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In a New York State of Wine

State wine and grape leader says industry progress helped to make 2012 'one of the best overall years'

by Linda Jones McKee
pete Saltonstall King Ferry Winery
Pete Saltonstall of King Ferry Winery pours at the New York Drinks New York Grand Tasting at Astor Center in March.
Canadaigua, N.Y.—In spite of a warm winter, spring frosts and Hurricane Sandy, 2012 was “one of the best overall years in recent memory,” according to Jim Trezise, president of the New York Wine and Grape Foundation. In the Dec. 8 edition of The Wine Press, the NYWGF newsletter, Trezise praised a great harvest, new wineries, award-winning wines, successful marketing initiatives and—perhaps most significantly—the positive results of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Wine, Beer and Spirits Summit held in late October.

The 2012 vintage
While Hurricane Sandy had a major impact on the New York City area, according to Trezise, “New York’s winegrowing regions suffered virtually no damage.” The combination of an unusually warm winter and a late spring frost significantly reduced the Concord grape crop in the Lake Erie region; winegrapes in that region and across New York did very well both in quantity and in quality.

The Wine Press reported, “The warm weather throughout the year—especially in the summer and early fall—resulted in a harvest that was two to three weeks early in most places, minimizing the normal risk of a killing frost in October that could stop the ripening process and the harvest. While many winemakers were challenged by a compressed crush—with many varieties ripening at once rather than in sequence—the inconvenience was worth it in the end when they could put up their feet and celebrate with a beer a few weeks early.”

“The 2012 harvest was similar in many respects to 2010, one of New York's best ever,” Trezise noted, “so we eagerly await the wines as they start being released early next spring.”

Winery growth
Often when consumers think of wine regions in New York state, they think only of the Finger Lakes and maybe Long Island. However, the state’s wine industry includes more than those two areas. So far in 2012, the NYWGF counted 17 new wineries in 12 counties across the state, and 55 of New York’s 62 counties now have wineries, including Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn. In addition, nine other wineries have applied for licenses. Because the New York State Liquor Authority has significantly expedited the license approval process, some of the pending licenses may be activated before the end of the year.

It’s often difficult to get recognition in one’s own backyard, and if New York City counts as the New York wine industry’s backyard, that has been true in the past. However, a program called “New York Drinks New York” is working to change that situation. Initially, the name referred to a wine tasting for media, trade and consumers that was held in March 2012, but according to Trezise, it also describes “a major new initiative we have undertaken to promote New York wines in New York City.

“Thanks to a grant from the Genesee Valley Regional Market Authority supported by the New York State Department of Agriculture & Markets, we have been able to work with a superb, small Manhattan agency, First Press Public Relations, on a very creative ‘exchange program’ introducing New York City to New York State, and vice versa,” Trezise wrote. “Basically, we bring New York City wine writers, sommeliers and wine store managers to the various wine regions to get a first-hand understanding of their geography, people and wines. Then we bring representatives of the participating wineries into New York City for a thorough market orientation as well as networking opportunities.”

“When the initial grant was depleted, I applied for a second of the same amount. Due to the incredible success of the program, I was given more than I asked for,” Trezise explained. “The first part of the second-phase program (bringing city folks to the country) was completed about a month ago, with the New York City part scheduled for mid-March, including another blowout tasting. New York City is the most competitive wine market in the world, and we get no breaks as New Yorkers: we’ve got to earn our place in the sun just like everyone else. Ya gotta be there, and now we are.”

Another event, “New York Farm Day,” has as its purpose the education of official Washington that New York is a major farm state whose needs should be considered when shaping agricultural legislation like the (now-stalled) Farm Bill. Trezise notes that “Farm Day is one of the hottest tickets for a very simple reason: It’s not just great food and great wine, but it’s served by the people who actually produce these products.”

The Wine, Beer and Spirits Summit
Perhaps the most significant event for the New York wine industry from a political and regulatory standpoint was the New York Wine, Beer & Spirits Summit held in Albany on Oct. 24 and hosted by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. (See N.Y. Holds First Alcohol Summit.) As Trezise described it, “Several hundred invitees gathered in the Albany Convention Center, where the governor sat with his top administration officials at a head table, flanked on each side by several leaders from the various beverage groups. Several of us were invited so convey the perspectives and issues affecting our sectors, and how the state could help create a better business climate for future growth.

“After two hours of dialogue and a one-hour recess for lunch, the governor reconvened the summit and, based on the morning’s input, announced several significant legal or regulatory changes, which would be implemented immediately (in fact, the next day the New York State Liquor Authority issued an advisory confirming that.) He also announced the immediate availability of new funding to promote the farm-based beverages, including up to $2 million in matching funds if the industries could raise the equivalent amount in private sector dollars.

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