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August 11, 2008


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Lenn, I understand your frustration over NY wineries comparing themselves to other regions of the wine world in order to attract interest. However, I do like the idea of calling attention to the similarities in terroir of other regions to those found here in New York. (Not sure that this applies to California as this ad states) I think that our regions are still working to elevate the image and reputation of NY for producing world-class wine consistently, so looking for ways to break down the barriers of prejudice that some skeptical wine drinkers and restaurant wine buyers have is still a priority. Perhaps coupling a comparison of terroir and the trend toward eating and drinking locally is a viable strategy to provide an alternative for those looking to explore their favorite wine types while leaving a low carbon footprint.

Melissa, thanks for the comment...but I think there is a disconnect here. Since you're up in the Finger Lakes, we'll use that region for this discussion.

Are Finger Lakes riesling as good, in terms of quality, as the great riesling regions of the world (Alsace, German, Austria)? I think they are, but are they really LIKE those wines? Absolutely not.

Whether or not you believe in the mystical thing that is terroir, I think we can all agree that no two places can have the same terroir. Just as Alsace, the Mosel and Austria are different places, producing different kinds/styles of riesling, so too is the Finger Lakes region.

For years, Long Island producers have used comparisons to Bordeaux to market their wares, but that's largely marketing too. Long Island's merlots are fruitier and more approachable in their youth. They are only "Bordeaux-esque" in that they aren't California extracted, fruit bombs.

As long as any region markets itself by comparing itself to one of the more established regions in the world, it will always be secondary to those established regions. LI wineries are moving away from the Bordeaux comparisons and I think the Finger Lakes wineries are too.

Fact is, as delicious as some FL rieslings are, they are NOT the same as similar-quality rieslings from Alsace/Germany/Austria. They are Finger Lakes rieslings, and that is a good thing.

Thank you for clarifying, Lenn! Your points are well-taken. I have been putting some thought to the state of the wine industry in New York and have been mulling over ideas that would win over those who remain skeptical. I'm still searching for the magic bullet, but have been encouraged by recent accolades of the Finger Lakes region by wine writers such as USA Today's Jerry Shriver and Wine & Spirits Magazine's Joshua Greene. Joshua calls the Alsace a sister region to the Finger Lakes because of its offerings of great Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir. I see from your response that he may mean that the regions are sisters in that they offer similar wine types, not that there are similarities in their terroirs. They are each great in their own offerings and yet distinctly different in flavor profiles if I now understand correctly?

I certainly hope that he means that the wine types are similar. To say that the terroirs are similar doesn't work for my understanding/thought of what terroir is.

I prefer to read that the wines are excellent, not that they are like "so and so" region.

Lenn - I agree with what your synposis is - for the most part - but your forgetting the historical context of how this region has developed. Long Island has used the comparisons to Bordeaux based on the real documentation of climatic and soil data that is now well known. At the time - and this is now going back over 20 years - many producers did not fully understand the growing conditions of Long Island. It was a very useful tool in helping producers understand their terroir and what we were working with. It was also important in that it helped us as well as our customers understand the style of the wines we were making.
Bear in mind at that time, American wine was just beginning to become dominated by the big, high alcohol, overly-oaked and over-ripe "west-coast style." If you were an American producer, it didn't matter where you were locate - that was what the consumers and critics thought about and compared you to. The Bordeaux comparisons provided the proper context for the region to develop and move forward and allowed critics and consumers alike a way to better understand what were trying to do in our own region.
Also, just as some other wineries like to use Friuli as well as a few other regions as a comparison, its about comparing wine styles and sharing information in order to improve and evolve upon what we do at home.

We continue to move forward with developing our own identity, further our understanding of our terroir and use techniques to allow it to express itself. But its not clear where we would be today as an industry if we had not recognized years ago, that we needed to break away from the common expectations and tastes of the west coast wine industry and worked towards an understanding of our own wines, in our own region - with a little help from our friends in the old world.

Rich...thanks for chiming in. I actually didn't forget about the history at all!

