New England’s Cool Climate Wines

By Jessica Norris Granatiero

Living in New England brings forth a myriad of weather, particularly cooler climates and a shorter summer season compared to other regions. Climate is a key aspect that affects grape growing and its end result – wine in a bottle, can or box. Certain grapes thrive better than others in certain climates. For instance, cooler New England is a better home for certain grapes, like pinot gris, while California’s warmer Napa Valley is great for different grapes, like cabernet sauvignon. The most important step of winemaking is in the beginning, in the vineyard, and vineyard and winery teams must play to the grape’s strengths. Here is a list of grapes and their wines from local vineyards that flourish best in cooler climates, like here in New England. Go visit and explore what makes our growing area unique.

Vidal Blanc: This grape is a hidden gem that is thick-skinned and resists frost, making it a good match for cooler New England temperatures. Vidal blanc often produces a more fruit forward, semi-sweet white wine with its slightly higher sugar content. Also, due to the climate, the end wine has a higher acidity making it a good food partner. This grape is found here in New England and in other cooler climates like Canada and New York’s Finger Lakes. My pick is Greenvale Vineyard’s Skipping Stone white, which is a blend of vidal blanc and another cool climate white grape cayuga, paired with raw oysters.

Cayuga: Almost any person who I poll about this grape has never heard of it. This is true for some people in the wine industry. It is known as a hybrid grape, a cross between two other lesser-known white grapes, schuyler and seyval blanc. It is resistant to vineyard diseases and flourishes in areas that are cold, like here, also in the Finger Lakes and Pacific Northwest, like Oregon. It makes a light- to medium-bodied wine with prominent Granny Smith apple, pear and melon notes. Its high acid makes it great for high acid foods and seafood. My pick is Verde Vineyards cayuga white paired with ceviche.

Riesling: Originating from Germany, this grape is known by many. It is used to make sweet, semi-sweet and dry style white wines, giving us a variety of options. Highly influenced by its region’s climate in which it grows, it ripens more slowly than other grapes. Of medium weight, it produces a perfumy white wine with soft acidity and notes of apples, peaches and pears with great viscosity. My pick is Nickle Creek’s riesling which is made in a German, semi-sweet style full of sweet apricot flavors. I enjoy it with cuisine with a hint of spice, like Tandoori chicken.

Cabernet Franc: This grape is one of the top red grapes worldwide. It grows mainly in Bordeaux and the Loire Valley in France and is used as a blending grape with the other two prominent red grapes cabernet sauvignon and merlot. Yet, is shines on its own as a single varietal wine in a plethora of styles. It also ripens early which makes it conducive to growing in cold climates. Cabernet franc wines are lighter in color and body than cabernet sauvignon or merlot. It also shows much more acidity than both of those grapes. I have a soft spot for this charming and underrepresented red wine. Jonathan Edward’s cabernet franc with its light-medium body and bright raspberry notes is one of my favorites. Enjoy it with a Portabello mushroom risotto.

Pinot Gris: Pinot Gris, also known as pinot grigio, loves the cold. However, it can thrive in warm climates too, with the resulting wines showing different styles. Cooler climate pinot gris, due to its shorter ripening period, brings us a bright, crisp vibrant style white wine with moderate acidity. Cooler climates accentuate a wine’s acidity, which is a great partner for food. My pick is Greenvale Vineyards Ramato pinot gris. This pinot gris is made in the Ramato style in which the grape skins sit in contact with the juice – instead of just pressing out the juice – thus giving the wine a more cooper-rose color than the typical clear to yellow color of pinot gris. Enjoy this with turkey burgers with Muenster cheese.