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Looking Backward, Looking Forward

September 2008
by Hudson Cattell
Jackson-Triggs Vintners
Jackson-Triggs Vintners, Ontario
Back in 1976, when I first started writing about the grape and wine industry in the East, there were 125 wineries in eastern North America. Today that number is close to 2,000. At that time, people were fond of saying that the industry "is in its infancy." It would be several years before I first heard someone say that the East could produce "world-class wines." Today, wines from many eastern wineries are winning top awards in national and international competitions. What happened in little more than a quarter of a century?

One clue comes from Philip Wagner, proprietor of Boordy Vineyards in Riderwood, Md., who in 1978 told the annual meeting of the American Society of Enologists:

"In Maryland, I might say, conditions are ideal for experimental work with grapes. We are in the direct path of the Caribbean hurricanes, which usually drop 3 or 4 inches of rain on us the day before starting harvest. We are on the eastern, not the western, edge of the continental mass, meaning that we get all extremes of continental weather, which can favor us with from -l4? to 76?F in the same January. We alternate flood and drought, enjoy high humidity.

"Most of the diseases thrive here. We have no need to saturate a greenhouse with Peronospora, as they do at Geilweilerhof to check mildew resistance, because the atmosphere is already saturated with it. We are perfectly equipped at no expense to test disease resistance, frost resistance, winter hardiness, hail resistance, phylloxera of course, bird damage, the effect of high winds, ripe rot and splitting.…No experimenter could ask for more. Anything that survives in Maryland is worth a trial anywhere this side of the Arctic Circle."

For more than 300 years, vinifera could not be grown successfully in the East because of the presence of phylloxera in eastern soils. The use of grafting techniques, and the development of modern pesticides and insecticides made it possible to grow vinifera vines in the East. The arrival of the French hybrids after World War II, and the hybridizing of new grape varieties at research stations also played a major role in the development of the eastern grape and wine industry. Together with the native American grape varieties and a wide variety of fruits, it has been said that no other grapegrowing region in the world has as great a variety of materials from which to make wine as does the East.

The difficult climates of the East still exist. Learning how to avoid stress in the vineyards, the continuing development of new sprays, the introduction of new techniques such as irrigation, and the increasingly widespread advice of researchers and extension agents are making viticulture in the East more and more successful.

Since 2000 there has been explosive growth in the industry, not only in terms of the rapidly increasing number of vineyards and wineries, but in the visible superstructure of the industry: large and impressive looking wineries in Ontario, Long Island, North Carolina and elsewhere. Ice wines from Ontario and Rieslings from New York state are receiving worldwide recognition. Double gold medals and best of show awards recently have gone to Vignoles, a French hybrid, and Diamond, a native American variety, as well as vinifera wines.

For Linda and myself, who started Wine East more than 27 years ago, it has been fascinating and rewarding to cover the eastern industry through these challenging and often triumphant years. We are privileged to be able to bring news of the ever-evolving industry in the East to a wider audience through the pages of Wines & Vines.
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