Thursday, March 25, 2010

THE FAULT, SCOTT OSBORN, LIES NOT IN OUR STARS…



The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our stars, but in ourselves if we are underlings.
- William Shakespeare, Julius Ceasar


Scott Osborn is a polarizing figure. A character right out of Shakespeare. I like him. I don’t agree with him fully, but I like him. And there is a lot to say about him.

For the record, I am not a personal friend. We are acquaintances. We have met. I don’t know anything about him – not his favorite color nor food, if he cheats at cards or Monopoly, if he likes dogs or cats (I do know he likes to wear his baseball cap, as I have seen on numerous occasions). I am not his choice of friend at a cocktail party, nor for a Monday Night Football game. We will never go to Lincoln Center to see an opera nor a ballet together. I won’t be invited to a birthday party. And I am not offended for it.

There are many things about Scott I like though, even if from afar. He has built an incredible business. He has a tremendous winemaker and great marketing people, and he has built a formidable machine up from an old winery he bought, refurbished, and reinvented. The winery produces great wines. He has created one of the biggest names in the New York wine business. He has created a model other wineries would like to emulate. His winery holds its own against competition from around the state, and around the country. If there are a handful of New York state wineries, ready to break out of New York in a meaningful way, Fox Run Vineyards will be among them.

Scott has been for the last 6-10 years one of the biggest boosters of New York state wine. Yes, he had self-interests of his own, but he has been an ambassador for New York wine for almost a solid decade. He has been seen at all the big tastings, big wine events, big charity events, and New York state wine conferences. He stood in for all the New York wineries, when it came to pony-ing up. He cares about New York’s reputation, and he’s put his money where his mouth is. He’s been out there hitting, blocking, and tackling on all the big issues for New York state wine, since I was still a puppy. He has been, for better or for worse, out there, front and center, trying to gather the world’s interest on behalf of New York wine. And for that, we must all say THANK YOU.

Scott is no saint. He also has a right to be angry. There are not enough outlets to sell his wine. He can’t grow to the next level stuck in the box that is New York. This stage is too small, the playing field too confined, the operating theater too cramped. He has done all the right things, and now his company is prepared to compete on a larger stage. But where to go? New York stores and restaurants, especially those in the city, lack any kind of representation, a snobbery of the worse kind. And there is where the fault lies, not in our stars.

While the New York region is not saturated, not nearly by half, there is almost nowhere else to sell his wine in the state. And it's hard outside of the state. That is because New York has not done a good job of selling itself outside the region. Local folks, tri-staters, would sooner sell or buy a Washington or Oregonian wine, let alone Greek or Hungarian (sorry, I like wines from both regions, just using you as an example…my apologies) than feature small artisanal craft wineries from New York. If anyone is busting at the seems, it’s Fox Run, whose wines are carried in stores in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, among many.

But while Scott has been banging the drum or sounding the clarion call (or whatever metaphor you would prefer to insert), not so many wineries have joined him. New York state is funny like that. A lot of individuals. At least in the Finger Lakes they seemed to have found a common cause. But the fault, in fact, dear Brutus, is that we are underlings!



Scott Osborn is right. And I think, believe it or not, that he should be thanked for his most recent efforts to push through the grocery store bill. For several reasons. Firstly, he’s right, there’s not enough outlets and not enough promotion of New York wine in our home state. If New York state is to break out, it needs to grow beyond the state’s boundaries, cause there’s no love at home. Secondly, the state wineries need to gather together, and start promoting outwardly. And thirdly, we need to thank him for being the man to force the issue of grocery store wines. While I didn’t agree with the legislation (mostly because the morons in the state house bungled the writing of the bill, and wrote an unfair bill – because they were after the money – they didn’t give a rat’s ass about the real issues at hand), Scott was not wrong to champion the bill. You may disagree with me, but the forcing of that bill may finally scare reluctant NY liquor store owners into the arms of their long time girl next door – New York state wineries. Many liquor store owners have been spurning the wineries for years, like the proverbial boyfriend, never intending to marry. But Scott called their bluff, in effect saying, “put a ring on it.”

As usual, New York state wineries were the proverbial dumb blonde. While Scott was pushing the issue, the wineries as a group missed their chance to force a shotgun wedding, and finally walk down the aisle with their long time object of affection. That is why the wineries are underlings. Now will the liquor stores owners, who needed the wineries when they were down, will they finally commit? Or will it be another two or three years of hemming and hawing and excuses until Scott can force the issue again?

Scott did his part. The wineries failed to take advantage of his play. Now the trump card clearly rests with the liquor store owners once again.

New York wineries need to rise to the challenge. The onus is on them. They must strike a deal for a better partnership – or be ready to side with Scott the next time around. If there is a next time around, the law will be better written. It will be more fair. And liquor store owners will have more to fear. If the winery store owners forge a better working relationship, and help promote the entire industry, thereby lifting themselves, then they may have a better friend in Scott the next time around.

New York wineries need to spread the word more effectively. More tastings in New York for New York press, retailers, and restaurants. Better in store marketing for their wines – promotional materials, bottle tags, shelf-talkers, etc. The New York wine industry must learn fast and furious how to sell wine like they do in California and NYC, or else face playing the girl who gets dumped once again. Being invited to the party, and knowing how to dance, are two different things.

New York wineries also need to target new markets – Philadelphia, Boston, Orlando, and other cities.

These issues remain at what’s at the heart of the real discussion.

I’ve heard a few liquor store owners grumble about Scott. Don’t blame or persecute Scott Osborn. He was doing what was right. What was needed. He makes great wine. Any store who even thinks of shunning Osborn or Fox Run would be silly and unwise to leave on the side of the road one of New York state’s most dynamic owners and most sleek and well run wineries. His wine, and more New York state wine, should be in all the New York liquor stores.

The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our stars, but in ourselves if we are underlings.