State fair eateries ignore N.Y. state winesBy John Christensen
“It's really stupid,” said David Whiting of Red Newt Cellars. “The fair always could have been a better venue to feature New York wines. It's a shame they can't stand up for New York produce. That's the purpose."
Organizers’ response was to treat the issue like a hot potato.
Empire Room operator, “Charlies at the Fair,” could not be reached for comment, while New York State Fair press relations head Troy Waffner handed the issue to New York State Department of Agriculture & Markets spokesman Joe Morrissey. Morissey said "the Empire Room serves New York wines," but he did confirm the Empire Room's single New York offering.
But as far back as 2009, the fair highlighted two restaurant exhibits that would serve food made with produce made only in New York.
That year both The New York Grill and the New York Café served fresh onion rings and "State Fair Fries" made with locally fresh harvested produce, along with "Empire Burgers" made with Lucki 7 sausage and Yancey's Fancy cheese.
They also served wine and beer from 15 New York wineries and 15 New York breweries, Saranac Soda, Byrne Dairy milk, Red Jacket apple cider, and Welch's grape juice. Despite reports that the "Buy Local" initiative was a big hit, neither restaurant could be found on the New York State Fair website food map this year.
Morissey could not say whether the Empire Room featured any other New York products. He stressed that the State Fair features New York produce and products in one tent entitled "Pride of New York," but had no answer when asked why New York's State Fair was not all "Pride of New York."
The notion that a state fair should promote only that state's products doesn't seem to be a problem for the State of California.
"We try to use all California produce. After all, we are an agricultural fair," said Joan Evans, Marketing Director of the California Exposition and State Fair Evans “Our wine exhibit is the largest at the fair. Over 600 wineries submit about 3,000 bottles for judging, and it is our most prestigious competition."
That New York's State Fair can't take a similar position has been a source of frustration for area vintners for many years.
Scott Osborn of Fox Run Vineyards said the state Ag & Markets position was idiotic. “Do they feature milk or cheese from Wisconsin? If you go to Burgundy in France, all the restaurants serve wines from Burgundy."
Selling California wine instead of New York's at a state event may seem to be an oversight by Albany bureaucrats, but it has happened before.
Yates County Chamber of Commerce CEO Mike Linehan recalls a governor's conference on tourism a few years ago where the entire delegation from the Finger Lakes began to tap their glasses loudly with their silverware in protest when they discovered they were being served wine from California.
Morissey said he couldn't speculate on how decisions were made about which wines to offer in the Empire Room, but local wineries say it is just the latest black eye for the state.
Peter Martini of Anthony Road Wine Co. just shook his head, saying, "I don't know why the fair has such a difficult time keeping its nose clean."
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