Crisp, Cool Cayuga Whitewines made from the Cayuga grape are neither nuanced nor sophisticated; but they are big and forward with lots of competing fruit flavors. For this reason, the wines tend to be real crowd pleasers, and the grape is becoming popular in the Hudson Valley, because it is also good in the field and in the cellar.
CAYUGA WHITE is probably the most popular white hybrid grape variety ever developed by the Geneva Wine Grape Breeding Program at Cornell University, New York. It is a hybrid cross of the Seyval Blanc and Schuyler grapes. Schuyler is itself a hybrid of Zinfandel, the red vinifera grape used primarily in California.
Cayuga was first “bred” in 1945, but it wasn’t until 1972 when it was finally released as “Cayuga White.” The vine is winter hardy, along the lines of Seyval Blanc and other Geneva white hybrids such as Chardonel and Melody.
The grape is a reliable producer, productive, and generally resistant to fungus diseases. The grape cluster is large, long, slightly tampering, and wellfilled. The greenish/white/yellow-colored berry is large and roundish to ellipsoidal. It ripens around the second to third week of September, or later depending on the style of wine to be made. Due to its hardy constitution, the fruit hangs well on the vine late so that it can also be harvested later in the fall for the production of dessert wines.
Wines made from Cayuga White can be good to superior, either alone or in blends. They can be made into dry and semi-sweet wines, and sparkling wines, and are often used as a component in blends to brighten up other more stodgy whites.
There are many different flavors associated with Cayuga White, depending on how the wine is made: If picked early, it can be made into attractive sparkling wines with good acidity, structure, and pleasant flavors. When picked as it attains ripeness, Cayuga can be made into nice, clean, floral and fruity, dry or semi-dry, still wines that have medium body and balance. These are bright, clean, crisp and steely, and along with some spice, can have fruit flavors of apples, peaches, soft pineapples, spiced pears, grapefruit and lemons.
When picked later in the fall, Cayuga can be made in the semi-sweet style, as the sugar gives the wine the body it needs to stand up to its big, forward fruit flavors. These wines can have strong assertive fruit bowl flavors of oranges, ripe pineapples, grapefruit, and honey that offer hints of labrusca and muscat flavors, similar to Delaware or Niagara. And, as these wines age, the same labrusca and muscat flavors manifest themselves more fully.
Some commentators have described Cayuga Whites as being similar to a Riesling, while others compare it to Chenin Blanc. However, I find them to be generally a much bolder and more straight forward wine with grapey flavors that both Riesling and Chenin Blanc lack. Whether made as a semi-dry or semi-sweet wine, its more luscious fruit flavors of citrus, pineapple, apricots, honey and some Delaware flavors of guava and muscat certainly come through.
Because of its very forward fruity flavors and acid profile, Cayuga White is particularly suited for late spring and summer time consumption at picnics, or when relaxing outside on the porch after work. As summer approaches, I recommend that you try one of the many Cayuga Whites that are now being produced in the Hudson Valley.
Articles are adapted from the forthcoming book “Grapes of the Hudson Valley” by J. Stephen Casscles. In future issues of Hudson Valley Wine Magazine, we’ll continue to feature additional excerpts from this definitive work on regional varietals culled from decades of the author’s tasting notes and personal experience. PHOTO: Randall Tagg Photography .