New Cornell wine grape varieties: Protecting the environment and improving the rural economy




Cold-hardy, disease-resistant wine grape varieties are helping fuel the rise of the grape and wine industry in New York and other regions of the U.S. Along with expansion of this agricultural industry comes a significant boost to the economy through tourism (retail, restaurants, winery visitors, hotels, tasting room sales of related products, etc.). There is continuing demand for new, high-quality wine grapes that can reduce pesticide applications, reduce the cost of production, and expand the range of sites on which grapes can be grown. New varieties that fit these needs and also produce high quality wines are now being planted rapidly.


The New York wine industry has grown dramatically in the past 20 years. Yet many of the varieties used suffer from one or more deficiencies in areas including wine quality, cold hardiness and disease resistance. Finding the right variety suitable for a particular planting location is of great importance when you consider that a vineyard is expected to remain productive for 30 to 50 years. New York and many other states need new varieties that produce grapes reliably and economically with reduced pesticide inputs and that make products that consumers and tourists will enjoy.


The grape breeding program at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva responded by engaging in a long-term effort to study grapevine genetics while designing crosses to develop improved, better-adapted grape varieties. Germplasm was screened for traits of interest, and the best germplasm was incorporated into the breeding process.
Cooperative efforts with faculty in enology (for wine quality evaluation) and plant pathology (for development of disease resistance) were strengthened to accelerate progress. Growers within New York, as well as researchers in other states, cooperate with our project to evaluate promising selections at multiple locations.
The program named the Cayuga White grape, its first wine grape release, in 1972. The grape caught on slowly at first, but one success led to another and soon it became widely planted throughout the Finger Lakes. More than 25 wineries each year produce wine using Cayuga White. It has become a staple in the industry, producing a spectrum of wines from dry to sweet to sparkling.
The productivity and price per ton have turned Cayuga White into a cash crop for grape growers. Cayuga White is also cold hardy and disease resistant, so pesticide applications can be reduced. Significant new acreage has been planted in the last three years.
Three new vine varieties (two red and one white) were released in 2006, and thousands of vines have been sold and planted since their release. Varietal wines of all three grapes can be found already in the marketplace.


In New York alone, approximately 900 to 1,000 tons of Cayuga White are produced annually, for which growers are paid more than $400,000. The price paid per ton has been increasing. The value of wine sold each year averaged $10 million between 1992 and 2008.
More than 400 acres of Cayuga White are cultivated in the U.S. Cayuga White has played an important role in the more than 30 years since its release. It has helped the growth of the New York wine industry, and it has helped attract a growing number of tourists to the wine trails, restaurants and accommodations in New York's wine regions. The variety requires relatively low amounts of pesticide input.
The 1990 release, Chardonel, is already the number two grape in Missouri. The Traminette grape, released in 1996, is following a similar path to success, being planted since release at the rate of more than 30,000 vines per year. There are already more than 400 acres of Traminette being grown in the U.S.
Varietal and blended wines from all four new wine grapes released by the program since 2003 are already being sold in the marketplace. A strong wine industry contributes to the rural economy in agricultural areas and helps landowners resist the pressures to sell land for development.

Submitted by: 

  • Wilcox, Wayne F

Researchers involved: 

  • Mansfield, Anna Katharine
  • Wilcox, Wayne F
  • Luce, R. S
  • Preston-Wilsey, LuAnn
  • Reisch, Bruce I

Organizations involved: 

  • Department of Food Science, Cornell-Geneva
  • University of Nebraska
  • Virginia Polytech
  • Southwest Missouri State University
  • University of Arkansas
  • Lake Erie Grape Research Center
  • Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center
  • New Mexico State University
  • University of Maryland

International focus: 

  • Australia
  • Canada
  • Denmark
  • Germany
  • New Zealand
  • South Africa
  • United States of America

United States focus: 

  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Idaho
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Missouri
  • Nebraska
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • Ohio
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • Tennessee
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • West Virginia

New York State focus: 

  • Delaware
  • Cayuga
  • Chautauqua
  • Columbia
  • Dutchess
  • Erie
  • Livingston
  • Monroe
  • Niagara
  • Ontario
  • Orange
  • Rockland
  • Saratoga
  • Schuyler
  • Seneca
  • Steuben
  • Sullivan
  • Tompkins
  • Ulster
  • Wayne
  • Westchester
  • Yates