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September 2006 Issue of Wines & Vines

N.Y. Wine & Culinary Center Opens In Finger Lakes

by Thomas Pellechia

  • New York Wine and Culinary Center (NYWCC) contains public exhibits, interactive programs, and educational activities including wine tasting, cooking demonstrations and garden tours, all designed to support the state's $3 billion agriculture business.
  • Constellation Brands donated the land in the Finger Lakes wine region; many other public and private sources helped fund the ambitious new center.
  • A marketing campaign is directed at New York wineries, encouraging their participation and support.
The $7.5 million New York Wine and Culinary Center (NYWCC) opened for business in June, offering public exhibits, interactive programs and educational activities including wine tasting, cooking demonstrations and garden tours, all designed to celebrate and promote the state's agricultural products.

Located in the city of Canandaigua in the Finger Lakes region, the not-for-profit center is billed as a gateway to the $3 billion New York wine, fruit, vegetable and dairy businesses. The 19,475 square-foot modern wine and culinary center features 10,700 square feet for public access to exhibits and programs.

New York's agricultural community can thank Constellation Brands for the center. The company, which began in 1945 as Canandaigua Industries, in 2002 gave the center a property it held at the north end of Canandaigua Lake. The property lies on major east-west Routes 5 and 20, where condominiums and tourist-oriented businesses have been springing up like benign weeds.

This venture is one of the most exciting things to take place in the Finger Lakes region since 1962, when Konstantin Frank produced the first commercially viable Vitis vinifera wines on neighboring Keuka Lake. Where Frank's revolution was of an internal personal conviction, the center's mission is fully externalized: "…to excite, inspire and engage New York's communities, and the world, in a celebration of New York wine and food through programming and partnerships."

Joining Constellation as key backers are Wegman's (an Eastern grocery chain based in Rochester), the Rochester Institute of Technology School of Hospitality and Tourism and the New York Wine and Grape Foundation. In addition, the Viking Range Corporation and the Vollrath Company donated professional kitchen equipment and cookware, and the New York Agriculture and Markets Department gave $2 million. An early list of extended donors included four wine distributors, eight food industry companies and suppliers, six wineries, a major Rochester wine retailer, a landscaping company, a construction company and the Brooklyn Brewery.
New York Wine & Culinary Center
The New York Wine & Culinary Center opened in Canandaigua in June, and is expected to draw tourists throughout the Northeast to learn about the state's agricultural bounty.

Executive director Alexa Gifford said, "The center is a true gathering place, where visitors can learn through interactive programs, educational tastings, view exhibits or take a walk through our garden."

The center's garden features New York-grown vegetables, orchard trees and of course, grapevines. Inside, through massive Spanish cedar doors, the first thing visitors see is the Wine Spectator Educational Classroom amphitheater, named for its sponsor. The theater accommodates up to 40 guests for classes presented by wine and food educators, high-level chefs and wine industry experts. Speakers navigate an electronic console connected to the latest in presentation technology, and they have access to a Viking 22.l8 cubic foot refrigerator, four-burner cook top with char grill, double-wall convection ovens and a variety of counter-top appliances.

Next door to the amphitheater, the Viking Range Hands-on Kitchen offers a rotating list of professional chef classes for up to 36 guests. Classes range from children's programs to culinary college level instruction. A portable camera at the chef's station is connected to 15 monitors distributed throughout the cooking stations.

The Charmer-Sunbelt Bar and the Eber Brothers Wine Tasting Center are named after two New York wine distributors. The bar serves New York wine, beer and food. The tasting center alternates 20 New York state wines bi-weekly, in themed flights of five to seven for $5. After tasting at the bar, visitors can pick up a bottle or two of wine at retail. For wine in quantity, a nearby computer kiosk links to New York wine sources.

An exhibit hall with video and large print media formats alternates programs on winemaking, cheese production, fruit growing and harvesting, and other New York agricultural activities. The exhibits are self-guided, and accompanied by a "flip book" narration.

There's also the Wine Cellar Dining Room for private and corporate events, which can be augmented by an outdoor tent.

According to Kim Waver of Dixon, Schwabl Advertising, "The center's promotional outreach initiatives thus far have centered around local, regional, state and national publicity, and outreach to tourism organizations and agencies. Additionally, there has been a direct marketing campaign aimed at all New York wineries, to encourage their participation. Future promotional initiatives will include ongoing national publicity, as well as a trade magazine advertising campaign."

Director Gifford predicts 70,000 to 80,000 visitors for the first year of operation. The Northeastern portion of the United States accounts for 18% of the country's overall population. The center is a five- to six-hour drive from three major Northeastern cities: New York, Boston and Philadelphia; add two Midwestern locales, Cleveland and Detroit, and 27% of the country's population is within reach.  For more information, visit

(Thomas Pellechia is a wine writer and wine educator based in Hammondsport, N.Y. His work has been published in national and international wine magazines, he and writes two weekly upstate N.Y. newspaper columns. Contact him through
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