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December 07, 2009

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I attended the event at City Winery yesterday afternoon and agree with your suggestions. I did wind up buying a bottle of wine--Silver Thread Blackbird--which I enjoyed, but was also the final wine that I tasted so I knew I would not have to carry it around. Many of the vendors did not prominently post prices for the wines. It was a thoroughly enjoyable event but it would have been more fun if it was a little less crowded.

Agreed -- I also think having more food, and better integrating the food with the wine, would have been nice.

Lenn, sorry I missed this yesterday, but at least I get to read about it. :) Agreed: In general, it's always a better experience when winemakers, owners, or at least long-time staff are at these things. At this past year's BAM LI wine event, there were a lot of them there, and it made for some really great conversations. There were also some who weren't (for whatever reason -- not to fault them; sometimes you just can't get to an event), but there was one new winery in particular who sent someone who couldn't really answer any questions at all about the wine or the winemaker or the owner, and it was a little frustrating. Also, the Macari Early Wine is great--I totally dig it.

We were thrilled to have been part of this Uncork NY! event at City Winery. For a first time event, the NYWGF did a wonderful job of coordinating many of the logistics including helping to secure the wineries, restaurants, farms and food producers.

We hope as well that this kind of NY State food and wine event continues in NYC on at least an annual basis. It was very exciting to see the turn-out and the participation from the wineries and the support from the media including the edible Communities.

Glad you and Nena were able to make the trip.

I dissagree, this is absoutly not the type of event where the owner or winemaker should be there. What, are you gonna ignore the throngs of glasses being pressed in your face so you can answer some newbie's question about whatever? Its so loud and chaotic at these things that your lucky if the people can hear you should out the name of the wine and vintage, let alone describing it. The majority of people who attend these events are trying to suck down as much free wine as possible without buying anything.

also, as an aside, these events are so enlightening. to see people who make sicky sweet wine for under $10 selling out while the "serious" producers are working there buts off to sell every indivdual bottle, its surreal.

Rowland,

I couldn't disagree more. First, you shouldn't assume that the attendees at this even were just slurping down the wines. Sure, some of them were, but I saw a great many people who were interested in the wines on a higher level -- I even saw some spitting!

Putting the people behind the wine -- the winemaker, the grower, the owner -- is a great way to connect with tasters at these events. Having your third-string tasting room staff at these events tells the attendees that you don't care, frankly.

Not to mention that I saw a number of people from the wine and other press there. The New York Times was there. I've heard that Wine Spectator was there. Why wouldn't a winery want it's "A" team there for those folks?

It's easy to complain that NYC and other local areas aren't supporting local wine, but if you don't put the time and effort in, it's your own fault. Pounding the pavement is important. It's not as simple as "make it and they will come."

Len, good to see Team Thompson Sunday.

Ditto on the Shaw cab.

Im just saying it dosnt make any sense from a business perspective. Most if not all of these wineries dont "need" the exposure of these events. The reality is it actually is as simple as "make it and they will come." That's what is happening, outside of the big volume producers, most wineries sell 90%+ of their wines out of their tasting rooms. Why send your best staff, you need them in the tasting room, making sure your main source of income is being tended properly (not to mention that at this point in the year there is still plenty to be done in the cellar). And you said it yourself, the place was so packed it was hard to move around at times, and I imagine it was fairly loud too. It just isnt practical at these sort of events to give people individual attention, let alone a press interview. And, sorry to sound to cocky, but who cares about the New York Times? maybe wine spectator, but honestly, their praise is not going to send throngs of people out to the tasting rooms (and even if it did, that usually causes more probles for the small scale winery).

I guess my point is that we have what most other wine regions, hell, most other businesses, wish they had; an already established customer base. We have local people who care about and patronize individual producers. Bordeaux, while highly respected internationally, is in crisis, many many wineries are going out of business. Why? cause they were slaves to their brand, Bordeaux. Individual producers loose out cause as far as the general public is conserned, as long as the bottle says Bordeaux on it, one is just as good as another. Same with Napa, again while highly respected, their slavish devotion to the wine press has left individual producers in a mess.

Rowland,

I don't think you sound cocky at all -- and you know that I enjoy these sorts of marketing philosophy discussions.

If wineries don't "need the exposure" of these events, why participate at all? If they decide not to, that's one thing, but if you DO decide to pour at these events, shouldn't you put your best foot forward?

Of the Hudson Valley wineries that were there (I think 4), two had owners or winemakers there. Seems to me that Carlo and Matt thought it important enough that they attended.

If you're going to be there, be there for real. Send your best people.

And yes, it was loud, but I had plenty of conversations with plenty of people pouring.

By the way, you're kidding yourself if you don't think a story in the New York Times about the Gunks wine trail isn't going to get some weekenders to head up that way from the city.

