The River, the Atlantic, and Winemaking
The primary feature of the Hudson River Valley AVA is, of course, the river. It starts humbly enough as a small creek gathering power and strength for its tributaries as it heads south to become the great river that empting through the Narrows into the New York Bight and onto
Atlantic Ocean. The Hudson has it source deep in the Adirondack Mountains at Lake Tear of the Clouds in the shadow of Mount Marcy. In the north, the river is pure fresh mountain water until it reaches the town of Troy. At the Troy dam, the river becomes different altogether, a difference that makes wine possible further down the river. Below Troy, the river becomes a valley drowned by the Atlantic Ocean. It is a tidal estuary, not unlike a Norwegian fiord, becoming increasing saline as one proceeds south. The tides bring the warmer ocean waters up the valley to help moderate New York's hard winters and hot summers.
The Hudson Valley is formed between the Taconic and Appalachian mountains. The east side of the Hudson River is about 100 million years older than the west side. On the eastern side of the river the Taconic Mountains were formed starting in the Cambrian and ending in the late Ordovician (approximately 550-440 million years ago) during the geological Taconic orogeny mountain building event. The west side of the valley was formed during the later Acadian and Alleghanian Orogenies which ended about 300 million years ago during the Carboniferous period. The valley started its life between 300 and 200 million years ago as the super continent of Pangaea began to drift apart. This action caused the rift between New England and the rest if the continent that the river would eventually fill. Fast forward to the Pleistocene glaciations of the last ice age as great sheets of ice rolled south from Canada down through the valley between these Appalachians and Taconic mountains. Glacial scoring and dredging of the valley is responsible for the river below the Troy dam being a tidal estuary. The river bed was deepened by mountains of ice to well below our current sea levels. A startling example is the great pool at Storm King which is about 200 feet below sea level. As the planet warmed and the glaciers melted the sea rose to the point where it achieved the height where the Atlantic rushed into the great rift.
The four main wine producing regions of New York are all dependant on water. It is more than just the rain falling to water the roots of the vines; all are dependent upon a significant local body of water to make them viable wine growing regions. Even though New York is at about the same latitude as northern Spain the climate is nothing like Castile or Rioja. Spain is considered a hot wine production region similar to the central Valley of California. New York is much cooler and exhibits a more continental climate than maritime. A continental climate is characterized by greater temperature extremes between summers and winters. Anyone who has seen spent a year in Schenectady or Binghamton knows how true this is; bitter winters and brutal summers. Even Long Island, which has the most maritime climate in New York, demonstrates a greater extreme of than Bordeaux or the Willamette Valley. The Hudson Valley AVA is the most difficult and most continental of the New York's wine producing regions. The growing season is the shortest, the heat accumulation the least, and the winters the harshest of the four AVAs.
The Hudson would be untenable for viticulture without the moderating effects of the river and its depth accentuates these climate moderation effects. The deep waters attenuate winter cold hazard to grape vines with the additional benefit of reducing spring and fall freeze risks. Further, the estuary tides bring the warmer Atlantic Ocean waters north to lighten the brutality of the winters and cool the state's hot summers. The great features of the Palisades and Shawangunk ridges help direct and focus the maritime breezes and more temperate weather up the Hudson Valley. It is only the mid and lower Hudson, the areas directly supported by the estuary that is truly viable for the more delicate vinifera species.