• The writer is president of the New York Wine & Grape Foundation, the trade group that lobbies on behalf of the state’s wine industry as well as providing competitions, tastings and disseminating educational information to the public at large.
By Jim Trezise
Now that 2010 is nearly behind us, what are the challenges for 2011? Quality, recognition of quality, direct-to-consumer sales, broader distribution, economic protection, and unity.
Quality is the first of the New York Wine & Grape Foundation’s strategic goals for the industry, accompanied by productivity and social responsibility. That goal is reflected in the millions of dollars we have invested in great research and extension by Cornell University, which is reflected both in the vineyards and in the bottle. Without quality in the bottle, consumers will not buy a second — not just of the same wine, or from the same winery, but often from the entire region. The quality of New York wines has multiplied in the past two decades, but further improvements are still key.
Recognition of quality is nearly as important, by spreading the word that New York wines are a reliable investment of money and taste. Our wine competitions program, which encourages New York wineries to enter major wine competitions by reducing their fees, has helped to create widespread awareness of a broad array of New York wine types and styles from various regions. Similarly, favorable ratings from influential wine writers and publications are key to enhancing the image — and sales.
Direct-to-consumer sales have been, and will be, increasingly important for the economic viability of New York’s wine industry. Whether in the tasting room, at farmers’ markets or festivals, the direct connection is not only the best economically but also in terms of building brand awareness and loyalty. This is especially true as the number of wineries grows and the number of wholesalers/distributors continues to shrink dramatically.
Broader Distribution: For New York wineries of sufficient size, achieving regional or national distribution is key to continuing growth and recognition. Our three major competing states — California, Washington, and Oregon — are far ahead of us largely because their wines are nationally available, even from wineries the same size as many in New York. And that’s not to mention the wines of Australia, Chile, France, Italy, Spain, and many other countries with much broader distribution than ours.
Economic Protection: Just as the weather climate is key to growing good grapes to make good wines, the business climate is key to ensuring industry growth. In a word, politics. There are many threats to the business climate these days, from potential excise tax increases to the wholesalers’ CARE Act (H.R. 5034) in Congress that could erode many of the privileges that have enabled the New York wine industry to survive, grow, and prosper. We need to all work together — through Farm Bureau, WineAmerica, FIVS, and other organizations — to protect and advance our industry’s interests.
Unity: Diversity is our strength, unity is our power. That has been my sermon for the past 25 years, and it is now truer than ever. Ours is an industry of different regions, different grape varieties, different wineries, different philosophies, and different people. That is a strength. Just as New York is the most vibrant city on the planet because of its diversity of people, our industry benefits from the diversity we represent. But what will enable us to continue and prevail is to both recognize that strength, and to embrace the power of all of us working together: unity.
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