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August 25, 2009

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In sum, you are asking that the Classic conduct itself as if the audience was the wider world of wine, not the tight-knit group of wineries and retailers in New York State.

Culturally, that is a huge shift. The way that most of the promotional organizations are structured tends to highlight the insular view of New York wine within New York. Basically, it's like trying to conduct economic development by focusing on all the petty concerns of your immediate neighbors but completely ignoring improvement of those qualities that will solicit outside investment.

The result is an industry that is constantly trying to sell more wine on Long Island and in the Finger Lakes, but is finding difficulty exporting these wines to a wider audience. The growth has, in many ways, hit a ceiling.

That wider audience needs to be courted. Some wineries have had limited success through improved quality, but the Classic is an opportunity to grab attention all at once for the sake of the entire industry.

I think all of your suggestions, if implemented, would attract the attention of major publications, restaurant owners, retailers, and others. It won't work overnight, but a recurring event in NYC with streamlined categories would eventually be a boon to the business!

It's good to read that Michigan isn't the only "emerging" state with issues surrounding its wine competition. (We, too, failed to award a Best Sparkling this year -- viewed by some as a highly controversial decision.)

What our states share is clear from both the original post and Jason's comment: both want to use their competitions to attract wider audiences to their wines. But that inevitably means changing the way it's "always been done", and ruffling some feather in the process.

And with the emergence of regional wine bloggers who aren't necessarily industry sycophants, it also means a willingness on the part of the industry to subject themselves to more media scrutiny and -- yes -- criticism than they've been accustomed to. That's not always easy, either.

Evan and Lenn-

While I agree with many of your points, I have to take exception with the idea that native and hybrid wines be excluded. While I fully agree that vinifera wines are going to lead the charge with critics and advance the image of New York wine on the whole, I think the statement that "the state has grown well beyond its focus on those grapes" is not entirely accurate. While much of the mainstream media's focus tends to focus on vinifera (and to some degree "finer" hybrids) there is still a great quantity of native wine being made here. I don't have statistics at hand, but I would venture to guess that in terms of gallons produced natives and hybrids outnumber vinifera. Just because we might not necessary have native wines on our own tables (although I occasionally do) doesn't meant that they aren't enjoyed by thousands of wine drinkers throughout the country.

I could not agree with you more. NYC is the perfect location for the competition. Period

I really don't understand the whole "did not produce enough cases to get the best of award". If one of the benefits of the "Classic" is to help promote and sell NYS wine, then who cares how many cases one produces. What, is the "Classic" afraid that the vineyard will sell out in a week if not enough cases are produced? It just does not make sense.

Furthermore, if Shinn knew that was the deal, would they have submitted that Brut?

I know if it were me, and I was Shinn, I would second guess submitting next year. Just my opinon.

A real slap in the face by the "Classic" to Shinn Estate Vineyard, (Congratulations, you had the best Sparkling Wine, but you did not produce enough cases, so you don't get the award of Best Sparkling Wine). That would totally piss me off if I were Barbara, David or Anthony at Shinn Estate Vineyards.

And that is a huge goof up the "Classic" did with the Pinot Noir. Shame on them.

If the "Classic" wants to be respected and help promote wine of NYS, they sould take a good look at all of these suggestions and obversations. Take the criticisim "Classic" it will do you and the rest of the NYS Wine Regions well and put us on the map. This is what it is all about, right? We have great wine regions and we need to promote them and prove to the world that New York State Wine has what it takes to compete nationally and globaly in every market. We have what it takes to be on every wine list in every restaurant in NY and across the world.

Lets make this legit and competitive and worthwile for every, EVERY SINGLE WINERY, in NY to submit to the Classic.

Joel - We know that those involved mean well, but we think the short-term goal of providing marketing vehicles for wineries obscures the larger goal of proving that NY is a much more serious wine state than ever before. We expect that NYWGF might view our position as not beneficial to business, and in the short run that might be true, but in the long run our suggestions will only strengthen the state's reputation and business credibility.

Ian - Again I stress our exact words: "This is not to say that hybrids and natives should be ignored. Both have earned their significant place in the New York wine landscape." We couldn't be clearer that we recognize their value and want to see them remain in the awards categories. We're simply suggesting they reduce the number of hybrid and native awards.

Going more deeply, let's look at the category of "Best Native Blush." Are there winemakers out there who are carefully crafting native blushes with the goal of making it a stunning, memorable wine? Probably not. And that's fine! Hybrid blush wines are for drinking now, enjoying casually, without much thought. The concept of having a "best of" category indicates there are some winemakers who are exerting extra special care for this kind of wine. And I just can't see that - I wouldn't were I making wine, and again I think that's fine!

Perhaps a better approach would be to start the LENNDEVOURS New York Wine Competition?

Evan - Exactly.

