Steve Casscles
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Grapes of the Hudson Valley on Nature Calls: Conversations from the Hudson Valley

Episode 117: Grapes of the Hudson Valley

Do you know that New York State is among the top five wine producing regions in the USA? The Hudson Valley is actually one of four main wine growing regions, or American Viticultural Areas (AVA) in New York, along with Lake Erie, the Finger Lakes, and the east end of Long Island.

The Hudson River region has a strong agricultural heritage and provides good soils and climate for grape production. Wine has some serious history in this area and this region which hosts three wine trails. Countless grape varieties were forged in the Hudson Valley throughout mid- to late-1800s. Breeders from the area crossed European varieties with North American species with the intent to create more sustainable grape cultivars. These breeders of the 19th century worked with horticulturists, writers and nurserymen to propagate and disseminate their varieties throughout the United States. These Hudson Valley heritage varieties went on to create wines of outstanding quality, garnering national and international accolades.

Once an important table grape area, the Hudson region now has more cold hardy wine grapes planted each year. Grape growing has become increasingly popular due to New York’s moderating temperatures and the higher precipitation levels associated with climate change.

Grapes can be eaten fresh as table grapes or enjoyed in a variety of products such as juice, jelly, raisins, and the ultimate processed grape product, wine. Many species are native to North America, whereas others (primarily wine grapes) are natives of Europe. Because grapes are vines, they can be grown on arbors, fences, or trellis systems, and can be trained to conform to many shapes and sizes.

An ideal site for the cold-tender cultivars should have 160 or more frost-free days. A slight degree of slope will assist in air drainage, and east-to-south exposures are desirable. Well-drained soils like a clay loam are most preferred, as they assist in removing excess moisture from the root zone.

Cultivar selection should be made based on the purpose of the grape. For example, Concord grapes make a wonderful juice and jelly, but its wine has limited appeal and folks tend to dislike seeds in their fresh- eating grapes. On the other hand, Concord is well adapted to our climate, having good pest resistance and cold hardiness. European grapes ( Vitis vinifera ) such as Chardonnay or Cabernet Franc have excellent wine-making characteristics but are susceptible to disease and are more cold-tender than native grapes. In many cases, French American hybrid grapes offer a good compromise for wine production because they have good winemaking characteristics as well as better horticultural traits than their European cousins.

Grapes are sold as rooted cuttings or grafted plants that should be planted in the spring as soon as the soil can be worked. Only the European grapes require grafting. To the extent possible, plant rows in a north-south orientation to capture the most sunlight. Be sure to keep the new vines watered and weeded and remove all flower clusters in their first year. A small amount of fertilizer may benefit the young vine.

Pruning occurs in winter months when vines are dormant, usually between December and March. Pruning sets the bud number and crop for the upcoming season and is a very important viticulture practice. Grapes bear their fruit on one-year-old wood.

J. Stephen Casscles is a grape grower, winemaker and author, from Athens, NY, (Greene County) after an illustrious career as an attorney. In addition, he lectures on wine, grape cultivation, 19th century American horticulture and landscape architecture at botanical gardens and historical societies throughout New York and New England. Listen to Steve on Nature Calls: Conversations from the Hudson Valley as he talks about Grapes in the Hudson Valley.

Hosts: Jean Thomas and Robin Smith

Guests: Steve Casscles

Photo by: Steve Casscles

Production Support: Linda Aydlett, Deven Connelly, Teresa Golden, Xandra Powers and Annie Scibienski


GRAPES OF THE HUDSON VALLEY and Other Cool Climate Regions of the United States and Canada – Second Edition | Flint Mine Press


Xandra Powers
Community Horticulture Coordinator
518-828-3346 x106

Last updated April 18, 2024