By Evan Dawson, Finger Lakes Correspondent
I realize the first solution is to offer quality wine. Let's start with the premise that New York wine is of higher quality than many people probably assume.
There's a new "Buy Local" campaign afoot in the Finger Lakes, and unlike many well-intentioned but ultimately misguided efforts, this one strikes me as simple and effective.
Joanna Purdy created two posters for Fox Run Vineyards, and the posters will be made available to other wineries and organizations that would like to use them in some fashion. One of the posters (at right) is directly evocative of J. Howard Miller's famous "We Can Do It" poster from 1942, which successfully stirred nationalistic fervor (and, in particular, the powerful role that women played) during the war.
Purdy says the posters come at a time of economic hardship for many Americans. "It's a reminder of other tough times, and we're trying to capture the spirit that says a large group of people can get behind a cause."
The poster strikes me as strong and clear, and there's an added bonus: Asking wine drinkers to buy local might feel like a sacrifice if they haven't experienced NY wines, but it's likely they'll become life-long local wine drinkers because the product is better than they expect.
Now, convincing local restaurants to carry New York wines is another issue entirely. In the Finger Lakes, restaurants near the waters' edges are passionately local with their wine lists. But in Rochester, Syracuse, Buffalo and the rest of the state, it's often very difficult to find local wines. If there are a few those lists, you can expect to see a small group of usual suspects.
So what to do? Some wineries are giving small cards to members of their wine clubs with courteous but pointed messages; the members are asked to leave the card with their waiter or waitress at the conclusion of a meal if the restaurant does not carry NY wines. Casa Larga Vineyards, for example, began a card campaign about eight months ago. The cards say simply:
I very much enjoyed your food and service. Please consider adding Casa Larga to your wine list.
"We've had a slow trickle of feedback from restaurants, but we expect it to be a slow process," explains Casa Larga's marketing director, Stacy Kurtz. The approach has to be constructive and courteous, Kurtz says. "We don't want to attack restaurants. We don't want to come at this in a negative light. We want to work with them in a positive way to improve their wine list and increase Finger Lakes wine availability."
"More restaurants carried our wines twenty years ago compared to today," says John McGregor of McGregor Vineyard and Winery on Keuka Lake. He says meeting individually with restaurtants has its drawbacks. "I could strike up a partnership with a restaurant, but there's a high turnover rate in restaurant management. Often the new managers come in and shake up their menu or wine lists, and we have to start over again. On top of that, it's enormously time-consuming to drive from restaurant to restaurant. And when you think you've got a good thing going, a distributor will often come in and tell the managers, 'Listen, I can save you a couple bucks a bottle with something else.' So it's frustrating."
McGregor says there's no easy solution to changing the abstemious approach many restaurtants take to NY wine, but he supports the idea of leaving cards at restaurants that don't carry local bottles. "The New York Wine and Grape Foundation liked that idea, and I've seen stacks of cards. Any small step is progress."