Northern New York Vineyard Caught Trail Blazing
By: Joleene D. Des Rosiers
Three decades ago there were less than 30 wineries in New York state. Today wine trails are being forged across the region, bringing the new total of wine farms close to 200. One of those farms is Coyote Moon Vineyards in the tiny village of Clayton in Northern New York. Not only are they pulling in tourists left and right, they’re raking in awards and medals at a rate that has the New York State Wine & Grape Foundation nodding in appreciation.
“It’s a wonderful thing,” said Jim Trezise, president of the foundation. “We now have wineries in 51 counties out of the 62 in New York, including the North Country where we didn’t ever think there would be wineries. So it’s a very good thing. And wherever you have wineries you have tourists. So it’s great for the local economy.”
The popular tourist area is known, literally, for the thousand islands on the Saint Lawrence River and all of the romantic castles and stories that go with them. In the summer the villages of Clayton and Alexandria Bay are packed with people from all over the world. But in the winter, when the cold climate creeps in, the villages are quiet. The ice and snow seems to freeze time. But on East Line Road in Clayton, despite the cold, grape farmers Phil and Mary Randazzo can still produce wine, thanks to a hybrid grape known as the cold-hearty grape.
“The grapes Coyote Moon grows are designer-type vines that birth cold-hearty grapes; a genius developed in Minnesota by crossing French hybrids with selections of an American species known as the frost grape. These vines are made to survive the cold and still produce a crop every year,” Trezise said. “They’re relatively new to New York State. Wineries in the area started planting them roughly a decade ago.”
New York has grown leaps and bounds when it comes to grape farming. No more are the wines of the Empire State considered secondary to those of California or even Europe. Now they are considered first-class and rather unique. This comes from the fact that wineries like Coyote Moon are using the hybrid. The result is a sweeter grape that can sustain -30 degrees, which are the kind of temperatures folks in the Thousand Islands are used to. Coyote Moon proprietor Phil Randazzo gnaws on a fat cigar as he points at the cold, hearty vines on his farm that he says are the reason for his collection of award-winning medals. Not far behind us in the tasting room are 114 different medals have been given to the vineyard over the past 14 months from competitions throughout California, Texas, the mid-west and New York. Sixteen different Coyote Moon wines have been recognized as superb and dressed with gold, silver and bronze for their award-winning taste.
“Because they can stand such cold temperatures, I can grow these grapes all year long. And the wine they produce is second to none,” he says with a big smile. “New York State wine is coming of age. With the kinds of grapes grown here, our wines are ringing a bell when it comes to hitting the kind of tastes that today’s consumer is looking for. I see us gaining huge ground in the next 10 years over California simply because of the consumer buying the kinds of wines made in New York now. And as they taste them, they buy them more and more.”
New York State Senator Patty Richie (R, 48th Senate District) is the chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee in Albany. Richie has led the effort to restore funds to the York State Wine & Grape Foundation to help expand business into niche communities like the Thousand Islands. Richie says she realized the impact the hybrid vines could have on the grape industry in the North Country, she had to do something about it.
“When I arrived in Albany last January, I discovered the state had cut funding to the wine and grape foundation and the research that helps family farms identify what kind of plants are most likely to survive in our cold climate,” Richie said. “For our farms to survive, we need to be constantly looking at the latest innovations so they can compete in the global marketplace.”
Coyote Moon has proven their wines can compete – and win – over and over again. When the vineyard opened its doors in 2009 the Clayton Chamber of Commerce recognized the pull they had in the community and honored them with the Clayton Tourism Award. Despite the accolades and the ever-growing popularity of the vineyard, Phil Randazzo walks humbly back to the tasting room with his cigar still clenched tightly between his teeth.
“The wine that one puts out there is a reflection of the creativity of the person making it. The medals are nice, sure. But it’s when someone walks out of the taste room with a big smile on their face - that’s the real prize, ” Randazzo says.
For more information on the hybrid grape and the sweet and dry wines produced by the vineyard, visit www.coyotemoonvineyard.com