April 22, 2013

Local Beer & Wine

By LAURIE DAVIS, Cornell Cooperative Extension

---- — When you are planning your local menu, don’t overlook the liquids.

The North Country has some local beverages of the fermented variety to offer: wine, beer, hard cider, vodka and gin are all being produced. For the kids at the locavore table, stick with sweet cider, or perhaps you could juice some freshly picked fruits and vegetables. But the adults may want to experiment (responsibly, please!) with some of the region’s “stronger” drinks.

The Champlain Valley has the right microclimate to support certain wine grapes. The Cornell Willsboro Research Farm is in its eighth year of running cold-season wine-grape variety trials to help determine which types would work best for our region’s producers. They have been cultivating and tracking varieties from across the United States, and they pass the trial results on to our regional vineyards and wineries.

Some of our Adirondack producers are growing their own grapes and producing wine from those fruits, while others are purchasing grapes from outside the region to make their wines.

Consumers may expect the flavor of their favorite California or French wine, but here’s where you can embrace the “terroir” or local flavor that comes from grapes grown in the Champlain Valley.

In the rain shadow of the Adirondacks, there tends to be good sunshine and few violent storms. Less rain and good aeration from the lake breezes means healthier vines with fewer disease problems. Everything about our region, including the soils, combines to give wine its particular unique flavor. Most wineries use blends of different grapes for flavors that enhance and support each other.

Personally, I’d like to belong to a community-supported agriculture group for wine. The community-supported agriculture model can apply to wine, beer or any agricultural product. A full payment to the vintner at the beginning of the season would result in weekly or monthly shares for the consumer, which translates to a new wine variety at each distribution. A few years back, we had a wine community-supported agriculture group just starting up in Wadhams when a flood carried the poor fermenting carboys down the Boquet River. But take heart, I’m told there’s a new local brewery that might be offering beer shares in the near future.

And speaking of breweries, we have several in the Adirondack region. The challenge is in obtaining quality local ingredients. Two key components, hops and barley (for malting), can be grown here. In fact, the North Country used to be a significant source of hops, but production gradually moved toward the western states to keep ahead of pests and disease. It takes a rather large investment in infrastructure to get started, and perhaps we’ll see more of our local farmers taking a stab at this crop, especially if the Adirondack brewers commit to using it. Barley is easily grown here, but best varieties for our region are still being trialed by the Cornell University. Other added ingredients in beer, such as maple, are a natural local choice.

Hard cider is becoming more popular as some orchards are expanding on their product lines. As with other fruit, apples can be pressed into a juice (sweet cider for the kids), and then fermented to produce the alcoholic version. And as with wines, there are sweet and dry versions as well as sparkling. This is an excellent example of a value-added product to extend our local marketing season.

If you’re looking for the very hard stuff, a producer in the High Peaks is making three varieties of vodka using local potatoes, cranberries and maple syrup as well as gin using infusions of local white pine. All the water in the spirits is from the actual Lake Placid.

Many of our local orchards, breweries, vineyards and wineries are Adirondack Harvest members, so visit for a complete listing.

Laurie Davis is an educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension in Essex County and is the coordinator for Adirondack Harvest. Reach her at 962-4810, Ext. 404, or by email: