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Promote New York wines and watch state revenues grow

As the operator of one of New York State's oldest wineries (1872), there are a few constants we have observed over the years: the weather will be fickle, the debate on wine in grocery stores will never end and New York State will do relatively little to promote New York wines. But as a farmer I am optimistic, so maybe this year we can see real change.

I have long opposed wine in grocery stores because I believe it's bad for small wineries like Eagle Crest Vineyards. A study last year said it would boost sales of New York wines by a measly 5 percent, but the study didn't account for the loss of nearly 1,000 mom-and-pop stores. The claim that wine in grocery stores will help New York wines is not supported by the facts.

Given that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo did not include this in his budget, I believe there is an opportunity to pursue a better way forward for our entire industry. The idea is simple: Promote New York wines here at home, educate consumers about the great wines we now make and watch consumer demand for New York wines soar.

It doesn't matter where you sell New York wine if consumers don't yet want it. The hard truth that we as an industry must face is that not enough consumers seek out New York wines. New Yorkers like wine -- among the 50 states we are No. 2 in wine consumption -- but too often it is wines from other states or countries flying off the shelves.

We can change this with a little help from New York State. Just last month, the Italian government spent millions of dollars on a wine-tasting event featuring wines from all over Italy. It took up two floors of a major New York hotel, but will pay for itself many times over as these wines sell all across the United States. This is not the exception, it is the rule as states like California, Washington and Oregon, and countries like Chile, France, Spain and Australia, regularly promote their wines in New York City.

Unfortunately, New York State is not yet a player in major wine markets like New York City. And New York wineries are too small individually to mount a major marketing campaign. We need to work together in a private/public partnership to promote New York wines. All we ask is for parity of effort and investment to match the promotions of wineries from other states and nations. I know these are tough times, but we all know that you have to invest money to make money, and New York wine is a good investment.

The New York wine industry is responsible for thousands of jobs all across the state and produces more than $3.5 billion annually in economic activity through wine sales and wine tourism. With a small investment, say $3 million in a promotion campaign, we can create more jobs and generate more revenue for the state. Sales of New York wines will increase and wine tourism will continue to grow.

That is why Eagle Crest Vineyards and wineries from every region of the state are supporting the creation of a New York Wine Council. We continue to support the New York Wine and Grape Foundation, which has successfully nurtured the growth of many wineries and is critical to overcoming the agricultural challenges growers face every year. But the time has come for additional resources. We call for a new entity to lead a promotional campaign, perhaps under the I Love New York banner, to help our industry and state soar.

There is little we can do about the weather, and the endless debate on wine in grocery stores is largely beyond our control. But maybe 2011 is the year New York State will recognize a better plan that can create jobs and new revenue from Long Island to Niagara and from the Hudson Valley to the Thousand Islands and the Finger Lakes.

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Will Ouweleen is owner of Eagle Crest Vineyards in Conesus.

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