Friday, February 24, 2012

Democrat & Chronicle: Finger Lakes Wine Region Grown and Growing

Finger Lakes winery pioneers watch and welcome changes
4:49 PM, Feb. 10, 2012 | Democrat & Chronicle (NY)

John McGregor and his sisters used to get excited when a car stopped by their family winery in Barrington, Yates County.

He was just 9 years old in 1980 when McGregor Winery started welcoming visitors to try the wine made by his parents, Bud and Marge McGregor. These days John is the winery’s general manager and he sees 1,000 visitors a weekend at the height of the season.

While McGregor was one of the first farm wineries that opened after the New York Farm Winery Act of 1976 allowed farmers to sell wine right from their vineyards, the McGregors and the other pioneers now have plenty of company.

According to the New York Wine and Grape Foundation, the state passed the 300 mark for wineries in 2011, ending the year with 316.

The Finger Lakes region alone accounts for more than one-third of those, 118 wineries, most of them lined up in rows along the individual Finger Lakes.

Numbers and newcomers are changing the face of the Finger Lakes wine industry, the fastest growing of the state’s four wine growing regions, which also include Lake Erie, Hudson Valley and Long Island. But those changes are raising some concerns that even with the $3.76 billion annual impact of New York’s wineries and related tourism, there might not be enough business for everyone to share.

“It’s great having more wineries, it makes us more of a destination,” said James Trezise, president of the New York Wine and Grape Foundation.

A drive along Seneca Lake from Geneva to Watkins Glen tells why: You’ll pass 25 wineries. But, Trezise said, “The number of tourists is not growing as much as the number of wineries.”

The growth is picking up speed, too. Since 2001, 198 wineries have opened, outstripping all those that opened between 1829 and 2000. The 152 wineries that opened since 2005 represent a fourfold increase over the previous 20 years, according to the Wine and Grape Foundation.

And now, because of a 2011 law that allows wineries to set up satellite tasting rooms in other locations, the tourism part of the business can be miles away from the vineyard and the vintner.

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