New York's Urban Vineyard

Queens County Farm Museum Winery will sell borough-grown wines

by Linda Jones McKee
Queens County Farm Museum Winery
Wines from the farm vineyard are sold only at the museum.
Floral Park, N.Y. -- San Francisco, San Diego, New York and numerous cities in between have urban wineries, but urban vineyards are rare. Now the New York City borough of Queens has an urban vineyard, and it recently opened a brand new winery. Queens County Farm Museum Winery officially opened May 18 in Queens’ Floral Park neighborhood.

The Farm Museum is a working historical farm located on 47 acres -- the largest remaining tract of undisturbed farmland in New York City. The educational programs at the museum are both historical and agricultural in nature, and are designed to appeal to children and families.

About seven years ago, the farm museum decided to develop a program that would appeal to a more mature audience. There was some historical evidence that grapes had been grown in that part of Long Island in the past, and 2.5 acres of land were designated for a vineyard.

In 2004, the first phase of the vineyard project was started, and four varieties of vinifera grapes -- Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc -- were planted.

According to Gary Mitchell, now the farm museum’s vineyard manager, the farm museum has lots of experience growing basic vegetable and fruit crops, but it quickly became apparent that managing a vineyard requires a different kind of expertise. He convinced the museum to let him attend a viticultural short course at the University of California, Davis , and became the full-time vineyard manager.

“Our microclimate here is good,” Mitchell told Wines & Vines, “but we usually get too much rain, and it’s a bit too cold. The vineyard is located along a line of woods and has a lot of disease pressure. While the rest of the farm museum is growing organic produce, we’re trying to be organic with the grapes as well, and that is difficult.”

In the past several years, Mitchell has pulled out the Chardonnay that was closest to the woods because of problems with diseases such as powdery and downy mildew, and he also removed the Cabernet Sauvignon. The vineyard now has about 1.5 acres of Merlot and Cabernet Franc, two varieties proven to grow well farther east on Long Island.

Queens County Farm Museum Winery Merlot
Merlot is doing well in Queens, as it does farther out on Long Island.

The second phase of the project started when the grapes began to produce. “We contacted several growers out on Long Island, because we realized we would not have a large supply of our own grapes for making wine, and I went to Russell Hearn at the Premium Wine Group for help in producing our wine,” Mitchell reported. Grapes at the farm museum are picked by hand and then shipped by truck 70 miles to the Premium Wine Group in Mattituck for processing.

A total of 830 cases were released by the Farm Museum Winery this spring, including a 2006 and 2007 Merlot, a 2007 and 2008 Chardonnay, and a 2006 Adriance, a premium red wine blend named for the Dutch family that first farmed the museum’s land. The small winery shop is adjacent to the gift shop, and sales are currently at the museum only.

The next phase of the Queens County Farm Museum Winery is now in the planning stages. Part of the farmland is scheduled to be cleared of brush and trees in 2011 and then reforested with native plants and trees; some of that land may be available to expand the vineyard.

Mitchell would like to plant about six acres that have a 5º slope, but he recognizes that a lot of work is needed to determine what should be planted. In the interim, Mitchell regards the vineyard and winery project to be a success. It has drawn attention to the farm museum, and is helping to build a larger audience for the museum’s programs.

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