Farm wineries now have option to import grapes

FORESTVILLE, N.Y. (WIVB) – After the harshest winter in decades, the New York State Agriculture Department is allowing farm wineries the option of importing wine grapes, if they could not grow enough of their own.

Bill Merritt has been growing grapes in Forestville for about 50 years, and when it comes to this past winter, he said, “This is probably the worst overall winter that I’ve seen for bud damage of any of the winters that I’ve been growing grapes.”

Many of the buds on the vines used to make Riesling, Merlot, or Chardonnay wines froze to death. So for the first time in nine years, the New York State Agriculture Department is allowing these grape farms that make wines on site to import grapes from out-of-state, if they wish to.

Merritt says he might not do that because it would cost up to $60,000 a truckload to import grapes.

“So you go together with your neighbors and say, ‘I’m going to go get some Riesling from California.'”

Even though some wine grape vines took a pounding last winter, the good news is that it’s been a good growing year for Concord grapes, which is really the bread and butter for many Chautauqua County growers. Concord grapes are used in Bella Rosa wine. Merritt Estate Winery makes about 45,000 gallons of wine every year.

That’s about how much Johnson Estate Winery bottles up each year down in Westfield. Fred Johnson says his farm came out okay despite the harsh winter.

“Two reasons, one, our location. We have perhaps the prime location for growing wine grapes in the Lake Erie belt. And two, some practice. It’s the variety we choose to grow like Riesling, which are pretty tough, and too, the practices we follow.”

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