In this case, I'm talking about using these comparisons purely from a marketing standpoint... not when it comes to a new and emerging region understanding itself.

Clearly the Bordeaux comparison was used as a tool in the early development of Long Island's wine community, but over time most have recognized the need to stand alone.

But, it's a much different wine world than you faced 20 and 30 years ago. Even if NY isn't always thought of as a great wine U.S. wine region, places like Washington and Oregon most definitely are.

Maybe I'm not seeing it (or maybe they did it in the past) but I don't see Oregon pinot producers talking about Burgundy much.

It's also important to point out that this ad references "California" and "France"...nothing as focused as "Bordeaux."

To me, it's just marketing to the lowest common denominator. I'm surprised that they didn't mention "Italy" too.

While I totally support our colleagues at Millbrook for encouraging people in the greater New York region to explore the local vineyards and wineries of Long Island, Hudson Valley and the Finger Lakes and become knowledgeable about New York wines, their marketing people did do the wine industry a disservice by generalizing California and France as if those two words summarize excellent wine making.

If I were asked to write a similar ad I would have substituted “California’s Central Coast” and “France’s Bordeaux” regions to promote Long Island wines, as Richard has eloquently written in his posting, unfortunately it is still important to place the New York wine regions into context of the more widely known and understood wine regions for many consumers who still have not purchased quality New York wines. To far too many wine buyers, New York wines still represent lower quality, and perhaps value, but not high quality.

At the Long Island Merlot Alliance, in addition to focusing on means to improve Long Island merlot varietal viticulture and Merlot winemaking, working with the Long Island Wine Council we continue to strive to promote the uniqueness of the East End terroir and the world class wines that are being produced on Long Island. Look for increased efforts by New York wine organizations to persuade people in the greater New York region to select local quality for their wines, just as they now look locally for their quality produce, meat and seafood.

Yes Lenn - I'm very aware - every day - of the wine world I live in! Just trying to provide a little background info for all you young guys...lol.
I don't believe marketing yourself to be like another region is a good idea - after awhile it kills your creativity. I'm also aware that it takes time to develop a regional identity we are well on our way. Every region goes through it - and yes years ago Oregon talked a great deal about Burgundy and how their terroir was more like Burgundy than California's. It's all part of the process of evolution. One just has to recognize when its time to cut the apron strings and go it alone with what you have. That's where we are now as a region and in that I'm in complete agreement with you.

I think this whole debate could be avoided with the slightest change in the marketing language:

"More beautiful than France. Better tasting than California."

Let's face it - from a marketing perspective, these comparisons happen everyday.

It is almost a shame that American wines don't have their own specific regional names. As an implant from Europe wines over here are very different - even though coming from an original grape stock from the old company.

Very few (Dr Franks being one notable exception) Finger Lakes wines hae made any impression in Europe and most Europeans view American Wine to be from California.

A partial reason for this could be the fact that so many of the Finger Lakes Wineries are 'subsistence wines' ie the whole crop needs t picked, made and sold ASAP to keep the wolf from the door. There are exceptions who lay down wines for several years (Red Newt for instance) but these tend to be more expensive.

There really needs to be a concerted effort to get people to view Finger Lakes wines in an open light and no to compare them to old world wines. You an find some truly deightful wines at a moderate price; - Keuka Lake Vineyards '07 Vignole springs to mind.

Just a rant.... sorry....

It's been a couple weeks since I bought the Sunday paper (probably not since I saw that ad originally). However I did pick it up yesterday and much preferred the headline in the ad Millbrook is currently running: "Interested in wines? Come see the vines." I was happy to see something new.

A local winery here in Massachusetts made these little tags... they read "From the Napa Valley of the North East". When I read it my heart stopped. I felt sick to my stomach the rest of the day. Actually, it made me really sad and I wish I had not seen those damn tags. This winery is actually very "close" to me but I try to stay clear of marketing matters. I had already forgotten until I read this post today... so thanks Len for making me want to puke again.

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