Someone closely connected with the MI Competition dismissed several criticisms by simply telling me that it was "for the wineries, not consumers".

It appears that the same mindset may dominate in NY. Your short-term vs. long-term analysis is apropos to both states.

Good suggestions on an important topic. (Although I had hoped you would address important points about the winery of the year selection process.)

I'm not sure how moving to NYC will, in and of itself, elevate the profile of the event. Wine competitions are not meant to be public. Having judged a "public" competition, I can say that most judges felt being put on display was a distraction. Unless your nose is in a glass, its not terribly exciting.

The NYW&GF made such a move in past, moving the competition to Copia in Napa for several years. Other than inviting West Coast judges, what traction they got from that I can't say.
A Wine & Food Classic gold medal event NYC highling the wines -- rather than the process -- I can see. But I seriously question if Eric Asimov,Elin McCoy and Aldo Sohm are going to turn out the watch Harvey Reissig in his lab coat dutifully judging Traminette, dashing though he is.

David--I agree completely that moving to NYC is not a silver bullet, and obviously some of the early elements of the competition would have to remain somewhat closed (isn't it usually the ceremony afterward that is the big bruh-ha-ha?).

Anyway, even if it takes a handful years to get some truly VIP guests, there will undoubtedly be enthusiasts, bloggers, restuaruant owners, and the like who will trickle in from time to time. These people will help expand the region's reputation considerably! Reporters from major publications might not cover the story right away, but since it's in their neighborhood, why not stop in at some point?

It's not a direct line of progress, but it has potential for greater exposure, and that has to be the goal of any event.

Let me further explain why moving to NYC is a good idea in our minds.

1) Like it or not, there's a perception of bias on the part of more than a few NY wineries. They're concerned that this is a Finger Lakes love fest. The event feels like a road game for some of them. They might not say so publicly, but Lenn and I have heard it.

2) Similar to the May Riesling release at Astor, you can make the results a big party and invite the press to special tastings. Round up the gold medal winners and Best Of wines. While Lenn and I don't love the idea of emphasizing medals too much, it's a nice way to put wines in front of more mainstream media and writers who might otherwise not cover this event. Crank it up.

3) While in NYC, it could be more opportunity for wineries to spend their time trying to crack into new places. The future of financial success for many NY wineries is in distribution and in breaking into markets like NY, Boston, etc.

I know that none of the contributors here are in the "This is a Finger Lakes Love Fest" camp, but I have to say that that is such a lame complaint. No matter where the competition is held (and it has been held in California as well as all over this state), the wines that receive the highest and most consistent accolades tend to be those that are members of NY's strongest suit...that would be Riesling. The judges in this competition are extraordinarily professional and open-minded, and as such are entirely justified in describing FL Rieslings as "stunning", a comment I hear all the time.

Peter, I don't disagree with you -- the judges are all qualified, and you know that I think highly of Finger Lakes riesling.

Interesting that you'd call out riesling as "NY's strongest suit." That's a pretty Finger Lakes-biased comment, isn't it? ;)

I don't hear you arguing against New York City though, correct?

Lenn,

Personal preferences aside, the comment I hear from wine pros all over the world is "your Rieslings are awesome" or some variation on that theme. This is not mere regional bias. Sorry, but I really don't think that kind of hyperbole can be aptly applied to any other varietals made in this state, delicious and distinctive as they might be.

Long Island, Hudson Valley, etc. representatives are more than welcome to weigh in here, as are my Finger Lakes colleagues.

Lot's of comments to catch up on here, so let me at least try...

Joel: I have a feeling that most wine competitions put on outside of the Cali/Wash/Oreg trio deal with these issues. Maybe even competitions within those states. Looking at these things honestly, without ego is the only way that they'll improve.

Ian: Evan covered this well. We understand and appreciate the place hybrids and natives have earned in the New York wine world. But the fact is, until the focus is set more squarely on vinifera wines across the state, it's never going to get the attention and respect it deserves.

Brandon: You never know what may happen.

Dave: I think you're missing the point a bit with this. We know that Asimov et al aren't going to actually ATTEND the judging, but just having it in NYC opens up a great many opportunities (as Evan mentioned) to have media gathers before and after. Is there a better place in the country to get NY wines in front of more restaurants?


Lenn,

As Finger Lakes editor, I don't think it's biased of me to say that Riesling, and in particular Finger Lakes Riesling, is what this state does best. But "best" is such a nebulous term, and I don't mean to lord it over other appellations. I just find it to be a simple statement of empirical observation. We've reached a level with many producers that is consistently world-class. The nice thing is that Long Island is also crafting world-class wines.

I guess I'm just saying I don't find it particularly controversial to say that Riesling is NY's strongest suit. But that's not the focus here - and again, it's not like Riesling is NY's only quality grape.