Rowland

I am all the way down the line with Lenn on this one. I think to make the impression necessary on the general public the winemakers and winery owners should be there, and I was personally disappointed more of them weren't there.

Winery owners especially bemoan the lack of face time they get with NYC wine drinkers. Here, they finally get the chance, and they sent sales people. At Hudson-Chatham, I poured and discussed the wines with anyone who wanted to listen. I have great, great sales people, but I (and they) felt that I should be out there, meeting people, and telling them our story. And I think other winery owners should have done the same.

Other than the unavoidable bathroom situation, I think the event went as well as I could have imagined. It wa a great event, and an important one for the wineries as well.

But you can never, ever get enough face time with the public IMO.

Rowland -

The concept of selling almost entirely out of the tasting room means two things: 1) The winery will be rather insular, and 2) The winery might very well struggle to survive in the long term. On top of that, New York state wines will never achieve much respect outside of this region if there isn't an effort to take the wines elsewhere. Just ask Long Island, which has relied on an insular sales approach. Many writers don't even think about LI as a viable region because there hasn't been much outreach - perhaps there doesn't need to be much outreach to sell wines, but if you want the wider wine world to care, there needs to be a greater outreach.

Rowland,

It is VERY important the the Hudson Valley Wineries attend these events. The Hudson Valley needs the exposure and awareness that these events bring to the region. You will be amazed on how many people both in NYC and in YOUR backyard that have no idea about the wine produced in the Hudson Valley. It's a way to bring the wines, history and the region to them.

You are being very short sighted if you think a sign on the side of the road and an occasional article in a publication is going to bring people into your tasting room and sell your wine.

Lenn,

By the way, the gentleman pouring wine for Whitecliff is their Assistant Wine Maker.

Evan, your observation that "many writers don't even think about" Long Island "as a viable" wine region is groundless, except perhaps for writers who arrived 15 minutes ago from another planet. No informed writer, print publication or Internet wine site with gravitas doubts Long Island's ability to grow and develop, now that it has been wine country for 36 years. The agriculture is increasingly sound, the wines are demonstrably improving by leaps and bounds, business acumen is sharpening (except for amateurish telephone answering) and commercial growth is partly being driven by the expansion of the Net. A standard pattern is emerging: large-scale, mid-scale and boutique wineries, all with their own economics. The world knows, and will know more tomorrow, and still more the day afterward about Long Island's strengths and weaknesses. Yes, insularity and parochialism are indeed present, but greater outreach is in the wind, and is likely, I think, to expand cautiously faster once the economy rebounds.

Evan, what makes you say that a winery selling mostly (or entirely) through their tasting room is risky over the long term? If a boutique winery can do that, getting full retail price on every bottle, builds a core group of loyal customers....seems like a nearly ideal business model. I'm not saying that an entire region of those types of wineries can work, but it can work and it can work long-term.

Long Island, in many cases, has not relied on an insular approach as you suggest. There are many wineries who work hard to get their wines into restaurants and well-positioned with distributors in shops etc.

And I think Howard is correct here -- very few don't see Long Island as "viable."

You're not wrong about outreach being somewhat lacking, however. Stronger regional marketing initiatives would be useful, certainly.

Howard and Lenn -

It's fair to call me on that statement; understand that it comes from my conversations from the long list of writers and bloggers who attended Taste Camp this past year. Their ideas coming in to that trip were extremely limited, and most admitted to not giving much thought to LI wines at all before attending. The outreach of that endeavor alone helped change that.

When I say insular, I mean exactly what Lenn is talking about: Those wineries can, and often do, succeed almost entirely out of their own tasting rooms. The outside wine world isn't important to their business model. Lenn, when you ask why that isn't a good plan, I'd say two things: First, it is indeed a good business plan if it can be sustained. Second, here in the Finger Lakes, it almost certainly can not be sustained. There are too many competitors now, and seemingly impossibly there are more still coming. Some will fade away, but the idea that FLX wineries can thrive through tasting room sales alone is flawed, to say the least.

Now, on Long Island, given the much different pace of expansion, that approach might very well work just fine for a long time to come. I should have clarified that each region has its own peculiarities, and as Morten Hallgren and Fred Merwarth will tell you, the quest to live off tasting room sales alone is a doomed one.

And then there is the unquantifiable positive effect of more distribution and a stronger presence in outside markets. I'd guess that it can only lead to more knowledge, more respect, and eventually more sales.

Finally, don't mistake my comments to imply that most producers are too insular. There is plenty of evidence that this is changing and things are opening up. I think Howard makes an astute point that the slowly rebounding economy can help aid that development.

Shorter version: Some can survive out of the tasting room. Many can not in the long run. And it's better for NY state wines as a whole if more seek a wider presence.

