By Evan Dawson, Finger Lakes Editor
If you walk into a wine shop on Long Island, will you find Finger Lakes wines? How about the other way around - do you expect to find Long Island wines in Finger Lakes shops? I recently discovered the shuttered mentality up close in a wine shop on Keuka Lake. The employee said, "We can't sell Long Island wines. People would get upset with us."
This assertion was backed by only the flimsiest logic, that somehow the Finger Lakes is competing with Long Island (and assumedly the Hudson Valley and the Niagara Escarpment) and to offer those wines is to insult local producers.
Well, this mentality needs to be shipped out of state. And soon. But the good news is that it's slowly changing - in shops like Wine Sense on Rochester's Park Avenue.
Owner Kristin Vanden Brul has lived and worked in the Finger Lakes. She offers a boutique shop with wines from around the world and she has always offered her favorite Finger Lakes selections. After a recent visit to Long Island, Kristin decided she needed more shelf space for New York wine.
A confessed Pellegrini fan, Kristin fell hard for Shinn Estate Merlot - so hard that she has "already drank about a case of the '06 myself, and I've been giving free bottles to customers. I tell them, 'Try it once.' They can't even believe it. I don't mind giving the wine away because I love to see their reaction, and I know many will come back and buy more."
It's a good tactic because, as Kristin has discovered, the challenge is simply convincing more people to try New York wines from a different part of their state. In Rochester, customers are open to Finger Lakes wines. Most have never tasted a bottle from Long Island. So last week Kristin offered a class on Long Island wines. It sold out.
"When they taste Long Island Merlot blind they tend to think Bordeaux. I've seen it over and over," she said. "They're a little slow to buy Long Island wine, but I don't think prices are too high. I think the prices match the quality - I really do."
Another challenge is simply getting the wine in stock.
"I pay to have it shipped to Wine Sense," she explained, "but that's not having it trucked in. It costs more to have it shipped, but I think it's worth it. And I've already taken to going down to the New York Wine and Culinary Center to scout out new bottles."
This is the kind of enthusiasm that could help the wine industry across the state. Red Feet Wine Market in Ithaca recently added a section on Long Island wine.
So how about your wine shop? Can you find a selection from across the state? Or is there a super-local bias?
"Up here we've known that the Finger Lakes is making world-class wine," Kristin said as she unpacked a box filled with bottles from Macari, Channing Daughters, and Lenz. "Now we can show people the world-class wines from Long Island. And if you're interested in Finger Lakes wine, it only makes sense that you'd be interested in Long Island wine." Makes sense to me.