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N.Y. Holds First Alcohol Summit

Gov. Cuomo announces plans for a new marketing campaign and regulatory reforms

by Hudson Cattell and Linda Jones McKee
andrew cuomo new york
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo met with representatives from the wine, beer and spirits industries to discuss ways to improve the viability of New York businesses.
Albany, N.Y.—“I’m from the government, and I’m here to help” is a statement widely disbelieved across the country. In some cases that disbelief may be justified, but at the first Wine, Beer and Spirits Summit held in Albany, N.Y., on Oct. 24, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo really did intend to be helpful, and by the end of the day he had proved it by immediately implementing some changes.

Gov. Cuomo conceded during the meeting that “New York’s vibrant beer, wine, cider and spirits industry supports thousands of jobs across the state and is a major driver of tourism in many communities.” He also cited the need for New York to work as an entrepreneurial government to partner with the private sector to help key industries thrive and prosper as he hosted the event. The summit was attended by dozens of wine, beer, cider and spirits producers as well as farmers, industry officials and tourism experts who discussed specific legislative and regulatory issues facing the alcohol beverage industry with state agency officials and members of the governor’s cabinet.

One-stop shop
The governor listened to the discussion between summit attendees and at times was able to offer immediate assistance. One concern raised at the summit was the number of different state agencies that companies must deal with to go into business and stay in compliance. To address this problem, Gov. Cuomo announced that a “one-stop shop” will be established within Empire State Development so that the alcoholic beverage industry has a single point of contact and a place to call for assistance. Staff from at least seven agencies involved in regulating manufacturers and licensees would be designated to coordinate with the one-stop shop.

Additional regulatory reforms that could be taken to help the industry grow were identified, and the governor announced a number of regulatory reforms, most of which could be implemented immediately. Many of these were to allow farm breweries and farm distilleries privileges that farm wineries already have (such as being able to sell their goods at street fairs or charitable events.) Some actions benefited everyone. At the governor’s direction, the fee for a three-year manufacturers’ marketing license would be reduced from $750 to $125 per year, and all producers covered by the State Liquor Authority would be allowed to sell their product by the bottle at events where they currently are allowed to conduct tastings.

Extra funding
After lunch, Gov. Cuomo had several news announcements. The most significant for the New York wine industry was that the state would boost the New York Wine and Grape Foundation’s $716,000 budget by $1 million, possibly more. Later, Wines & Vines asked Jim Trezise, president of the foundation for additional information.

“This is not new money,” he said, “so no legislative approval is needed. It may or may not come to us directly, which is still to be determined, but to me the most important thing is that it be used effectively to support the industry. I expect under any circumstances we will have substantial input as to its final uses.”

In the morning session, Jim Trezise suggested supersizing an already scheduled event in March that is being organized to raise awareness about New York wine, beer and spirits. He invited the governor to attend and said he hoped to invite Derek Jeter, Whoopi Goldberg and Robert DeNiro. Not only did the governor accept, he said, “Let’s do it as big as we can do it,” and suggested the state-owned Javits Center as a venue. “However we can do it big, we’re in.” This led to headlines about Cuomo hosting a “blowout party” and even jokes about him as a “party animal.”

Promotion and tourism were another need that was addressed at the summit, and Gov. Cuomo announced an aggressive campaign. He said the state will provide $1 million for a new advertising campaign to promote the industry. The state would increase that funding—leveraged on an industry match—by up to $2 million, bringing the total marketing campaign to $5 million.

Becoming a market force
To help producers penetrate major markets like New York City, the governor announced a working group, led by Secretary to the Governor Larry Schwarz, which will coordinate specialized annual marketing events to partner restaurants and hotels across the state with producers of New York-produced wine, beer, spirits and food.

The state would also work to find new ways to promote New York wine, beer, spirits and cider at the Great New York State Fair in Syracuse. Further, it would look into ways to ensure that the alcoholic beverages sold at New York Racing Association tracks are produced in New York.

Gov. Cuomo also said he would establish working groups to address other concerns raised at the summit. These included finding ways to introduce New York state wine, beer, cider and spirits to international trade shows and finding a solution to Canadian wine tariffs that have had a negative effect on wines produced in New York.

Jim Trezise summed up the event for Wines & Vines in terms of its future prospects. “Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Wine, Beer, Spirits and Cider Summit dramatically confirmed that he is serious about improving New York’ business climate and economy. His father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo, rescued the New York grape and wine industry from economic disaster, and now his son is helping to propel us to the next level. We are very grateful for his vision and look forward to working with him,” Trezise said.

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