WILLSBORO - Richard C. Lamoy seems to have the golden touch.
The Morrisonville man won medals for six of eight entries he submitted earlier this year to a winemaking competition in Manchester, Vt., sponsored by WineMaker Magazine. Five of the six award-winning wines were made with the first substantial harvest of cold-hardy grape varieties planted at the Cornell University agricultural research station at the E.V. Baker Farm in Willsboro. The grapes were planted as part of a research trial funded by the Northern New York Agricultural Development Program.
Though the competition has come and gone, Lamoy's interest in researching growing grapes in the often cold climate of the North Country has not.
"The colder regions of the state are quite capable of growing wine grapes, as demonstrated by the success of the trial vineyard in Willsboro and other plantings here," said Lamoy. "Since there has been little work done in studying the best grapes and how to grow the best grapes for wine, research work needs to be done in those areas. The trial vineyard is one step in that direction."
Michael Davis, manager of the E.V. Baker Farm, said the research facility has been working with Lamoy since 2005, as well as partnering agencies like the Lake Champlain Grape Growers Association, Cornell Grape Program, Cornell Wine Analytical Lab and the New York Farm Viability Institute. The objective, said Davis, has been to learn more about grape growing in colder temperatures. The research so far has provided much insight into the difference in varieties of grapes, he said.
"If you look at the traditional French wine grapes, they have a much milder climate than what we're working with here in the North Country," said Davis. "They don't have to withstand the really cold, winter temperatures. So, what breeders have done, is they've tried to develop grapes that have good wine qualities that will tolerate cold weather."
And, so far, it's working, said Davis. In fact, Cornell University has found success with cold-hardy grape growing in the Western New York city of Geneva and in Minnesota.
"Our trial here at the Willsboro farm is really looking at some of these new varieties and some of the experimental wines that haven't even been released yet. So, it is fairly new," said Davis. "We're really just starting to see some of these varieties available for northern wine production."
The results of the trials at the Willsboro farm - which have included French hybrid white grapes and red grapes - have been impressive, said Davis, and even more so when Lamoy won awards for entries using the grapes grown there.
"I really didn't know what to expect in terms of quality," admitted Davis. "But, in the Champlain Valley, we have sort of a unique climate that seems to be pretty well-adapted for grape growing. And, I think Richard is really talented in terms of his ability to make wine. So, I wasn't surprised he won from that perspective. He knows a lot about it."
That's because Lamoy has been dabbling in grape growing and winemaking since the late 1970s, becoming more serious about the endeavor about four years ago. The research conducted at the E.V. Baker Farm is much like the work Lamoy does at Hid-In Pines Vineyard, a three-acre vineyard he owns in Morrisonville.
"The preliminary research here," said Lamoy, "is showing the potential for different varieties to respond to different training system and canopy management combinations. Cold-hardy grapes can be a valuable crop for Northern New York and I am pleased to contribute to research that adds to our ability to grow them."
Lamoy plans to apply for his winery license and enter wine made from his own 2009 harvest in the 2010 WineMaker contest.
As for Lamoy's most recent recognition, does it signify the future of a bustling new business market in the North Country?
"I see it being a piece," said Davis. "We're really just getting a sense for it. They have some wineries that are pretty well-established across the lake in Vermont and certainly this side of the lake seems to be pretty well-suited for it as well. So, that's kind of exciting."
"It could be a nice niche industry," he added.
The results of research from the Northern New York cold-hardy wine grape variety trials can be found on the Northern New York Agricultural Development Program Web site at www.nnyagdev.org.