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April 28, 2010

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Evan: I hope you know just how lucky you are to have a place like this in your hood.

The wine bar scene is painfully poor on Long Island, and the few that I've been to don't have great local lists -- and certainly nothing in the library local realm.

Evan,

Solera is a truly beautiful place. I don't think anyone should do anything that harms the business.

They are amazing at treating customers right. The simple truth is that if a wine if on the per glass list it will be sampled against wines that are not NYS as well. If it holds up I will order one and if it doesn't then those are the breaks.

I wish I could make it there more often as I've learned so much from them when it comes to wine.

A great article, even if you missed a word up there somewhere (I'm not telling!)

When I lived in the New York metro area, it was almost impossible to find any wines from the Finger Lakes (or elsewhere from NY).

Now I live in the Bay Area in California and have found 4 brands of Finger Lakes Rieslings. So perhaps this is progress. (Or is this still unavailable in NYC?)

Here in NYC, you can usually find Wiemer riesling, and occasionally something Shinn, but in general NYS wine is scarce (at least in the places I go). Even at Union Square Cafe, which professes a local ethos for the food, there were only a couple of Wiemer wines, and I can't remember any LI brands.

I understand that local wine is hard to sell. Folks want to "support local", but they want to get the best perceived value for the dollar more. If a Finger Lakes or Virginia or Georgia or Texas wine is priced the same as something from a "sexier" European region, my guess is local loses 99% of the time.

When I get really irked is when- like Paul Z says- a place goes out of its way to promote "local ingredients" and "farm to table", then they feature a wine list full of Chilean, Spanish, and California wines (and, as you guessed, these aren't places in Chile, Spain, or Cali).

Paul and Joe - You make excellent points, and I know that Lenn has railed on this subject before. I think there's kind of a chicken-and-egg challenge with selling local wine. On one hand you have someone who is enthusiastic about local wines, and on the other hand you have local wines that sell. So do you expect the enthusiasm to follow the sales? I don't. I think John Fanning's model at Solera is the best one I've seen: Take an honest approach to discovering the best of a region, offer it enthusiastically, and allow for patience in the marketplace.

Larry - I guess I'm a bit surprised that you have four Finger Lakes wines available to you out there, though I would bet I can guess what they are. Nothing wrong with that, of course; some wineries work much harder at distribution and market reach. They're certainly not much more available in NYC, strangely.

Larry--what are the 4? Dr. Frank, Weimer, Glenora maybe?

Paul Z,
Here is a list of folks that have bought a legitimate amount of Ravines since January in the NYC proper.

Henry Public,
Georgio's Country Grill
Garnet Wines
Union Square Wines
Deprez Wines
Minetta Tavern
Brooklyn Wine Exchange
Wild Edibles
Slice - The Perfect Food
Heights Chateau
Red White and Bubbly
Grand Central Oyster Bar

John Fanning hit the nail on the head - we need some sort of AOC (or call it what you like) system in place to help convey certain levels of quality/style of our wines. The Red Cat's (very important for our region) should have their own AOC - "Wines of Fun" for instance. Until we differentiate for the consumer we will continue to have a muddled perception of our region.

The good news is that when I show the wines outside of New York State the reviews have been amazing.


thanks.

Rick -

Great comment regarding AOC. We're going to focus on that particular issue very soon. Some differentiation would be very interesting, to say the least.

Evan,
Morten and I have spent hours and hours trapped in a car together and I'll say that this is often the focus of our conversation. With me earning my chops in the French wine business and him growing up in the South of France we both understand the pro's and con's of these types of systems but as someone that has to deal with retailers and restaurants in 6 markets I would say it would be the single, easiest step in moving the ball forward for NY wines. I'm real glad you are starting the conversation.

BTW - Keep up the good work, I enjoy your reporting.

Rick, thanks for the comment - Ravines is one of my favorite wineries in the Finger Lakes, and I'll gladly go out of my way to get your wine.

