Thursday, March 17, 2011

New York Wine Grape Growers - Meet Your Local Winemaker

I have recently read of the travails of the New York wine grape growers and the loss of contracted sales to Constellation. It seems Constellation is taking 5,000 fewer tons of grapes from our New York based farmers. So, what did the NY Grape Growers do? They ran to Albany to fight the big bad Constellation by joinging the WIGs argument, as if that would save them. That's a joke. That''s desperation. WIGs won't add 5% to the sales of wines made in New York. Franzia, Woodbridge, and Yellow Tail won't be taking your grapes, gentlemen.

What would have been better, what would be incredibly better still is to make friends with local wineries. If most of these farmers had five to ten smaller buyers, maybe they wouldn't be so exposed now when one of them went under. It's called diversification.

I know, 'Don't be so pissy.' I'm not a hard hearted SOB. I do feel for them. Anyone who grows anything from the dirt has my undying admiration. Truly. But to get pulled into Albany's cesspool of politics? That's silly.

There are plenty of wineries looking for grapes - the Hudson Valley, the Upper Hudson Valley, Thousand Islands, and the New England states as well. And then there's Pennsylvania which just elected to renounce quotas on state fruit. Seems Pennsylvania wineries didn't care if they were using Pennsylvania fruit. Maryland and New Jersey too would be willing, I'm sure, to buy some New York fruit. Why aren't the NYWGF and the other area winery associations (MD, NJ, MA, etc.) trying to hook up growers with small wineries? Why isn't the New York State Wine Grape Growers putting a hotline number on their website or setting up chat boards? Don't tell me there aren't wineries looking for grapes. I get calls all the time asking for information on just that subject. 5,000 tons? It's lot to be sure, but I am sure we could find some homes for a bunch of it.

And let's be honest, everyone knew Constellation was cutting contracts. For the last five years Constellation has been letting the grape growers down gently. It wasn't a secret. Constellation made no bones about it, they were getting out of some of these grapes and contracts. The growers have known for years what's been going on. This isn't a surprise. I know of several cases where wineries have taken leases dating back at least two years by now on small blocks abandoned by Constellation. In a few cases Constellation has tried to marry grape growers with other companies to try and stem the tide.

What the New York Wine Grape Growers group hasn't done a good job of is finding homes for their members' grapes. But there is still time.

I think we all genuinely do not want to see these farmers get hurt. Winemakers want to see grape growers succeed. I suggest the NYWGF and the Cornell Extension folks send out an email to all member wineries with all the grapes that are effectively available, and let's help those farmers meet some good old fashioned local winemaking artisans in New York...and in some of the toher states. If someone needs names, I can help give you the names of winery professionals in the other states.

We can all pull together and make something happen.

Finger Lakes grape growers seek new markets
By Julie Sherwood, staff writer
Messengr Post 3/14/2011

“It affects everybody,” said Brahm. “The whole Finger Lakes. Those grapes have to find a home.”

Like other growers across the region this week, the Brahms were pruning vines and planning for a new season.

Constellation Brands informed growers it would buy 5,000 tons fewer grapes from the 2012 harvest, citing changes in market conditions with supply and demand.

“The growers are very important to us,” said Constellation spokeswoman Angie Blackwell. “We very much regret knowing the impact this will have on growers.”

Constellation is working with growers to help them find other markets, she said.

Despite the economic downturn, said Blackwell, consumers are turning to more premium wines. Demand for those calls for fewer tons of certain grape varieties supplied locally, she said. Business is strong at Constellation’s Canandaigua facility, she added, with production of significant company products such Arbor Mist growing.

Constellation plans to buy about 20,000 tons of grapes from growers in New York and Pennsylvania in 2012, a drop from about $25,000 tons currently.

Jim Bedient, a grower from Yates County and former president of New York State Wine Grape Growers, said Constellation has relied on fewer local grapes in recent years.
About 10 years ago, it bought as much as 40,000 tons.

“The situation facing New York wine grape growers has reached a critical point,” said Don Tones, current president of NYSWGG, in a release last week. “We need an immediate, major market expansion to solve the problem.”

Here's a piece on it...