As far as Peter's comment about the concern of bias being lame, I'll stand by my call to move it to NYC for two reasons: 1) Lame or not, perception matters, and 2) As stated in previous comments, there are other serious benefits to going there.

As expected, I'm getting some feedback on this post, via email, from people who don't want to publish their comments publicly with their names.

One member of the New York wine industry agree to allow me to publish his comments here anonymously though:

"Good post, I think you’re right on with those points.

I’m surprised no one alleged bias, but of course there’s no way to prove that.

Also, I would challenge anyone to find another major wine region in the WORLD that still relies so heavily on totally inferior hybrids, and then celebrates their mediocrity with medals.

When hybrids are gone we can begin talking about upstate NY as world class. At least Lemberger is a (small) step in the right direction.

Hybrids are what stands between Upstate NY and serious consideration by the rest of the world."

For the record, I agree that NYC is a perfect place to hold the competition.

"Hybrids are what stands between Upstate NY and serious consideration by the rest of the world."

Isn't that a bit like saying that Hollywood will never get respect until it stops cranking out pornographic movies?

Peter and Evan,

My issue is with picking any single grape that New York does best. The regions are just SO different across the state.

Would you say that "California does cabernet sauvignon best?" Maybe, but that'd be ignoring other, non-Napa/Sonoma regions that are doing other grapes at just as high a level.

And I happen to agree that Finger Lakes rieslings are awesome and distinctive. So this isn't about that.

Peter,

I think that comparison almost works, but doesn't in the end.

We can all agree that the porn industry is completely separate from "core" Hollywood, right?

And let's remember that porn industry has its own awards, not categories within the Academy Awards.

"And let's remember that porn industry has its own awards, not categories within the Academy Awards."

I did not know that, but you have just scored a point.

Happy to educate, Peter.

3 years living in a fraternity house has proven useful after all.

Perhaps the whole riesling versus other NY varietals issue can be framed this way:

Different regions in NY make some well-known varietals very well and with some distinction. Rieslings stands out the most because nearly all other major U.S. regions struggle a bit more with this grape and make it in relatively small quantities. There is an opening and demand for quality riesling in the broader wine market that NY and perhaps some other cool-climate regions can fill.

So, you can still argue with salient points that some LI merlot is preferrable to many California styles, for example, but it still makes a lot of sense why riesling will always garner a little bit more attention from outside observers.

Not to lose track of the original point: if the categories are streamlined in the competition, medal-earning riesling can help highlight other quality varietals that will undoubtedly benefit.

Right now, all the muddled categories don't draw laser-like attention to the real success stories, red or white, Long Island or Finger Lakes.

One thing that we didn't bring up in the original post that I'm curious to hear what everyone thinks about...

Do we really need so many riesling categories?

Does that maybe give the impression of a regional bias?

We all know why the IRF stuff is being pushed with the Classic, but there aren't different cabernet franc categories by tannin level, are there?

Lots to think about here, obviously.

What does a sommelier or wine professional know about a good Catawba or Niagara?

I think they cynically award them points and don't spend half the time pondering the natives and some of the hybrids as they do the vinifera.

Let the people in hot tubs and togas judge those wines. Who cares what a "pro" thinks of Diamond? Let's not pretend they drink them on their own time.

In the wine industry we all know the subjectivity of wine competitions. Yet I am flattered none the less that our wines showed well, to those tasters, on that day.

We make one sparkling wine in a small amount here, all by hand. For me it’s fun and challenging to have some sparkling around. As far as our Sparkling winning the “best of” award it seems humorous that it is OK to submit small production wines, but not to win. And equally ironic that the runner up in this category was our neighbor, Sherwood House’s Blanc de Blanc, which is also ineligible to win due to small production.

Being denied the award has probably given us more attention than if we just were given it. But how does this accolade translate into sales? To my knowledge not one person as of yet, has come into the tasting room to purchase “New York’s Best Sparkling Wine”.

There are many wineries that choose not to participate in this NYWGF tasting, probably for many reasons. I feel in a small community we need to participate as much as we can in industry events, if for nothing else to celebrate our friends and neighbors achievements.

I think the original intention of this post was to suggest changes to the Classic which will better the marketing of the event, to further promote the “New York Brand” as a whole, contrary to the suggestion, that now, this is all just an industry ‘pat each other on the back’ party. If it is, and that is all we want from this event, I am still always happy to participate, and extend my hand to some well deserving wines to give that proverbial pat.

Otherwise I think the suggestions posed by Lenndevours are relevant to better the event.

