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Finger Lakes wineries

PHOTO PROVIDED A view down the row of a Finger Lakes vineyard.

(Editor’s Note: This article is the third of a series exploring plants and horticulture within driving distance of central Pennsylvania.)

Last week’s column explored the idea of venturing into the Finger Lakes region to create a vacation around plants. That article talked about the interaction of Watkins Glen and the plant community within.

But no trip into the area can avoid the main driver of tourism, the wineries. And it is big.

The New York Wine and Grape Foundation conducted a study last year that showed New York’s wine industry generated $4.59 billion in economic activity in the state with the Finger Lakes region as the heart of New York’s wine industry.

As a state, New York contains over 400 wineries, only behind California (4,501), Oregon, and Washington (Pennsylvania has around 285). And to support that craft, there needs to be a readily available supply of grapes. Ironically, wine grapes are only a fraction of New York’s grape acreage. Over two-thirds of the state’s grapes are grown for the juice market (this is mainly along Lake Erie).

PHOTO PROVIDED Grape clusters in mid-August at a Finger Lakes vineyard.

What makes the Finger Lakes an ideal place for grape plants? You have to go back to the time when glaciers tore through the area. Their movement gouged valleys into the land which formed the various lakes.

While these lakes are wonderful recreational opportunities for water lovers, they serve as a type of heater for the grape vines. A couple of the lakes are very deep (Seneca, where the majority of wineries are located has a depth of 618 feet) and never freeze over. In fact, deep water temperatures can hover in the upper 30s all year long.

This heat (if you want to call it that) rises out of the water and spills out into the surrounding hills, keeping the area warmer than the countryside miles away. This extends the vine’s growing season but also buffers the harsh winters. Beyond the climate, the glaciers deposited various sediments along the lakes that drained well and contained minerals and nutrients for optimal growth.

Check out the vineyards and observe the horticultural practices such as trellising and pruning. Get an up-close view of plant growth and fruit production. Some vineyards even give tours of their field operations.

People are coming for an experience and demand not only something to tickle their taste buds but that is also pleasing for the eyes. Tasting rooms and winery buildings often have stunning architecture. The ornamental landscaping has to complement that view. Some great ideas (designs and plants) for your home can be picked up by taking a stroll on the surrounding property.

PHOTO PROVIDED A grape trellis must be able to support the weight of the plant (and crop) and hold up to windy conditions.

Maybe this is not the greatest vacation idea with young kids in tow. Sampling and tasting wine are a slow, deliberate process and best suited for the older crowd. So, in the next column, we will return to the gorges with the idea of mixing plants into a vacation outing that kids will love.

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Tom Butzler is a horticulture educator with the Pennsylvania State University Cooperative Extension Service and may be reached at 570-726-0022.

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