The Mystery Grape of The Finger Lakes

Posted on
Vignoles Lakewood Harvest 2021

By Chris Stamp

Vignoles is a high sugar variety that can produce unctuously rich white wine while maintaining enough acidity to create a wonderful balance. Aromas of honey, apricots, pineapple and even grapefruit are typical. At Lakewood Vineyards, we have been growing Vignoles for 40 years.

Perhaps because it’s not a classic European Vitis vinifera grape, Vignoles isn’t generally front and center with most wine writers and so remains unfamiliar to the average wine drinker outside its regional domains. But that’s okay with Vignoles. It may just relish its understated existence because behind this grapes relative obscurity lies an intriguing mystery.

Originally called “Ravat 51”, the variety was named after its developer, J.F. Ravat, a French grape breeder. According to J.F., the variety was from a cross made in 1930 of Le Subereux and Pinot de corton (a clone of Pinot Noir). Ravat 51 was imported to the US in 1949. By 1970, the variety known as Ravat 51 had found a home in the Finger Lakes, where it was first given the name “Vignoles” by the Finger Lakes Wine Growers Association. And that’s the history of Vignoles, or so we thought…

In 2008, a paper presented at the Annual National Viticulture Research Conference shattered our understanding of our beloved Vignoles. Using DNA finger printing, the researchers concluded that Vignoles could not be from the reported parentage of Ravat 51. The true parentage, and therefore origin of Vignoles is unknown and its origins are to this day, a mystery. While that part of Vignoles tickles my curiosity with lingering intrigue, I will tell you what I do know. The warm, dry Finger Lakes summer of 2020 yielded Vignoles that was harvested on the last day of September and the first day of October, with sugars averaging 25.5 %. A slow, cool fermentation was stopped leaving about 6% residual sugar and an alcohol of 12.5%. In contrast, the 2021 vintage was decidedly cooler, punctuated by frequent rain showers. Vignoles prefers dryer weather. If I claimed the vineyard looked perfect, that would be fake news. But when there’s a will there’s a way. We know this vineyard and the wines it can produce, so our crew spent three days walking through the rows, inspecting each and every cluster and manually cutting out any “compromised” fruit, leaving just healthy grapes behind for harvest. This exercise is mentally stimulating (fake news). But at least the harvested fruit was clean albeit lower in sugar than 2020. Since we still needed some sweetness to balance the grapes acidity, we stopped the fermentation at a lower alcohol (11.3%), thus retaining some of the grapes natural sugars for balance. Will the 2021 vintage become your favorite expression of Vignoles? Well, that’s a mystery you’ll have to solve on your own.

Tasting Notes for 2021 Lakewood Vineyards Vignoles: Aromas of white grapefruit and pineapple dominate the nose with hints of fresh cut grass and dried apricot in the background. The palate enters sweet but with plenty of supporting acidity and flavors of tart apple and citrus.