This has been an exciting year for sustainable winegrowing in New York! The development of a statewide sustainable winegrowing certification program is finally under way. This program is the culmination of numerous of efforts by growers, extension agents, and industry associations over the past decade. We have now a reached a critical mass of consumer demand, industry support, and institutional backing to make it happen.
Earlier this year, we conducted a Grower Sustainability Survey, and I am excited to report that almost a quarter of the New York grape industry responded, representing 7,538 total acres across all seven major American Viticultural Areas (AVAs). The goal of the survey was to assess how many grape growers across the state practice sustainable vineyard management according to the VineBalance New York Guide to Sustainable Viticulture. This grower self-assessment workbook was co-developed by the Cornell Cooperative Extension and the New York Department of Agriculture and Markets Soil and Water Conservation Committee in 2007, and later formed the basis for the third-party certification available through Long Island Sustainable Winegrowing.
What we learned from the survey is that 94 percent of grape growers practice some aspect of sustainable vineyard management and 77 percent have applied the VineBalance workbook at least once. This is extremely promising for the feasibility of using VineBalance as the basis for our fledgling statewide sustainability program. What we also learned is that the average vineyard size in New York is 70 acres, but that the range is vast. In addition, about half of the vineyards surveyed grow exclusively V. vinifera, but the bulk of the reported acreage (44 percent) is planted with a mix of V. vinifera, V. Labrusca, and hybrid grape varieties. This highlights the unique situation the New York grape industry is in compared to our West Coast cousins who have sustainability programs written primarily for V. vinifera. Here in New York, we are challenged to create a program that is inclusive of vineyards ranging from one acre to hundreds of acres, growing a diversity of grape varieties not cultivated in other parts of the country.
Developing this program will “take a village,” and that is key to our approach. Recently, we established a Sustainability Advisory Committee of growers and wineries from the Finger Lakes, and we are seeking representatives from Lake Erie, Long Island, Hudson River, Upper Hudson, Niagara Escarpment and Champlain Valley to join this committee. We welcome you to submit your committee nominations through our online form, and we encourage stakeholders from across the state to engage with us throughout this process.