Image Courtesy of Bruce Reisch
On March 28th, in a room packed with New York state winemakers and industry professionals at the Business, Enology and Viticulture (B.E.V) in Syracuse, master grape breeder Bruce Reisch stepped up to the podium. He announced the name of a grape variety he’d spent all 42 years of his career developing. The grape, formerly known as NY81, was named Aravelle, meaning “grace,” “favor” or “an answer to prayers.”
The name is apt for a variety designed to provide a safety net to winegrowers facing an uncertain future, at least in terms of climate.
First developed by Reisch at the school of Integrative Plant Science within Cornell University’s College of Agriculture in 1981, Aravelle is one of the longest tested and best studied of the 14 new varieties Reisch and his team have released over the years, many of which are now grown in wine regions across the northern U.S. These grapes, along with many others developed in North America and Europe, are known as hybrids, or offspring varieties crossed from two or more parent species.
What Is Aravelle, Exactly?
This white wine grape is a cross between the famed Vitis Vinifera variety Riesling and Cayuga White. The latter is a cross between hybrids Schuyler and Seyval Blanc and was created by Cornell in 1972.
Aravelle and the Future of Winemaking
Aravelle’s arrival comes at a pivotal moment for New York’s wine industry. Climate change means that the state’s already variable climate is becoming even more erratic, with extreme weather events increasingly commonplace. Vitis Vinifera varieties—the European species most used for wine grapes—are often notoriously fussy about where and how they grow. Hybrid varieties, however, are commonly bred specifically to be the opposite. Their hardiness, particularly in the face of the Northeast’s cold winters and humid summers, means growers can use far fewer synthetic sprays like fungicides.