A few quick thoughts:
First.... only willing to post anonymous comments to a blog? The words need a name to earn respect and to solicit constructive criticism/change.
Second.... "Rieslings stand out most" and are "NY's strongest suit"? Does Riesling garner more medals and high scores than LI Reds by count or by % of production? I don't know the answer, I'm just asking because I know there are a LOT more wineries in the FL and likely a lot more Riesling being produced compared to all of LI's reds. Maybe Riesling shows consistently good quality in the FL as compared to red wines from around the state, but lets face it... Riesling is still a very niche market around the country. I live in Fairfield County and visit dozens of surrounding wine shops. Know how many FL Rieslings I see? Almost none. In fact, the whole varietal is barely represented compared to racks of Cabs, Merlots, Chards, and Zins. I do like a good Riesling now and then, but from a marketing perspective it's not really a glamorous flagship grape to hang medals on (which translates to marketing, hype, word-of-mouth expansion, etc.). And isn't that what NY is vying for?
Maybe its just me, but I believe Bordeaux, Italy, California, and even Washington are way more popular than Germany, Alsace, and Austria because red wine rules the market... no matter how good the Riesling might be. If NY really wants to be considered a mainstream, world class wine producing region, it needs to celebrate wines that are demanded by the world market - - and that means more emphasis (and more positive competition results) will need to stem from red varietals.
Personally, I like NY Cab Franc and Riesling much more than Cab and Chard. But I'm in the minority with my taste preferences, and NY will likely stay in the minority of wine producing regions when those are their best wines.

Hybrids have a place. Period.
Most white wines are improved with 5 or 10 percent cayuga. The Finger Lakes is one of the best places in the world (according to the NYT) to grow seyval, which is pulled out every year, even as it creates wines indistingishable from fine chardonnay and in a growing number of cases, sauvignon blanc. I defy anyone to sort the best traminettes from their gerwurtz parent.
I tire of the snobbery... it's of the same ilk, from the same place, that wrote off all of the east for so many years. Every FLX winemaker has a story about some aged Baco, or DeCh. they pull out and pour from a bag along Bordeaux or Rioja.
Many hybrids, let's remember, came from France, after all. And beleive me, they are still planted there -- Loire, Bordeaux and elsewhere.

David -

You write, "Hybrids have a place. Period."

We wrote, "Hybrids and natives have earned their significant place in the New York wine landscape."

Is anyone saying that hybrids don't have a significant place?

Dave -

I'm not sure it's possible for me to respectfully disagree more with your comments. And that's the beauty of healthy dialogue, right?

First of all, this debate is getting tired; Riesling and Cab Franc are indeed our best wines (no doubting Riesling and Cab Franc is near the top of the red list at the very least). Your suggestions are based solely on marketing hype and popular wines in other regions. Everyone knows that Chardonnay and Cab Sauv have strong positions in the American wine market. I suppose that if you're not committed to making the very best wine you can make in a given site, you'll plant more of what you observe to be working elsewhere. The problem is that great wine doesn't work like that.

But more significantly, our views diverge at this important point: I believe that if you truly discover greatness, it will eventually become a valuable asset. You seem to believe that it's more important to assess the short-term monetary value based on other markets and make decisions accordingly. Respect in the wine world does not come quickly. It is earned through years of hard work and consistency.

Or, shorter version: Not too long ago you would have been the guy saying in Mendoza, "Argentina will stay in the minority of wine producing regions if this strange, rarely heard of Malbec remains its best wine." The good news is that Riesling is miles ahead of where Malbec was.

Whites are "improved" with Cayuga?

Whites are watered down with Cayuga to increase the number of bottles of riesling a winery can produce...and sell for more than they'll ever get for a bottle of Cayuga.

At a certain point arguing the details of a wine competition seems as silly as debating the Miss America pageant finalists.

I think California does blondes better, don't you think?

Bryan,

I don't think your analogy works. I understand that changing the nature of wine competitions is difficult, but we're not talking about something that's just pretty. I mean, how complex are most pageant finalists?

Really, this is an effort worth undertaking.


On the Shinn argument for the sparkling wine...
The fact is, the small production lots DO know in advance that they are not eligible for the Gov. Cup. It's my understanding that this was the first year that wines under 100 case production were even eligible to be reviewed. Hence the creation of the specialty category. Therefore, the individual from Shinn that filled out the entry form and submitted the wine for review should have understood the rules and knew exactly what category it was in.

What I believe the NYWGF tries to avoid:
1.) That wineries will pull from choice barrels/lots to make 25 cases of a wine, and
2.) That there is enough availability of the wine if it were to receive the Governor's cup. Watching the reaction first hand in the 2007 Governor's Cup, it certainly moves an amazing amount of product in a short span - everybody wants it.

I'm curious what other state competitions do for small production lots?

Regarding limited production wines and eligibility for best in class:

I think that there are certain classes where it may be helpful to waive the 100 case minumum. Sparkling and late harvest / icewines come to mind.

Sparkling wine is labor intensive (riddling, disgorging), has expensive packaging relative to other wines, is excessively taxed ($3.40 / gallon), and requires some time in the bottle prior to disgorging in order to produce a premium wine - which means slow inventory turns.

