Renowned Cornell grape breeder Bruce Reisch made the hybrid, to be known as Araville, by crossing Cayuga white and riesling grapes in 1981, at the start of his career. Now, 14 grape varieties later and with retirement looming this year, Reisch announced Aravelle’s release at the B.E.V. (Business, Enology and Viticulture) NY 2023 conference in Syracuse on March 28.
Aravelle contains traits of Cayuga white, a grape developed at Cornell in 1972, which is relatively resistant against bunch rot and mildew diseases, easy to grow, and very productive when it ripens in early to mid-September. The new variety combines those traits with the taste qualities of riesling grapes, which grow well in New York’s climate and are fairly winter hardy but have been quite susceptible to fruit rot during wet periods.
Breeding a new grape variety is a very detailed and rigorous process – typically taking more than 18 years for Reisch. After making the cross that would become Aravelle (initially dubbed ‘New York 81’) and providing stock for growers to test the vines, Reisch moved on to other projects.
“As we were beginning to lose interest in NY 81, growers came back to us and said, ‘This is much more rot resistant than riesling,’ so we began to look at that more closely,” Reisch said. Due to rot resistance transferred from Cayuga White, NY 81 didn’t have to be rushed to harvest as soon as a bit of rot appeared during wet harvest seasons.
New York winemakers have said, "this really has commercial potential for them,” Reisch said.
Peter Weis, owner of Weis Vineyards in Hammondsport, New York, has used NY 81 as the sole grape in his “Heart of the Lake” generic white wine, which is produced in a semi-dry style and already has a strong following among his customers. Once he is able to plant more than the four acres currently growing, he would like to produce a dry style with the grape as well.
“What appeals most to me about NY 81 is its consistency from year to year, something that can be tough with other grapes grown in New York,” Weis said. “It’s consistent in terms of what it brings to a wine every year, and in the vineyard, it’s less prone to botrytis rot and powdery mildew, two diseases that New York wine makers really struggle with,” he added.
Reisch and colleagues worked with Cornell Cooperative Extension to produce enough fruit, and with Cornell enologists to optimize winemaking with the variety – a three-year process. And scientists and industry partners were polled on names, with Aravelle – from the Latin Arabella, which means “grace, favor, answer to prayers” – coming out the winner.