Personally, it's really about balance. As a winery owner, we want to strike a balance between tasting room sales and distribution. Weather and tourism cycles can play havoc with your tasting room results. And any good business wants several streams to build a solid, reliable source of income, and of course, we want to widen our customer reach.

I know from talking to several people this year that the Island had a tough time due to the weather earlier in the year, and that sales started off slow. But in the winery business, you need to pay your suppliers...bottles, labels, etc.

Being from the Hudson Valley, we are constantly fighting to get more and more recognition for the growing number of good wines being made there. It's always a struggle. Recent WSJ and Edible Manhattan articles however are giving us something to cheer about.

Regardless, growth and dependable sales require getting out the word - no matter what region you're from. And we are always looking for ways to do that, regardless if it's events and festivals, the internet, or good old fashioned press.

As a blogger, I think the Finger Lakes has banded together better than either LI or HV, and they are benefitting from it. They are getting their pitch out, and people are buying it. And of course they are backing it up with some spectacular wines. But their's is the program to be modeled after.

I guess my attitude is essentially a "selfish" one. I just dont care about international or even national recognition. We dont need outsiders to validate out efforts. I would be very happy to make quality wine quietly in our little corner of the world without any hoopla or fanfare from the "experts." And besides, this is a very small pie, and I for one DONT want to share it with the whole world. We are in a situation where we can have our cake and eat it too. We get to live in a beautiful wine region, AND we can afford to drink the wines. As soon as we start having real international success, we locals will be priced out (kind of like what is already happening with real estate). As the great John Lennon said "HEY, you got to hide your love away."

and debi ... "You are being very short sighted if you think a sign on the side of the road and an occasional article in a publication is going to bring people into your tasting room and sell your wine." ... what are you talking about? Unless you live in a different Hudson Valley than the one I grew up in, THIS IS EXACTELLY HOW THINGS WORK HERE. heck, some wineries done even have good signage, and very few get anything other than the local foodie press. Barring a catastrophic socital collapse, there will always be a steady stream of wine-ignorant day trippers from NYC, just looking for a nice afternoon.

Rowland - You seem to fear that wider recognition will inevitably lead to higher prices. However, wider recognition is more likely to drive prices into parity with wines from other regions. It can have the reverse effect. And given your proximity to the source, I doubt you'll not be able to get one of your favorites.

There's no doubt that Niagara wineries should have been better represented.

Although I'm happy that many people were impressed with the one winery (Marjim Manor) that did make the cut in that "first come, first serve" policy, tasting their fruit wines is not the best way to expose NYCer's to Niagara wine.

Even if this wasn't a sales event, I'm sure several wineries here would consider it just to get some exposure to palates downstate.

The currant wine was a big hit for Marjim Manor. (If you've ever bought cheap fruit cocktail and noticed that the grapes are striped, you've had currants.) They thought introducing their wines to a new market was important enough to send one of the managers on what was also a Niagara Wine Trail weekend. While the logistics were challenging, which is what dissuaded other members of the trail, help from more experienced wineries overcame those problems.

Here's a toast to a future event.

Bryan: Hopefully, they'll spread it around a bit when they do it again, maybe give wineries who didn't pour this time get first dibs. If the invite went out via email though, I can speak from experience that the Niagara wineries are NOT good about responding to email (neither are the Hudson Valley wineries)

Marog: I enjoyed tasting through a few of your wines. And you're right, the currant wine was quite popular with many people I spoke with.

Rowland,

I have lived in the Hudson Valley since 1972 when I was 9 yrs old. It wasn't until 2004, when I had a table at the Hudson Valley Wine Fest next to a local winery who I didn't know existed. I didn't know about the winery you work for until I became involved with the local wineries.

Many people in the region and surrounding have no idea that there are wines produced in the Hudson Valley. Getting the word out about the Hudson Valley Region is the most important at the present time. The only way to accomplish this is to be take part in tastings like Sip and Savor and other regional events and talk with people and educate them on the region and the regions wines.

Calling day trippers from NYC ignorant wine consumers is an insult to them. Many want the education and knowledge because they don't know anything about the wines, that is why they are there and asking questions.

debi, I know what you mean. I grew up here and I even know and am friends with several people who grow grapes, and I still didnt make the connection that we make wine here until about 2004 as well, my first year at university. Hell my best friends dad had a back yard vineyard and made his one home wine, and I still didnt make the connection lol.

and yes, by ignorant i mean that "they dont know anything about wine," not that they are stupid (although it is standard practive in the hospitality to secretly insult your customers, ever talked to a waiter or a inn keeper off duty, ignorant is probably the least insulting word they will use. Bashing the customers behind their back alleviates the social tension of being a low paid servant, thats some anthropology for you BOOM).

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