I would never suggest that somebody make their final decisions based solely on this information, but it's a good place for folks to start.

Hans -

I admire the work, and I admire the approach of the folks at Cornell like yourself. You understand and promote science, but it's not dogma. It's open to discovery. It is utterly refreshing.

Hey, do you know where I could find a good place to plant Grenache around here?

Hans - Of course I think its more about what we prefer from the wine evaluation standpoint - not as much as what the vines themselves prefer. I believe a great deal of the dynamics in soil/vine relationships has to do with water relations. In terms of SB, the vigorous nature of the variety is controlled when grown on an arid, sandy site like our Plymouth-Carver or Riverhead soils. These soils reduce vigor as they do have less water holding capacity as well as less nutrition. This leads to greater exposure in the fruit zone and balanced vines. With Merlot, I do think the issue is more about the flavors we find in the wines themselves. Merlot grown on Haven loam soils has greater richness, a little more density and power than when the variety is grown on sandy loams like Carver and Riverhead. Not science mind you but my own observation and tasting. Taking clones into account, we have an awful lot more work to do on this subject before we fully understand our terroir - but we are getting there.

Once again, I seem to be the contrarian here. I've been following this application since its release in May, 2009, and I can only say it remains a disappointment. Over the years, I've grown grapes and made wine in the Finger Lakes, the Hudson Valley, and Long Island. I've also been using GIS in my daily work for the past 5 years, making maps and doing site analysis. So, what exactly did we taxpayers get for our $100,000?

The grape growing regions of New York are well known and well defined -- no new ground has been broken there. I have major concerns about the temperature and climate modeling -- it does not seem to support the ground truth that I have observed over the past 40 years. There are numerous production errors in the mapping – even if you could zoom in far enough for the results to be useful, the data projection is wrong in certain layers, resulting in incorrect output. There is no way to look at multiple factors at the same time -- you are limited to looking at a series of rather simple, predefined maps one at a time, which defeats the purpose of investing in a geospatial analysis tool.

There is no substitute for getting out and walking the land with a dedicated and experienced professional to do a proper site evaluation – no iPad is ever going to deliver you that accumulated local expertise and wisdom with your morning coffee.

John - Couple of comments. First, I think the folks at Cornell would agree that there are limitations to the mapping for now. I know they're working to improve its application and to make it more accurate.

I will also say that you are not the first to say, essentially, that science is one thing but experience on the ground is another.

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