Sunday, March 04, 2012

New York Drinks New York Continues to Gather Momentum

The New York Drinks New York program, started by the New York Wine and Grape Foundation, continues its successes. This is a very important step in the evolution of the New York wine industry. Never before has New York produced so many good wines. But the cosmopolitan New Yorker seems virtually unaware. That is because New York is one of the two or now maybe three epicenters in the world of wine - London, New York, Hong Kong/Asia.

New Yorkers have beein drinking wines from around the world since the colonists landed. Europeans unable to grow the grapes there were accustomed to for wine here in the states, simply turned around and ordered wines from back home. The New York industry lagged, especially with the introduction of Prohibition, which retarded the growth of the nation's nascent wine industry as a whole.

But New York wine is emerging triumphant. Long Island and the Finger Lakes score in the high 80s and low 90s with regularity now (the Hudson Valley and the Niagara and Erie regions are emerging, too). And wine writers and media personalities acknowledge the quality and taste of these wines. But the industry in NYC is extremely competitive. Every country in the world has an office here (or an office that represents) and they each spend millions of dollars wooing wine and food writers (if you've ever seen what the Italians and other countries spend...whoa!). New York is way under-funded. Our industry is fighting Goliath with a proverbial slingshot...and let's be honest, more times than not, the guy with the slight shot lost until David.

This new program, comeplete with a PR agency and a the city cab toppers is a good start. More importantly, it's about drawing in wine store owners, restaurantuers, and food and wine media types.

It's not going to solve all our ills but we need to start gaining momentum. And it's programs like these that start that ball rolling in a way that a single vineyard or winery owner cannot. While the two big regions have mature regional branding groups, the other regions lack the fire power. That's why a state run program can do more good than anything else.

In the end, each winery has to pull up their own boot straps. They need to make more quality wine, and shave off the underbelly fo some lesser wines. We need to come up with good packaging, we need to come up with good sales plans, and implement better marketing strategies. And we each need, in our own way, to push our product by walking into a store or restaurant, and sample wines for the decisions makers in our own areas, and then some.

But the New York Drinks New York is just the kind of program other countries, and states (especially Washington and Oregon) are doing to drum up support for their regions. If you are skeptical about this program, you really don't know what the rest of the world is doing to sell their wines in this huge city. A number of wine writers have already expressed intrigue and excitement over the program. People are talking about New York wine. One can feel the buzz.

It's a great program, and just what the doctor ordered. The real question, however, is - will New York wineries pick up the ball and run with it...or will they just stand there once the show is over. One hopes, they will take advantage of the tremendous opportunity!

From Jim Trezise, New York Wine and Grape Foundation President

Last weekend's "Cellar Visits" by New York City wine writers, sommeliers, and wine store buyers were focused on Long Island, where on Sunday we learned that the Paumanok 2008 Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc would be served that very night at the White House during the Governors' Dinner--a great way to get exposure nationwide for the superb quality of New York wines.

The tasting of that wine in Paumanok's cellar wowed the visitors, especially when wine maker Kareem Massoud explained that the wine's origin began with a rainy harvest and apparently rotten grapes; but his mother Ursula, from Germany's Pfalz region, identified the grapes' flavors as those of the great late harvest and ice wines from that country. Kareem took it from there, and the bottles bear a special (real) gold-etched label befitting the wine's golden color and luscious taste.

There were many other high points of the two-day Long Island visit as well, including a great dinner at the Frisky Oyster restaurant (with "Oysters Friskafella") in Greenport, at the end of Long Island's North Fork where ferries whisk tourists to Shelter Island to get a second ferry that connects them to the Hamptons, where Channing Daughters and Wolffer Estate are located.

One of the highlights of my trip was the Hilton Garden Inn in Riverhead, literally right at the end of the Long Island Expressway, where I bunked down the night before the group arrived. When I got there at 7 pm, there was a large, young, noisy crowd with live music, a $5 wine-tasting option presented by Pindar Vineyards and Duck Walk Vineyards, and I asked if this was a private party. No, just business as usual. When I checked in, I was given a half bottle of Duck Walk Cabernet Sauvignon and a corkscrew to take to my room, and noticed a large display advertising Long Island Wine Country tours for guests. I also took a look at the restaurant's wine list, which had lots of local selections, some of which I enjoyed with my dinner.

What's going on here?

In Watkins Glen, in the Finger Lakes, the Harbor Hotel does a fabulous job promoting local wines, which is part of the reason we hold our annual New York Wine & Food Classic there. But Hilton is a national chain, and national chains often require all wines to be centrally purchased--in other words, major brands with large quantities, mostly from California or Europe--so rarely do you see local wines.

Fortunately, this hotel has a smart, loyal, business-savvy General Manager who understands that working together is good--and profitable--for everyone, and convinced "Corporate" to go along. It's good for busine$$.

I highly recommend this hotel to anyone visiting Long Island wine country.

I would also recommend Greenport as one of "The Coolest Small Towns in America". A month ago, as reported in a recent Wine Press, Hammondsport, at the south end of Keuka Lake in the Finger Lakes, tied for that honor, and with good reason. But Greenport is truly amazing as well, a tiny town with superb seafood restaurants, wonderful waterfront walks, and great places to stay.

The final event in this phase of our "New York Drinks New York" program is a Grand Tasting on Monday, March 12 at Astor Center for the trade (1-5) and then consumers. All 38 participating New York wineries will be in attendance, sampling about 200 great New York wines. For more information, visit