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After decades of work, grape breeder creates white wine grape that is resistant to rot

Cornell University’s grape breeder, Bruce Reisch, has spent over four decades creating a new hybrid white wine grape Aravelle. The grape was developed by crossing Cayuga white and Riesling grapes back in 1981, and it possesses the qualities of both grapes, such as resistance to mildew diseases, ease of growth, productivity, and desirable flavor characteristics.

Reisch debuted Aravelle at the Business, Enology, and Viticulture (B.E.V.) NY 2023 conference in Syracuse. The grape was initially called ‘New York 81,’ and growers testing it were starting to lose interest until they discovered it was more rot-resistant than Riesling.

Grape breeding is a long and meticulous process that requires patience, testing, and years of waiting. Thousands of seedlings may be planted each year, with each representing a potential new variety. These seedlings are tested for five to eight years, and the best are propagated to make six new vines with the desired traits.

After many years of testing, the vines that are deemed successful are sent off to nurseries for propagation and planting. In the case of Aravelle, the vines were sent to two New York nurseries, which then shared the test vines with interested vineyards.

Reisch and his colleagues at Cornell Cooperative Extension began producing enough fruit for winemaking after three years of testing. After creating polls for different names, they decided on Aravelle, meaning “grace, favor, answers to prayers.” New plantings will take three to four years, and it will be another year before Aravelle is released to the market. However, a few vineyards that planted NY 81 vines years ago for test purposes could produce a labeled Aravelle wine next year.