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Our Grapes - Varietals

Varietal is the fancy word for type of grape – or grape varieties.  Labruscas are varietals with their origin in North America, while the French-American Hybrids are crosses of Vinifera and wild-American grapes (and back-crossed with Vinifera  until they are genetically about 90% vinifera, but with enough American gene material to provide Phylloxera resistance).  Vinifera varietals, which originated in Europe, are the varieties best known in the wine world.  

Johnson Estate grows four Labrusca, six French-American Hybrid, and three Vinifera varieties on over 115 acres on the farm today. In addition to these estate grapes, we purchase a very limited supply of vinifera grapes, notably Bordeaux type grapes (indicated with *), from Long Island, where the microclimate is more suitable for these heat-loving grapes.  The following summary describes the types of grapes used in our wines: 



European Vinifera Grapes
(vitis vinifera):  

Cabernet Sauvignon*
Pinot Noir

French-Hybrid Grapes:

Marechal Foch
Seyval Blanc
Vidal Blanc

Labrusca Grapes
(vitis labrusa):



European Vinifera Grapes (vitis vinifera): 
Cabernet Sauvignon:  
It is a vigorous but small producer which develops late in the season.  It flourishes on most types of soil, consistently showing its style and quality.  The grape cluster is cylindrical-conical, made up of small round berries, very black in color.  We purchase the grapes from a grower on the north fork of Long Island.  
The Wine:  Freelings Creek Cabernet Sauvignon
Chardonnay is currently the most fashionable white wine variety in the world. It is a fairly vigorous variety. It forms a small, relatively compact, winged-cylindrical cluster of small berries, not as densely closed as that of Pinot Noir.  Johnson Estate recently planted two acres of Chardonnay vines with grafted root stocks appropriate for this region.  At the current time, we continue to purchase Chardonnay grapes from select Lake Erie and Finger Lake growers, and expect Estate production to begin 2016.
The Wine:  Freelings Creek Chardonnay

Merlot is a vigorous, productive vine, which buds early, thus rendering it liable to spring frost damage, and ripens earlier than Cabernet Sauvignon. The grape cluster is cylindrical and the berries are round, but large and less intensely colored.  We purchase the Merlot grapes from select Long Island growers.  
The Wine:  Freelings Creek Merlot
Pinot Noir:
Pinot Noir is a red grape variety, most widely known from Burgundy and now Oregon, with tight, pine-cone shaped clusters.  In 2013, we began to plant a two-acre Pinot Noir vineyard.  The vineyard will have three different Pinot Noir clones, all with grafted root stock.  The clones were selected to create a balanced, aromatic and complex wine.  We expect to complete the plantings in 2015 with production to commence in approximately 2017 or 2018.  At the current time, we purchase our Pinot Noir grapes from the Niagara escarpment. 
The Wine:  Freelings Creek Pinot Noir

Johnson Estate’s first Riesling vineyards were planted in 2006.  Additional acreage of grafted root stock Rieslings were added on our highest ridge in 2008, using laser technology (that means, straight rows and quickly planted!).   This variety is a shy cropper, but is disease resistant.  The long delicate bunches ripen late and develop excellent  flavors during our moderate and extended Germanic summers and autumns.
The Wines:  Freelings Creek Black Locust Riesling, Dry Riesling, Semi-Dry Riesling, and Sweet Riesling

French American Hybrid Grapes:
The Chambourcin wine grape was developed in France in the late 1800’s by French Scientist Joannes Seyve, who gave it the hybrid number J.S. 26-205.  There were only a couple hundred acres planted in the United States in the 1970’s.  However, this grape has garnered considerable attention starting in the late 1980’s and may now be the most widely planted red cultivar since it makes an excellent red wine. Chambourcin usually yields good crops of small navy blue berries with long, loosely clustered bunches that ripen rather late during the harvest season.  Our Chambourcin vineyard was planted in 1998 and our first wines released in 2000. 
The Wines:  Chambourcin, Ice Wine of Chambourcin  


Chancellor is another classic dry red wine wine grape developed in France during the late 1800s by scientist Albert Siebel.   As of the late 1980s, France was still growing nearly 100,000 acres of it.  As its popularity in France would indicate, Chancellor is a vigorous and fruitful vine that produces excellent dark, rich wines. Its susceptibility to disease, however, especially in hot, moist, and calm locations, limits the Chancellor's successful cultivation in the east to the most ideal areas. Thus the cooling and drying Lake Erie breezes that blow almost continuously over the Johnson Estate result in having perhaps the finest microclimate for growing it in the eastern United States . The grape clusters are long and loose, with medium-sized berries that ripen in midseason. Our dry Chancellor Noir wine has a rich plum-cedar aroma with a dense ruby-violet color that is heavy bodied and lightly-oaked. We also use the Chancellor in a couple of our blends, the main one being our Beaujolais-style Chautauqua Rouge. 
The Wines:  Founders' Red, Chautauqua Rouge, House Red, Proprietor’s Red, Port



Maréchal Foch:  
The Maréchal Foch (pronounced "mar-esh-shall-fosh") wine grape, named after the famous World War I French marshal ("maréchal") Ferdinand Foch, is a French-American hybrid variety whose vines are relatively vigorous, fungal resistant, and cold-hardy.  They are susceptible to ozone pollution and appreciate irrigation for their relatively shallow roots.  The small berries of this variety are the first in our vineyards to ripen and as a result attract birds which are dissuaded with a combination of kevlar balloons and streamers, hawk recordings, and cannons.  White Riesling was one of the grandparents in the crossbreeding of Maréchal Foch, along with Burgundy, Gamay, and Pinot Noir.  Maréchal Foch is used to make a variety of styles of wine, including a light red wine similar to Beaujolais, an extracted wine with intense dark "inky" purple color and unique varietal character as well as sweet, fortified, port-style wines. Wines made from Maréchal Foch tend to have strong acidity, aromas of black fruits and, in some cases, toasted wheat, mocha, fresh coffee, bitter chocolate, vanilla bean, and musk.  
The Wines:   Maréchal Foch


