It's impressive to me how Long Island wines, on the whole, have improved over the past few years. Sure, there are still plenty of clunkers to be tasted, but it seems like the middle-of-the-road wines are better and the regions best wines are that much better lately.
But good juice is only part of the package. To sell improving that wine, Long Island wineries need to market and promote themselves. Wine isn't a "build it and they will come" sort of industry.
Local producers do seem to be getting better at building relationships with their customers and attracting new ones. I'm seeing more events that go beyond the tried, true and boring "come to our winery, drink some wine and listen to some mediocre band" events. Several local wineries have upgraded their websites of late too--a welcome and long overdue bit of news.
Speaking of new strategies, Palmer Vineyards is using America's past time to reach out to a new group of people who may or may not remember that there are world-class wines made so close to home.
In early August, Palmer signed on as the official winery of both the New York Yankees and New York Mets Radio Networks for the rest of the current season--making it the first winery ever to sponsor a Yankees or Mets radio broadcast.
The arrangement builds upon owner Bob Palmer's idea to win over the largely beer-drinking sports crowd--an effort that began earlier this year with a deal to be the only wine sold at New York Islanders hockey games at the Nassau Coliseum.
Palmer, a veteran advertising executive, told me in a recent email that "As a long-time sports fan, I have always been convinced that wine had a place in beverage selections while enjoying sports. I thought that if we could make a go of it with hockey, the least likely "wine friendly" sport, then we could expand to other sports venues."
And expand they have. By inking the deal with both local baseball teams, Palmer's name will be reaching millions of people with each broadcast. The Yankees draw an estimated 1.8 million to 2.1 million listeners per game through their flagship station WCBS (880 AM), according to Wax. Mets broadcasts reach 1.3 million to 1.5 million listeners through flagship station WFAN (660 AM).
Talking about the success he's had with the Islanders, Palmer said "[We've] had frequent visitors to the winery who have told the staff that they came because they had the wines at an Islanders game."
Certainly, Palmer is trying something different here, and this sort of creativity isn't always prevalent in local wine marketing efforts.
And he knows he's trying something different that other wineries may not see value in.
"I do not expect other wineries to join this effort. That is not the point. If, in the future, maybe, just maybe, if all of the industry starts the think 'outside the box', we can expand wine consumption beyond its current boundaries.
Only time will tell just what impact this "wine and sports" effort will have. But at the very least Palmer Vineyards is trying something new. I'm not sure that it's exactly what the region needs to make it to the next level, but the region definitely needs more new ideas, not just more of the same.