#WBC15 very good conversation re: terroir. Slid to hybrids. Group now polarized, muttering and dark looks. Dinner interesting (knives?). ⏳BK— The Vineyard Trail (@VineyardTrail) August 14, 2015
In the middle of a Q&A period on the soils and grape varieties of the Finger Lakes, a voice piped up out of the crowd:
"Can you tell me about hybrids? Why are they such crappy grapes?"
As one tweeter put it: Ouch.
The question prompted quite a debate: On one side, hybrids were "lesser" grapes intended for plonk or, at best, mediocre wines for "newbies". They tasted rough, they were too sweet. A single grape from a hybrid bunch could spoil an entire press of pinot noir.
On the other side: hybrids are hardy survivors of bitter winters and vineyard pests. They rescued vinifera from phylloxera by being a stronger rootstock for grafting. They are the wild, native grapes of an area that exude terroir better than European varieties. They aren't at fault at all: it's winemaker's job to craft a good wine. Someone who who makes bad vinifera wine is still going to make bad hybrid wine.
And so on and so forth ...
We make a small # of wines using hybrid and native grapes. They receive the same amount of attention in the cellar as our vinifera. #wbc15— Fox Run Vineyards (@foxrunvineyards) August 14, 2015
Not maintaining a sharp separation between vinifera and hybrid/labrusca erodes the integrity of region and producer. @HermannJWiemer #WBC15— Tom Riley (@GrapeBelt) August 14, 2015
I come from the Ottawa Valley/Outaouais region, where hybrids form some of the main plantings of our burgeoning wine industry. In Prince Edward County and Niagara, several award-winning wineries create beautiful gems from the likes of Frontenac Gris and Baco Noir.
So I've tasted my share of great hybrid wines ... along with some meh ones and some bad ones. Guess what? Hybrids *are* assertive, funky varietals with their own unique taste profiles. They are nothing like vinifera; comparing the two is like pitting Burgundy-style wines done in North America against the real deal in Burgundy itself.
The takeaway: It doesn't make them bad, it makes them different.
Open your mind, expand your palate and stop comparing. Enjoy what it is, from where it is.
Proving that hybrids aren't "crap":
Standing Stone 2014 Dry Vidal (Hector, NY) - Brilliant silvery-green with a nose of wet stone and salty seawater. Lifted citrus on the palate with effervescence and light body. Clean, crisp finish that would pair beautifully with oysters.
Americana Vineyards 2014 Baco Noir (Interlaken, NY) - Elegant purple-pink colour in the glass. Fruit-forward, mostly cherry, with a hint of bubblegum. Soft, silky body with a blend of baking spices. Ripe and juicy on the long finish. Tasted during "Live Wine Blogging - Reds".
Casa Larga 2005 Fiori Vidal Icewine (Rochester, NY) - Deep copper colour, watery rim. Expansive aromas of grilled stone fruit, smoked meat and anchovies. On the palate, well balanced with savoury smoke swirled in with raisins and plums. Tasted during "Cellaring Sense" with the engaging and entertaining Brandon Seager (wine marketing professor at Tompkins Cortland Community College).
Looking for Canadian-made hybrid wines? Try Karlo Estates, Smokie Ridge Vineyard, Domaine Perrault, Henry of Pelham and Three Dog Wine ... just to name a few.