Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Why Wine in the Finger Lakes?

Map drawn in 1779 by Revolutionary War scout showing the locations of the
Cayuga and Seneca settlements during the Sullivan/Clinton campaign.
In my novel Ephemeral Summer there is a reference to the Native American settlements along Canandaigua Lake and the rest of the Finger Lakes. This map, shown courtesy of Bill Hecht and digitized by Bernie Cocoran at the Library of Congress collections, shows the locations of the Cayuga and Seneca settlements at the time of the Sullivan- Clinton expedition against the Iroquois during the Revolutionary War.  Generals Sullivan and Clinton were ordered by General Washington to wipe out the Native American villages and their food supplies.

What is interesting about the map, and what I reference in my novel, is the number of orchards present at the time. The Native Americans understood that the lakes provided an ideal climate for fruit bearing trees and vines. Besides the longhouse dwellings shown as red rectangles, one can see the abundance of orchards dotting the landscape.

Indeed, diaries of the soldiers that took part in this scorched earth campaign recount the number of trees they girdled and bushels of grain they set fire to. In one entry a soldier recounts his arrival at the Seneca Nation capital of 'Cannondesago' near Geneva, NY.

at Cannondesago the chief Cinnakee 
castle about dusk,where we found about 80 houses somthing large 
some of them built with hew? timber & part with round timber and part 
with bark. Large quantities of corn and beans with all sorts of sauce, 
at this place a fine Young Orchard, which was soon all girdled
The Finger Lakes region was a confluence of Native American settlement and agricultural production. The lakes provide a moderating influence on the temperatures and climate of the region making it an ideal location for fruit-bearing trees and vines. Water has a high heat capacity meaning, once lakes such as Seneca and Cayuga heat up it takes a long time for them to cool down.  This works to the advantage of fruit production. In the spring, the cooler air around the lakes delays budding which then prevents damage from a killing late spring frost. In the fall, the lakes give off the heat they have been storing slowly all summer, which prolongs the harvest season for the fruit.

A tourist enjoying the bounty that the Finger Lakes has to offer.
If you take a trip to the Finger Lakes region in the fall you will see tourists pouring out of limos and buses and lining up for tastings at the numerous wineries around the lakes. Although I favor red wines, the Rieslings in this region are award-winning.

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