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Planners seek to create American Viticulture Area to give wineries, grape growers a boost


Jefferson County’s fertile soil and climate tempered by Lake Ontario makes it an ideal spot to grow cold-hardy grapes and make wine. And it’s a region that soon could be known by wine aficionados across the country, as county planners are developing an application to have the region named an American Viticulture Area.

In October, there were 206 designated AVAs in the country, which are wine and grape-growing regions distinguished by their geographic qualities. Wineries in these areas may label their wine bottles with AVA stickers, adding special status to their products. To create an area, local wines must be made of at least 85 percent locally grown grapes. Boundaries established by planners for the areas are approved by the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.

Planners and winery owners in Jefferson County are working together to decide where the boundaries will be and what wineries will be included. The application must show that areas within the region have similar climate, elevation and soil types to qualify as an AVA. Philip J. Randazzo, owner of Coyote Moon Vineyards in Clayton, has assisted in the effort by providing research. He said that earning the AVA designation would put Jefferson County on the global map as a unique area in the country to make wine. About 50 farms grow grapes here and collectively own more than 200 acres of vineyards.

“The characteristics of our soil and climate near Lake Ontario gives us something really special,” Mr. Randazzo said. “The cold hardiness in the buds go into a deeper hibernation than other regions, which allows better survivability and gives us a different flavor profile. The AVA would give the area of Jefferson County a legitimacy as a wine-growing region internationally. The list is like the Bible of grape-growing regions.”

The area being considered would encompass Jefferson County north of the Black River, extending to southwestern St. Lawrence County, said Michael E. Hunter, field crops educator for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Jefferson County. The stretch of land shares similar qualities.

“If you’re growing Marquette grapes in one area, they would have to have the same qualities 20 miles from here,” said Mr. Hunter, whose task is to identify soil and climate differences within the county for the plan. Staffers from the Jefferson County Soil and Water Conservation District also have assisted by providing GIS mapping data. The lengthy application, which includes a historical narrative of the land, could take up to a year to complete.

More than 100 different soil types are found in Jefferson County, Mr. Hunter said, and the climate varies greatly because of the impact of Lake Ontario. The southern half of the county below the Black River, for example, has higher elevations and mostly loam soil — a combination of sand, silt and clay. North of the Black River, by contrast, are fine-textured clay soils. Five wineries are located in the northern half of Jefferson County that’s being looked at.

The county “has a huge range of soils, and we need to find a common denominator,” he said. “The area could be 40 or 50 miles to the north. We may include areas in southwest St. Lawrence County, where the elevation and climate is similar.”

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