Seyval Blanc:  
Seyval Blanc has become the premier French-American white wine grape in the east as well as in England.   This French-American Hybrid was released in 1919 by Bertille Seyval and Victor Villard. This cultivar is considered by many to be one of the finest of the French-American hybrids and is the most widely-used hybrid in white wines. It ripens mid-season to large, compact, conical bunches of slightly elliptical greenish-yellow berries. A well-made Seyval blend can compete favorably with Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc.  Our Seyval Blanc is a crisp, attractively fruity, and moderately dry table wine. We very carefully pick only the best bunches, gently crush and press them, and then put the juice through a slow, cool fermentation.    
The Wines:  Seyval Blanc, Chautauqua Blanc, Chautauqua Rouge

A hybrid of Joannes Seyval (23.416) and Gewurztraminer, made by  Herb C. Barrett circa 1965.  His intention was to produce a large clustered table grape with the flavor of Gewurztraminer.  He sent seed from the cross to the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station grape breeding program at Cornell for development. It was found to have excellent wine quality, combined with good productivity, partial resistance to several fungal diseases, and cold hardiness superior to its acclaimed parent, Gewurztraminer, while retaining a similar character.  The vines are productive with  attractive blush-colored fruit that makes aromatic, floral wines.  Johnson Estate’s first Traminette vineyards were planted in 2000. 
The Wines:  Freelings Creek Traminette, Freelings Creek Sparkling Traminette


Frenchman J.L. Vidal crossed the famous Trebbiano with another hybrid in Bordeaux in the late 1800s. Vidal Blanc has very long cylindrical clusters, almost always shouldered, that are tightly packed with small greenish-white berries with dark brown spots. Despite its French origin, the hybrid matures fruit with a rather distinctive German character. We make two German-style white wines with the Vidal Blanc. The first is our multiple award-winning semi-dry Vidal Blanc, which if you tasted blind could easily be mistaken for a dry Riesling from the Mosel Region in Germany.   The other is our famous Vidal Blanc Ice Wine.  Each year, we generally reserve three rows of Vidal for ice wine, to be harvested in December or early January.  After it has been below 15 degrees F for three consecutive days, we harvest and press the grapes the same day.
This assures us that the water in the grape is frozen.  Ice wine harvests yield approximately 80 gallons per ton of juice, compared to the September harvest rate of 190 gallons per ton. 
The Wines:  Vidal Blanc, Vidal Blanc Icewine, Chautauqua Blanc

American Varieties (vitis labrusca):
This grape was first planted in 1818 in Brocton, New York, just ten miles from our farm, by a Baptist deacon named Elijah Fay.    In 1859 Joseph Fay, Elijah's son, opened the first winery.  In 1897 there was a surplus of Concord grapes which attracted two dentists from Watkins Glen, NY.  By 1913 Doctors Thomas and Charles Welch had made the Concord grape a household name with their "unfermented grape juice" as they called it back then. Soon after that, Westfield became known as the "Grape Juice Capitol of the World." Chautauqua County has the largest concentration of Concord grapes in the world.  Generally known as a juice and jam grape, Johnson Estate proudly used this grape in very popular house wines and as an American Heirloom varietal.  Over the years, we have learned that to make a good wine from Concords, one must significantly modify the traditional juice and jam cultivation practices in order to produce high quality wines.  The Wines:  House Red, Concord , Red Ipocras

The Delaware grape is our most plentiful at just over 20 acres.  The founder of Johnson ESTATE, Fred Johnson originally planted this handsome, reddish small-clustered grape to be used in the making of bulk wine for champagne in the Finger Lakes.  It is also a delicious and favorite eating grape.  We use the Delaware as a semi-dry varietal, it is also used in our white-zinfandel-style Chautauqua Blush, and in our very famous late harvest wine, Liebestropfchen.
The Wines:   Chautauqua Blanc, Liebestropfchen, Chautauqua Blush, Proprietor’s Red, White Ipocras, Cream Sherry



There are several accounts as to the origin of the Ives grape, but there is no question about its dense color and rich grapey flavor.  It was introduced by Henry Ives III of Cincinnati , Ohio in 1840 and planted along the banks of the Ohio River during the 1850s.  The grand New York State "port" wines, popular after the repeal of Prohibition through the 1960s, were dependent on Ives.  Recently, however, the growing of Ives has become very difficult, as it is very susceptible to damage from ever increasing air pollution, and vineyards are increasingly rare.   We have found that irrigation and summer sprays of foliar nutrients have overcome much of the effects of ozone air pollution. 
The Wines:  Ives, Pink Niagara, Chautauqua Blush, House Red

Niagara is an American grape we have been growing for about 25 years.  This varietal is frequently used as a juice grape.  We use it exclusively in our House Wines, where it imparts a grapey, fruity flavor.   The yellow-green grape was developed by researchers in Niagara County, NY during the 1860s. Strangely enough, it is a Native American hybrid - a cross between the Concord and Cassady grapes.  
The Wines:  Niagara , Pink Niagara, White Ipocras