The challenge with late harvest and ice wines is that low yields automatically reduce the quantity that can be produced, they tend to have higher price points, different customer demand patterns and slower inventory turns.

In short: Sparkling economics are tough, and many small to mid-size producers will allocate a smaller percent of their total production to sparkling wines.

Late harvest / ice wine production will be smaller...

For these reasons, I think that these wines are fundamentally different products from still / table wine, and should have a different threshold for minimum production for a best in class award.

OK guys, a reality check:

The Foundation is funded by NY State. Under its charter, it cannot leave anyone out. hence, the natives and hybrids, etc. are there to satisfy everyone. It's the price the industry has to pay for taking state money, which is really our money, but we won't go there.

As to the NYCity idea: see above. Because of the native/hybrid thing, I doubt the press would be focused or positive if they were judged in the city.

Having said that, I sold NY wine at my store in the city. I can say without doubt that, when a retailer has the cajones to sell wine based on its individual merits, most consumers (not the geeks) don't question the grapes' pedigree. But that of course takes dedicated sales efforts, and it is of course another story.

In the main, however, a major wine competition should take place where the major interest lies--and in NY States, I can't think of a place with more major interest than the big city. So, I generally agree with that suggestion.

As for the 70 cases of Shinn sparkling issue: the simply answer to that situation is to set a production level that is reasonable for distribution or make it mandatory that wines entered in the competition must be available at retail stores. Some good competitions would go buy wines from the shelves to quality control the entries but again, that's another story.

On the subject of "Best of." Having judged wines for quite a number of years, I've come to the conclusion that the "Best of" category actually reduces the effectiveness of the overall results, as people have a tendency to focus on only the horse that wins the race. I think wines that win medals should stand on those winnings. The fact that it is a contentious category proves how easily everyone forgets all the wines that won the same medal but just happened not to receive the most votes in the runoff, which really is a matter not of wine merits, but of the personal biases of the judges.

When the "Best of" comes around at a competition, as a judge, I usually dread what is to come of it.

I know that I am in the minority on the "Best of" concept, because I've brought it up a hundred times at competitions, but no one seems to agree--no one who organizes them; many judges have agreed.

Thomas, let me restate something...NO ONE is suggesting that we eliminate hybrids/natives from the competition. They have their place. They have to be there and should be there.

But having so many categories devoted to them lessens the reputation of the competition and of New York wine in the larger landscape.

I'll say it one more time... we are not suggesting that natives and hybrids be excluded from the competition. We'd never suggest that.

Susan, the economics of bubblies is VERY tough indeed. See: http://lennthompson.typepad.com/lenndevours/2008/12/the-economics-of-bubbly.html

Thomas, while I understand that the competition is funded by an organization that answers to the entire industry, does that have to translate into so many categories for hybrids, natives, etc.? Can't those be streamlined a bit?

I imagine that if bylaws exist or anything of that nature, that they indicate that representation is broad, but not that one needs to break categories down beyond that point.

Lenn,

If they are in the competition, they have to be treated just like all the other wines. That's the politics of the Foundation.

I don't subscribe to it, but I know that is its nature, and I'm certain that the Foundation must have gotten heat on this issue.

Still, as I've posted, I'm no fan of singling out "best this and that" anyway.

If you read Berger's comment about how difficult it was for him to select the best, it proves without doubt that the concept is a crap shoot at best, a circus at worst.

Wines don't win medals against other wines; they wine medals for their individual characteristics. Why then, should they be run in a race against other wines in the end, reducing their individual merit to an arbitrary "I like this one the best." That goes for hybrid, native, and the mighty vinifera.

I don't even like use of the word "competition" for these events, because, as I said, wines win medals on their individual merits and not as a measure against the wine that came before or after in the blind tasting order.

I understand the nature of the promotional benefit behind the "best of" categories, but I believe strongly that it is an overall negative for the many wines that deserve attention on their individual merits but lose the limelight because of this need to find Nirvana.

Tom, you're right. They do know going in.

That isn't our point though. We think it's silly -- known or not.

Do you really think there are wineries who would make "Classic-intended" wines from their best barrel? Really?

Is the Classic the Robert Parker of NY?

Evan,

I don't follow the malbec & me allusion, since malbec is vinifera and I never mentioned money, short-term gain, marketing, hard work or anything you said I said. The hybrid post is directed at this notion that hybrids are incapable of producing quality wines and that we should rip them all out and plant syrah and albarino least we become a region of alcoholized Welch's.

Of course any wine region's global rep will be based on vinifera and those who can do it well. But as I said, hybrids have a place in the industry and are entitled to some respect. Here's a montary issue, since you raised it: How many wineries globally are happy to have under $20, or under $15 brand these days?

Vinifera goggles are powerful filters. But I get a lot of enjoyment, excitment, and a new world of tastes and experiences from hybrids -- even, once in a while, natives.

