Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Meet Sam Filler - The Most Popular Man in New York Wine

OK, so you have to know first that winery, brewery, distillery, and cidery owners are a fairly cynical bunch. Not a lot rocks their boats. Not a lot makes them hoot and holler - except booze. So it was with great delight then, when I attended the recent, second Wine, Beers, Spirits, and Cider Summit in Albany last week, a singular exception occurred.

Any time the name Sam Filler was mentioned, and it was mentioned many times, the owners would begin to clap, whistle, and generally exclaim like I have never seen before. It was like a casino full of armed bandit types with their cups full of quarters all hit the jackpot at the same time! Near bedlam! What makes a bunch of cranky business owners cheer for an Albany state government representative at 10 o'clock in the morning? He's not giving away money. He can't even make a parking ticket go away. Who is this guy?!

He Sam Filler! The answer man!

Samuel Filler currently leads Governor Cuomo’s Craft Beverage Initiative at Empire State Development. Samuel served as the Director of Programs for the Transportation and Land Use Collaborative (TLUC), an urban planning consulting firm in Southern California that specialized in stakeholder engagement in Latino communities. He was also selected to be a Coro Fellow in Southern California and an Americorps member with City Year. He earned a Bachelor of Arts in economics and political science from Vassar College, and a Master of Urban Planning from the
NYU Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service.

To understand, you need a little background.
Filler, and Gov. Cuomo's new approach to the industry have been a huge sea change, best explained by New York Wine & Grape Foundation President, Jim Trezise, who wrote, "I've often pinched myself in the past year or two to make sure I'm not dreaming when I'm dealing with the New York State government.  I've been doing that for over 30 years, often with difficult and unpleasant encounters, but there has been a sea change under the leadership of Governor Andrew Cuomo."
"The latest example came on Tuesday when Lieutenant Governor Bob Duffy, State Liquor Authority Chairman Dennis Rosen, Deputy Secretary for Agriculture Pat Hooker, and other State officials met with about 60 winery representatives at the Geneva Experiment Station.  The purpose: Continue the dialogue between the public and private sectors."
Five years ago? Never!
But now there is Sam Filler! At the first Wine, Beer, Spirits, and Cider Summit in October 2013, Gov. Cuomo and his team announced among a slew of changes, a "one stop shop" for New York craft beverage makers. Governor Cuomo launched a one stop shop designed to provide New York’s wine, beer, and spirits producers with a single point of government contact for assistance regarding regulations, licensing, state incentives, and any other questions or issues facing the industry. As a result of last week's Summit, the one stop shop will now market available state financing options to the farm-based beverage industry. In addition, a new on-line marketplace will be launched to connect farmers to beverage producers, a new business mentor program for the craft beverage industry will be launched at ESD, and state-operated webinars will be hosted on a variety of industry-related topics.


This was greeted with skepticism by the usual congregation when it was first announced last October. And Gov. Cuomo promised the faithful, if they got word from Sam, they could act on it. And if it turned out Sam and forwarded the incorrect information the NYSLA and the state would not hold the beverage producer liable in any way. When this new announcement was made last week? Nothing but applause!
Trezise waxed rhapsodically about the meeting with Fuller, "Also present was Sam Filler, whom I call "the answer man" because he runs the "One Stop Shop" office where industry members can ask any question in any area--alcohol policies, environmental regulations, tax guidelines, etc.--and Sam and his colleagues will contact the appropriate agency and get the answer back to the source.  I have heard nothing but praise for his efforts.  This has been a dream of mine for decades that is now a reality. (Pinch.)"

As both an industry watcher, and as a winery owner, Sam Filler is in fact "The Answer Man!" in the fullest sense of the word. You call up with a question, and if he doesn't know the answer, he gets your number, gets an answer, and calls you back. Done! It's fantastic! It's no more, "You'll have to read the rules and regs to find that out. Please consult your NYSLA handbook. Thank you." It's now real, live answers. And they are fast and you can rely on them!

He's an answer to a business owner's prayers.

You getting the idea?  Wait....there's more! He's become something of a star in his own right. As a member of the Economic Development team, he's out there not only answering questions, but promoting the industry as well!
In August 2013, Filler attended a Cornell University Extension meeting for new growers and new winery owners as an emissary of the Empire State Development agency's "one stop shop" for wine beer and spirits. He gave a presentation and answered questions related to licensing and other legal aspects of starting a winery.

In September 2013, he attended a Farm Brewery and Cidery Start-up Workshop at Cornell Extension as well.

In November 2013 he was a panelist at the American Farmland Trust discussion on Harvesting Opportunities for wines, beers, spirits, and ciders in New York state. Again he provided answers and shared examples of what others were doing in the industry.

He even appeared on WAMC radio in December 2013, promoting the cider industry. Filler explained that farm brewing, distilling, winemaking and cidermaking (especially in this instance) is all part of a larger plan to aid New York agriculture through an emphasis on the products that can be made from crops.

“As an Orchard, instead of selling just raw apples, you can take them and turn them into a vodka, or turn them into a brandy, or turn them into a hard cider, and get even more value out of them,” Filler said.

In February 2014 he stopped by the famed Jimmy Carbone's radio show. Jimmy Carbone discussed the state of beer in New York State! Jimmy was joined in the studio by the Beer Czar of New York, Sam Filler. Carbone talked with Sam  and how he helps facilitate local beer production using regional grains and hops.

He's so in demand he's been on conference calls regarding industry meetings with Economic Development concerning our industries with Virginia business leaders (just this past February) looking to hear his insights, thoughts, and answers.

But the real proof in the value of Sam Filler goes back to that applause. When you've got this crowd that excited, you've done something really right. Conversations and comments from the back of the room included, things like... "Great guy!"..."They better never let that kid go!"..."Straight shooter"..."Best thing that ever happened to us!"

Now, we all know that it's NYSLA Chairman Rosen and his lieutenant Tom Donahue, that back up Filler and make him so valuable. And that they are the real power behind the curtain so to speak. But it is also a testament to their cooperation with Governor Cuomo that Sam's job exists at all. And a sign of the fundamental changes going on over at the NYSLA.

That said, you need a smart, reliable, straight forward person on the end of the line who people can count on and know as sound and responsible. That's Sam Filler.

THAT's why he's so popular!