Sunday, April 5, 2009

Time to uncork a new baseball season

Recovering from the wedding and reception Saturday of Stephanie Madden and Steve Snyder, and just relishing the opening of the 2009 baseball season. So pardon me for taking a day off and just swapping out these two excerpts from Jim Trezise, who puts together the New York Wine & Grape Foundation's e-letter. Have news to post Monday from an interview that I did the end of last week with Mike Fiore at Fiore Winery in Pylesville, Md., and then will get my butt in gear again and get back to doing more of what I've set up to do with this blog.

THOUSAND ISLANDS REGION bordering the St. Lawrence Seaway, which separates northern New York from Canada, has become one of the most exciting in New York State, despite the fact that no one ever dreamed there would be grapes and wine there. (“It’s north of the Arctic circle”, I joked at the Unity Banquet before presenting the Winery Award to Steve Conaway of Thousand Islands Winery.) Last May, the wineries and growers asked me to visit the region and give them advice. I had none: They were already doing everything right—working together (always #1), doing their homework ahead of time, planting the right grapes (cold-hardy Minnesota varieties like Edelweiss—one of my favorites—and Frontenac), connecting with their surrounding communities and local media, keeping statistics on their economic impact, and educating public officials at all levels of government about their presence and importance. What else is there? I learned from them, not they from me. But most inspiring is the incredible passion and enthusiasm that, quite frankly, is often lacking in more established regions. (I also see this in Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska and other Midwestern states when I speak there.) There was an entire van load of people who endured a long roundtrip to the Unity Banquet to applaud one of their own and take pride in their region. It’s very inspiring and uplifting, and our Board of Directors will have its summer meeting right in their backyard—on an island in the middle of the St. Lawrence Seaway.

STATE BUDGET was passed by the Assembly on Tuesday and the Senate a few days later due to the hospitalization of a Senator whose vote was needed. The next stop is the desk of Governor David Paterson: The budget is actually a law (with lots of numbers and fine print), so it doesn’t actually take effect until he signs it, which is expected. Of the three major wine-related issues interwoven into this year’s budget process, the wine excise tax will increase from 19 to 30 cents (vs. the 51 originally proposed); the New York Wine & Grape Foundation will survive for another year and be able to conduct its core research and promotion programs; and the Governor’s proposal to allow wine sales in grocery stores died in final negotiations, though it may be revived outside of the budget. In fact, it’s likely the budget itself will be revisited, perhaps as early as June and maybe after that as well, depending on the status of the financial crisis and its effect on Wall Street (which accounts for about 20% of New York’s total tax revenues). So any budget that we theoretically have may end up being “adjusted”, and it definitely won’t be upward. Regardless of what happens, we are deeply grateful to Assembly Agriculture Committee Chairman Bill Magee, Assemblyman David Koon, and Senators Darrell Aubertine and Dave Valesky for their strong support. This tenuous situation shows how smart our colleagues in Washington State are by financing their programs from the private sector (self-assessments of wineries and growers), which shelters them from shifting political winds and economic meltdowns. Oh, well, I guess I’ll have a glass of wine.