David Falchek...there are a couple Daves on this thread, I think those comments were for Dave FOLEY, not you.

We are FAR from vinifera snobs. Evan is working a story this week about dry hybrids, including a dry vignoles that I liked enough to put it in my New York Cork Club several months ago. I've had vidal (from dry to sweet) that can be delicious. Bryan Calandrelli, who writes here as well, poured me an ice wine made with Catawba that blew me away.

But these categories, when the press release goes out lauding the Classic winnerse, should not take the focus away from the vinifera wines -- which are the ones that restaurants, retailers, etc are going to pay attention to.

By the way...what seyval do you think is indistinguishable from quality chardonnay? I'd like to taste that one.

Lenn -

I was simply answering the question from Michael,

"Furthermore, if Shinn knew that was the deal, would they have submitted that Brut?"

This question leads people to believe that the rules were somehow changed because of the results. That was not the case, and I'm sure the person that submitted the Shinn wine knew "that was the deal".

Cheers,
Tom

Lenn,

If the Foundation sent out press releases without giving equal notice to all winners it would be considered playing favorites and it would hear from its members and maybe from some of the dysfunctionals in Albany that vote to keep the organization funded.

As I said, these matters are political, a fact that comes with accepting government funding.


Lenn,

Thanks for the clarification and I look foward to that vignoles report and your and Evan's enlightening work.

Sadly, fewer and fewer produce seyval any longer. There may be a handful. As chard quality improved in the FLX with clones et al. seyval had a hard time fitting in to product lines. I had great examples of "poor mann's chardonnay" as it was known, in the 90s. I noticed today's seyval are showing more like steely S.B.s. A good move.

Without digging through notes, I suppose you can try Clinton's (barely upstate) for a chard-like version. The most recent one I really liked was Hosmer's. It tilts toward the S.B.'s.

Prial or Goldberg did a story on NY seyval back in the late 80s early 90s. Even then, he (whomever it was) lament its removal/replacement even as the area was recognized as perhaps the best places in the world to grow it. I can't find it on-line. Someone must have that.

But seyval, like many other hybrids, is losing the fight. In ten years, you will only find it in the backyards of self-styled hobbyists. Once housed in giant steel tanks, it will be compressed into a few glass carbouys. In a generation, people will be looking for it. With a gleem in my eye, I will tell my grandchildren of vines sagging heavy with seyval clusters and winery after winery with its own version of this likeable, easy-to-pronounce grape.
Fortunately, its seeds are in the icey depths of the USDA's nitrogen germplasm preservation compound at NYSAES.
I'm half joking, Lenn. Of course, riesling, lem., CF, PN, and chard are the Finger Lakes future. I have a soft spot for *sniff* the underappreciated hybrids.

David Falchek -

I appreciate your soft spot for hybrids. I always delight in pouring a Ravines Keuka Village White for out-of-town friends. I also tend to agree with the Anthony Road crew that points to Vignoles as the "honorary vinifera." Traminette seems burdened with a medicinal edge to me, but I've enjoyed plenty of Seyval, Cayuga, and even Chancellor!

Thomas,

Help me understand something. You write: "The Foundation is funded by NY State. Under its charter, it cannot leave anyone out. hence, the natives and hybrids, etc. are there to satisfy everyone. It's the price the industry has to pay for taking state money, which is really our money, but we won't go there."

Here's where I'm struggling: You assert that because the foundation gets tax dollars, it has to please everyone. But the foundation is seeking to please people, not grapes. Unless there is some charter that dictates which grapes must be deemed award-worthy, I'm missing the point. Further, if your statement were right, then there'd be Best Of awards for every single variety produced. Syrah! Lemberger! Sparkling! Sangiovese! Tocai! Noiret! Leon Millot!

My point is that even though the foundation is obligated to attempt to please everyone, there is still plenty of discretion in how to do that. I can't imagine there would be an uproar if Best Diamond were removed as a category, nor can I figure out why adding a Best Lemberger would rub anyone the wrong way. And, frankly, if they get a little heat, so what? It's their job to determine what best serves the industry as a whole. Not everyone has to like every decision, right?

Evan,

First, let me say that I have no idea why they do what they do for the "Classic." I've never been near it. I'm only offering potential reasons for some of the activity that takes place based on what I know about the Foundation and about wine competitions.

Two points:

1. While the Foundation is state funded it also has separate memberships open to all growers and producers. The members can make all kinds of waves at any feeling of having been slighted or pushed aside. Plus, the board of directors make decisions on what should be done based on their mandate. The question of how much discretion they have is best addressed to the Foundation. I'm just trying to show that there are things behind the curtain that must be taken into consideration.

