Breaking the Cornell code




Mmmmm, that's wine.

Those are the current designations of three wines in the Cornell University grape breeding program that will be named in July.

Cornell's Agricultural Experiment Station at Geneva in New York's Finger Lakes region is the center of creation of new grape hybrids. One of the most successful recent products is the Traminette grape, a superb descendant of Europe's Gewurtztraminer -- gewurtz the German word for spicy, tramin for the northern Italian town that was home to a grape varietal brought to France by Napolean's troops.

The above-mentioned species will get their names in July. Then it is up to winemakers whether they want to use that name on their labels or sell the wines as generic stuff, like Joe's Red Wine. For the most part, winemakers like to use the official names to sell to an increasingly wine-savvy market.

I had the opportunity to try the code-named wines during a visit last weekend with owner/winemaker John Brahm at the Arbor Hill Grapery, a small but very productive winery and specialty foods manufacturer in Naples, N.Y., on the west side of Canandaigua Lake.

Brahm, 63, a Cornell grad who was born and raised in the Finger Lakes, is someone to listen to when he's excited about a grape. His track record for producing award-winning wines is admirable. Among his most recent triumphs were a pair of gold medals in the 2005 New York State New York Wine & Food Classic with a best-of-class Rhine Street White and a 2002 Classic Traminette.

Brahm shared a taste of NY70.0809.10 (SV 18-307 x Steuben), a light-bodied, late-maturing vinifera type wine with an emphatic blueberry nose, finishing with a darker berry flavor and a hint of vegetal notes.

The NY73.0136.17 (NY33277 x Chancellor x Steuben), a mid-season maturer, has a distinct peppery character with moderate tannins and a much more complex structure.

"My biggest decision now is whether to leave these alone, or figure out exactly how I want to blend them," Brahm said. "Sometimes you get it just right on the first try and shouldn't keep fooling with it. I'll have to give that some more thought."

The third coded grape (Couderc 299-35 x Muscat Ottonel), also a mid-season ripener, is a highly-flavored muscat that would be best used in blending or as a dessert wine. It has a banana start and citrus finish that immediately makes one think of pleasing food accompaniments.

Whether any of these three will join Traminette as an emerging star will take several years to determine.

Traminette was the fifth wine grape cultivar to be named by the Cornell Agricultural Experiment Station, following the release of Cayuga White in 1972, Horizon in 1983, Melody in 1986 and Chardonel in 1991.

It's a late mid-season white wine grape that has shown good productivity, partial resistance to several fungal diseases, and cold hardiness superior to its parent Gew├╝rztraminer. Traminette resulted from the cross of the Gewurtz and the Joannes Seyve 23.416, made in 1965 at the University of Illinois, which abandoned it, then picked up and planted by Cornell in 1968. The first fruit was in 1971 and the original vine was propagated in 1974.

Traminette is considerably hardier than Gew├╝rztraminer and the equal of other similar cultivars such as Seyval, Vidal blanc, Cayuga White and Aurore. Three growers in New York and one each in Georgia, Maryland, Missouri and Michigan tried test-growing it in its infancy, with the best results in New York leading to the spread of its use there, where it ripens in the early October.

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Evil Fruit Lord said...

If anyone's curious, the actual code in the numbers breaks down as follows:

For example, in "NY 70.0809.10":

"NY" is just "New York", letting people know what breeding program this came out of. (Although most other programs use a simpler numbering system, so Cornell selections are fairly readily identiable just by their numbers.)

"70" stands for the year the cross was made - 1970

"08" is the code for which crop the cross is in...this changes each year, and I'm not sure why they insist on doing that. That particular year, all grape crosses would have been designated 70.08xx. Frequently people outside the Cornell system drop the initial zero, which is fine but not technically correct (and screws up people doing Google searches).

"09" is the cross number, in this case representing SV 18-307 x Steuben. So all grapes with numbers beginning with 70.0809 will have come from the same cross.

".10" is the selection number. Most seedlings from this cross never had any identity beyond 70.0809 and a row and vine number. However, when a seedling sufficiently impresses the breeders to warrant further attention, it is given a selection number and several new vines propagated to a second test vineyard. In this case, this is the tenth seedling from this cross to be selected for further testing.

I'm excited to see all three of these are finally going to make it to release. They're really nice grapes, and as you can tell from the leading digits of their numbers, they've been kicking around the program for a while, and I think a lot of people will be impressed by them. I personally am a big fan of 62.0122.01 especially, although the Finger Lakes probably need good hybrid reds even more.

William M. Dowd said...

The Evil Fruit Lord was too modest to provide you with a direct link to his own blog. But, as a thank-you for his posting, here it is.