Traminette is a white wine grape introduced relatively recently to the world of winemaking. Its cold-weather adaptability makes it easy to grow in the Hudson Valley, and it is rapidly gaining popularity among wine drinkers with an increasing number of Hudson Valley Traminette wines being produced today.
Traminette is a cross of Gewürztraminer and the French-American varietal Johannes Seyve 23-416. This cross was made by Herb Barrett in 1965 while at the University of Illinois, in an attempt to produce a large-clustered table grape with Gewürztraminer flavor. Seeds were sent to Cornell University’s grape breeding program in Geneva, NY, in 1968 but the varietal was not officially released until 1996.
The Traminette grape ripens late to very late in the season, generally obtaining good sugar levels, and tends to have a good sugar/acid/pH balance for winemaking. It’s a vigorous vine with medium productivity. Full fruit maturity is crucial to allow the delicate and varietal aromas and the apricot and honey overtones of the Gewürtz parent to dominate.
Traminette is moderately winter hardy in the Hudson Valley, similar to Seyval Blanc, Chardonel or Vignoles, but is hardier than Cayuga White or Gewürztraminer. It is also far more resistant to fungus diseases than its Gewürtz parent and hybrid grapes such as Seyval Blanc.
Depending upon on how and where the varietal is grown, it can be made into different wine styles using different methods, which can significantly alter its taste. The wines can be made either dry or semi-dry. The textbook description for Traminette wines is the most common style, those that are characteristic of Gewürztraminer: spicy, fragrant wines of excellent quality. But Traminettes can be superior because of their sugar/acid/pH balance. These flavorful wines not only have spice, but honey and apricot flavors that linger over time and develop as they age.
With extended skin contact, there are no “hybrid” flavors extracted, and the result is a full structured wine with floral aromas and tastes of strong spice and honey, apricot and melons. Longer skin contact can produce muscat or orange muscat flavors. Traminette wines are usually finished with some residual sugar, and as Traminette wines age, they tend to drop the spiciness and add even more honey, apricot, and orange flavors, reminiscent of the great French Sauternes.
In contrast to the lush, semi-sweet Gewürtz-style Traminettes, a more austere Traminette wine can be made revealing apple and citrus flavors, when little or no skin contact is utilized. No matter the style of wine made, the grape is fairly dominant, therefore it has to be used sparingly in blends otherwise it will overpower the wine and become a Traminette wine.
When Traminette is grown in the South and in the warmest parts of the Hudson Valley, increased bitterness and high pH can become an issue, and shorter skin contact is necessary. Otherwise, the floral and spicy flavors can shift to muscat-like and guava flavors, and the body becomes oily/greasy and one dimensional.
Overall, Traminette is an easy and reliable grape to grow in the field, and is a grape that is not difficult to make into wine in the cellar. As the wine continues to grow in popularity, hopefully the grape will be grown more extensively in the Hudson Valley and Traminette will have a notable place in the wine scene here for some time to come.