2. Many times in competitions you don't see "best of" categories because the wines entered did not receive high enough scores for any to be considered for a run off, or there aren't enough wines entered in those categories so they wind up being placed in a catch all category of reds, whites, etc., or for whatever other reason the competition faces. Again, you have to know what's behind the curtain to come up with answers.

Contacting the competition organizers to ask why they do what they do is probably the best route to gain answers. For instance, I agree about NY City as a location for the event, but they obviously have a reason for doing what they do. Maybe it's also tied to their mandate.

As for the Foundation's job to determine what best serves the industry: maybe they think that what they do and how they do it best serves the industry as well as the master--NY State.

Incidentally, I hope you don't think I am defending anything. I am not. I don't agree with the way most promotion for NY wine is handled, but what does that mean to anyone else but me???

Thomas,

I don't take your comments to be defending anyone, though you're obviously free to if you like. And in fact I think you've made some strong points regarding the frailty of Best Of categories. But taking those away would be like stealing the golden goose, and we know that won't happen, so I choose to deal with their existence as a permanent reality. I'm focused on how to make it better as currently constructed.

Evan,

If you can get your focus across and accepted by the Foundation, I will bow to your exceptional abilities. ;)

In any case, there are a few things about the Classic that I would probably change had I the responsibility. But I'm cautioning those who call for change to first know why things are done the way they are done.

The answers may not be satisfactory, but they may be illuminating, and they may explain more about the tortuous mechanisms that govern how we treat humble little wine.


Chancellor. That's another one that I've enjoyed on occasion. I like Thirsty Owl's version.

I also like Lakewood's Long Stem Red as a Beaujolais-style, every day wine. That's red hybrids too I think.

I mention these only to point out that I'm far from a vinifera snob.

As to asking the organizers, I did send a note to Theresa Knapp several days ago, but have yet to hear anything from her. I want to include some of her insight in the original post, but I can't include what I don't have.

Lenn,

Was that an email to the Foundation or direct to Theresa?

I've got a closet full of unanswered and unacknowledged emails sent to the Foundation. Well, not a closet, a dark folder in my computer...

Direct to Theresa in this case.

Plenty of unanswered emails to the foundation from me as well.

Evan,
After rereading my own post, I probably didn't make the clearest points and mixed my arguments a bit.
I love LI wine and am a huge proponent for LI Cab Franc. I've even been a huge Lenndevours supporter even before he went big time :)
I guess the point I wanted to convey is that, in my opinion, competitions generally seem to be solely about "blowing one's own horn" for marketing / press purposes. That being the said, I don't know that NY will ever thrive in competitions with Riesling and Cab Frac being their best wines. I'm not trying to imply that NY isn't a great wine state or doesn't have great quality... I was trying to imply that competitions of any sort may not be the best place to showcase NY's place in the wine world. Maybe I've just become very cynical about competitions - - especially since there are so many of them, participation at each event is sporadic at best, and there are 100's of awards given at each event - - -almost the equivalent of "participation awards" for today's youth sports.
Anyway... just put me down in the "I don't care about competitions" camp and let me know when it is over so we can get back to more important things - - - like reviewing NY wines (and more LI wines) on this site.

Dave,

I think that's pretty well said. When I speak privately with winemakers they almost uniformly tell me that medals are entirely a crapshoot and competitions are extremely unpredictable. Having been on the judging side of things, I can see how true that tends to be. To me, it's not just because wine is subjective. It's because wine is not made to be considered in hit-and-run, mass-tasting formats.

I'll stress again how over-the-moon thrilled I am that they got it right with Anthony Road winning the Governor's Cup. That is enormous.

And again, Lenn and I are simply adding our voice to the conversation about how to improve this event. I think I can speak for Lenn when I say that we're not big fans of medal competitions either -- but this is the big fish of NY state, and as such we'd like to see it become as strong as possible.

Lenn, I completely agree with holding the event in NYC. I'm not a big fan of competitions but if you're trying to use it as a marketing tool as well its a no- brainier. Its about time some folks got over their fear of the Big Apple...

Peter - with all due respect, you're simply wrong to generalize about NYS as a whole. You guys do what you do best and we on Long Island do what we do best. It's like comparing apples and oranges or should I say, Riesling and Merlot?

Coming a little late into this thread.
The number of posts suggests there are many more ideas out there. It is a shame that the NY W&GF has not yet figured out how to tap into its constituency to improve this and its other programs. Perhaps suggestion number one is for it to start a forum of this kind.

Congratulations to the Finger Lakes for getting increased visibility and recognition that is well deserved.

Having said that I tend not to see any benefits from identifying a region or a state with any particular variety. By the way FL has no monopoly on Riesling: last year Paumanok's Semi Dry Riesling was named the best of the state, that is if the Classic carries any weight.

We did not enter this year's competition as we thought the award given to a fruit wine last year as the best of the state, took away our confidence in this competition.

