Saturday, December 13, 2008

NY wines sales potential: $7 billion

Out of the New York Wine & Grape Foundation's weekly e-letter, these notes on the industry as it relates to the economy, and also a paragraph on the quality of the recently complete harvest. Just as an aside, I've heard mixed reactions from those talking about this 2008 vintage, although the overall reaction leans toward very positive. While a couple of winemakers and owners have raved about it, the majority seem to be happy with the year but somewhat reserved about the breadth of its quality compared to last year's. Of course, the finally grades really can't be handed out for a year, or two, or three.

WINE GRAPE TASK FORCE delivered its final report to Agriculture & Markets Commissioner Patrick Hooker this week, providing over two dozen specific recommendations in four major areas to enhance the future economic viability of the state’s grape and wine industry. Commissioner Hooker, a great advocate of our industry since his days at New York Farm Bureau, assembled the 15-member task force about a year ago to provide guidance in important policy areas. Chaired by Kareem Massoud of Long Island’s Paumanok Vineyards and with all winegrowing areas of the state represented, the task force meetings began with an open slate that we quickly transformed into four major areas: State Liquor Authority; Environment and Sustainability; Wine Promotion and Marketing; and Economic Development. We also defined an overall goal of doubling our industry’s economic impact to New York State in five years. A few years ago, the New York Wine & Grape Foundation commissioned a study showing that our industry generates $3.4 billion annually in economic benefits to New York State. Doubling that would mean nearly $7 billion by 2014, which is certainly ambitious but may well be achievable if the State of New York partners with the industry to make it happen. The 26 recommendations in the report provide specific guidance in that regard, and should be seen as a good starting point for action. The next steps will involve translating the recommendations into reality, either through legislation, regulatory changes, or budget items. The Department has done a superb job coordinating the activities of the task force, and we look forward to working with them on implementing various measures. A copy of the report is available at the Department’s web site (
AUTO INDUSTRY is essentially the opposite of the wine industry in terms of the economic spirals that can take place. The intense focus by Washington and Wall Street on the Big Three automakers reflects deep concern about the downward spiral that will take place if one or more enters bankruptcy. There are the direct effects on the companies themselves (especially their employees), the indirect effects on all their suppliers, and the induced effects on the communities where the companies and suppliers do business. Down, down, down. Conversely, a growth industry like wine creates an upward spiral of new investment, jobs, tax revenues, and a positive multiplier effect on many related parts of the economy like manufacturing (presses, tanks, barrels), packaging (bottles, labels, boxes), and tourism (hotels, restaurants, gas stations). In New York State, the grape and wine industry has emerged from economic crisis in the early 1980’s to being the fastest growing industry in the agriculture and tourism sectors. A study by New York Agriculture Statistics Service conducted in 2004 showed how the industry has grown since 1985 when the New York Wine & Grape Foundation was created. The results were dramatic, and the growth has been accelerating in recent years, so I’m hoping to update the study next year with 2008 data. This doesn’t mean that everything is rosy in wineland—like the rest of the country, we are affected by the broad economic downturn and troubling outlook—but our continued growth can provide a big boost at a time when New York’s economy clearly needs it. That’s why the public-private partnership is so vital to all: If the State enacts enlightened public policy creating a better business climate, we will contribute even more than we do now. Let’s hope 2009 will be a year of bold new initiatives.
2008 VINTAGE got an “A” grade in the Finger Lakes and a “B” on Long Island in the Wine Spectator’s recent preliminary ratings on line. These basically provide a quick, post-harvest assessment of how the year shaped up, which is often (but not always) indicative of how the wines will fare several months or years from now. Separately, the magazine’s James Molesworth posted an article about older Finger Lakes Rieslings to see how they would age (“They all aged nicely”). Top scores from the blind tasting included 89 for the Lakewood 1990 and Red Newt 2001, and 88 for Dr. Frank 1996 Semi-Dry which a decade ago received an 83 (so yes, it had aged nicely). The recent Riesling Fellowship sponsored by Wines of Germany provided dramatic evidence that Rieslings from around the world age very nicely, even though many people think that only big reds benefit from age.

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