That said, 5 of the places you list are wine stores and not restaurants or bars. I'd expect a greater variety of labels in a store (and Brooklyn Wine Exchange is right up Court Street from my office, great little shop). My comment was more directed at restaurants and bars. Even my local wine bar in Inwood, which I love, only has Wiemer riesling as a "local" option. Heck, I have more NYS wine in my living room. (When we build the farmhouse on Keuka Lake, we HAVE to have a full-sized wine cellar. None of these NYC apartment-sized under the counter jobs.)

The idea of assigning "growth" levels or AOC is one that I've knocked around in my head for a long time...it's a complicated issue and one that would be very very difficult to make happen. For a variety of reasons.

Assuming it's winery by winery, would Hazlitt be in that "Wines of Fun" level? I'm not sure. Sure, Red Cat would be, but they also make some very nice vinifera wines that certainly don't fall into that category.

Some of the wineries doing high-end, single-vineyard wines -- Red Newt comes to mind -- are also doing wines in that "Wines of Fun" category...so how do you handle them?

I absolutely do not have the answer...but I can certainly understand why producers who really only make high-end stuff want to find some way to 'break away' from the region's sweet "fun wine" past. Difficult to do.

I don't think it would be quite so complicated, Lenn. Why does it have to be winery-by-winery? That's not how it is in Italy, for example, where a producer might make a wine classified as a table wine and another classified at the highest levels.

The question, to me at least, is whether the producers themselves would have discretion on how to categorize the wines, or if there is some standard set by an agency or governing body.

Paul Z,
Indeed - I would love to see more distribution on the "on-premise" (distributor talk for restaurants/bars) front. We are getting there but building brands in restaurants is a slow affair for a variety of reasons (delivery, continuity, consistency etc, all have to be in check) but it is happening...slowly but certainly surely. We have a bunch of new blood in the business that like these lower alcohol, high-acid styles (cool climate) of wines that NY produces so I think we will continue to get our share of the pie. I'm also looking forward to growth outside the region which I think has a very positive outlook.

Get up here and build that place - I know of a great little wine shop to send you to that will help fill that big cellar your going to build!

Take care,

Evan: I was actually thinking more of the "growth" idea...for an AOC-style thing, you're right.

I think you have to have an independent governing body...let's do it :)

I'm only half joking.

When I first moved here just over five years ago, I was pretty surprised at the complete lack of differentiation within Finger Lakes wines, this in the region with the largest variation of wines in the country, both stylistically and quality- wise of course. I think it is pretty essential that vinifera wines are separated from other wines made in the region. & from there? Yield restrictions? Regional typicity? Look at other AOC, DOCS, etc. and there are various directions to go in to help a wine region establish itself, and to sort out the quality wines from that region. It goes without saying that the Finger Lakes can pull off a non-vinifera wine of quality - but is that going to gain the region any outside recognition? Is a wine drinker in California/Maine/Texas really going to be turned on by the Finger Lakes dry Cayuga that was "actually pretty good"? Realistically, no - wine drinkers that make any impact in the marketplace are looking for great vinifera wines, and the Finger Lakes will continue to go greatly unrecognized due to the muddled perception of what is actually made here!
This is a great converstion, and any other suggestions recommendations for other local wines to list at Solera are more than welcome. I'll be moving on to Long Island wines next!

John -

I couldn't agree more when it comes to making a dent outside this region. That doesn't mean that Finger Lakes producers aren't making respectable non-vinifera; of course they are. We've been over that territory. But you said it perfectly: That dry cayuga isn't going to lift up the profile.

All of which is not to say that this region should scrap such production. It's only to say that differentiation has easily visible benefits. You've opened a very important conversation, and it will continue in future posts here.

As someone who works at Heights Chateau in Brooklyn, New York, I have to say how impressed I am with a multitude of New York producers, including Ravines, Bouké, Warwick, Tuthilltown, Delaware Phoenix and others. We stock almost 50 New York wines + spirits and are dedicated to continuing to support local wine and spirit producers. As a retail shop, we have alot of control of what goes in the shop, but I can only hope that restaurants, wine bars and other on-premise places will continue to do the same. Viva New York!!

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