We think NY wines are doing very well and we should all stop playing victims and focus our efforts on improving our sales and marketing skills. By projecting greater confidence in our wines we raise our image profile.

The price issue is a red herring that many self proclaimed experts continue to harp on. The market is saying otherwise and that is what really matters. NY restaurants are pouring NY wines more than ever before. As a group Long Island wines are being poured in most top 50 Zagat Restaurants in NYC. That is a remarkable achievement.

The industry needs a new agenda and better leadership in its promotion. That goes beyond a competition which at the end of the day has very little lasting effect. We did see a small surge when we were named winery of the year in 2004, but in the end for us to be really successful, we need, initially, for Long Island and then the state to be seen as successful wine making regions. Contrary to what many believe we do not think the Classic does that. And the approach of the NYW&GF needs a major revision. But without opening up the dialogue with its constituency it is bound to continue to underperform its potential.

And by the way by dialogue I mean being receptive to new thoughts and willing to reconsider programs. Because it can be argued that they organize meetings to discuss with the industry. Our experience has been however that when new ideas are proposed, the response is to defend instead the current programs. That is not a dialogue but a waste of time.

Ultimately the wineries that seem to be succeeding at moving and placing their wines are not waiting for anyone else to do their work for them. However since it is (our) taxpayer money we would like to see it better utilized.

Correction:

The fourth paragraph should read as follows:

.....last year Paumanok's Semi Dry Riesling was named the best of class for Semi Sweet Riesling, that is if the Classic carries any weight.

Evan, Great points, but i think you kind of contradict your second point with your third. If the "best" catagory should be awarded regardless of production, shouldnt it be awarded regardless of varietal? Basically Im saying stop S*#ting on hybrids and native grapes. If one happens to be the best, it shouldnt be relegated to some second tier catagory due to its genetics. I say this becasue I honestly dont see New York moving too far from them. From a farming prespective, you cant afford to be replanting you vineyards everytime it gets below -15F. And from a winemaking prespective, even on good years, there is a lot of sugar being added to NY wines.

Rowland,

In any discussion it's important to be willing to move your own meter and concede points, so I'm happy to do so: You got me on the contradictory nature of the points. A good wine is a good wine.

I can't quite understand why people think we're dumping on natives and hybrids. We're not asking people to stop making those wines. We're asking the competition to reduce the Best Of awards for hybrids and natives because it seems to us that there's a glut of blue ribbons for wines that are made for the purpose of drinking now and allowing the consumer to enjoy it without much thought.

ps. evan... try Quimby's Rose by Stoutridge (Hudson Valley). Its 10% Dechaunac, 90% Niagara, very dry, unfiltered and unfined. super awesome.

I also agree with Jason, while FL Riesling is world class, it really only has to compete with those of Germany and Alsace. Long Island is in a much more difficult position with its focus on Bordeaux varietals, which are done well in almost all the worlds wine regions.

Dave P. thanks for pluging Clinton's Seyval. I think its awesome, as is Seyval in general, it makes Chard tast boring. Ours gets campaired to lots of things, Chablis and Sancerre (cant say ive had either) by the wine geeks, and to Pinto grigio and riesling (because of the lightness and acidity respectivly) by the averge joe's.

Charles as usual you are right on and I completely agree with your sentiments.

For the record, I happen to be a big fan of hybrid wines and have found many whites and reds that are truly wonderful wines. I've had some white hybrids that were as good if not better than the vaunted Riesling. The best part about them is they bring a unique number of taste profiles that can't be found anywhere else in the world. They really should be celebrated.

Rowland - I beg to differ. If I recall correctly, Miles didn't scream his pejoratives over Long Island Merlot...

Rich -

Your comment is pretty hyperbolic, don't you think? You said, "I've had some white hybrids that were as good if not better than the vaunted Riesling." I'll need you to enumerate which (multiple) hybrids make better wine than Riesling.

Unless, of course, you mean some individual producer makes a hybrid wine that is better than some other individual producer's Riesling. Which means nothing, of course. But I'm confused...

Lenn ... you need to start a forum so we can argue about this with out going back in time here. I mean come on, this comment thread could go on for days, there is too much to let die (so many themes, like what is serious wine, grape racism, the realities of farming, regional branding) ... think about it.

ps. you all are vinifera nazis ahahaha.

Evan,

I'm just speaking from my experience and as a defender of hybrids as well. Don't get me wrong, I love FL Rieslings and am a big promoter of them here on the Island where I wish it was easier to find them in our local shops.
I don't think it is meaningless at all to say that from a regional standpoint, I've found some white hybrid wines more enjoyable and more balanced and expressive of terroir than some Rieslings. From my experienced the white hybrid blends have been the best. I feel that some producers are creating Rieslings (as well as other wines) that are sometimes too hot and/or are out of balance with residual sugar. Of course the good ones are truly sublime.

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