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September 09, 2010

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Carlo: Thank you for a thoughtful, well-considered look at the situation from your perspective. I hope that it kicks off a productive conversation both here and in winery offices throughout the state.

I have a few comments of my own that I'd like to throw out there as well.

I know several winery owners and winemakers who take to blaming the leaders of wine trails and the NYWGF for the industry's woes (at least partly) and while I agree that the NYWGF isn't solely to blame, it's easy to see why it's a target.

For one, it's the only state-wide group. Each region has its own promo organizations, but each is out only for itself (which is how it's supposed to be). The Long Island Wine Council cares about Long Island wine, not the Niagara Escarpment or the broader "New York Wine" issues. Frankly, the regional organizations have enough on their plates already. They work hard - harder than people realize.

NYWGF is the only state-wide organization and the only one chartered with promoting and supporting the entire state. Under the current system, the things you list can only come from the NYWGF or not at all.

Perhaps the NYWGF isn't meant to do these things things for the state's wine industry, but has Jim Trezise ever come out and said "We want to be doing this, but we can't/shouldn't?" I'm asking because I have no idea.

The NYWGF also get blamed because it's head, Jim Trezise is seen by most people inside and outside of the NY industry as THE face of New York wine. Winery owners and winemakers are looking to him for leadership in that role. I think that's easy to understand. As the industry has grown and evolved, it expects its leadership to adapt and grow with it. I'm not sure that has happened.

Many winery owners have given up on the NYWGF (which you've alluded to) and decided to do some of the things you suggest on their own -- some with great success. But without a statewide, coordinated effort we're never going to see the kind of growth and success the state's wineries could achieve.

First and foremost, intrepid, creative leadership is needed. The other items on your list can fall into place eventually, but there needs o be a strong leader at the top of the pyramid, one who can deftly navigate the various needs and wants of all constituents -- NOT an easy job -- and push those member wineries in the directions they need to be going in. The status quo isn't good enough anymore.

What's the answer? I won't pretend to know, but perhaps your suggestion that a second organization be created is the way to go. An organization that is focused solely on promotion and growth (and not grape juice and helping new wineries) might have more impact.

I'm curious to hear what other people think about this.

Lenn: Great post. There are some really great ideas here and with everyone talking about eating local there should be a "Drink Local NY Wines" table or booth at Union Square and every other significant green market in the state.

Sue

Sue -

While I don't disagree with you - I think the local movement is ripe for bringing in the NY wine industry - I also think we have to shoot for much larger than that. To some degree, the local movement for wines will be seen as niche. The goal is to move NY wine beyond niche to a level of mainstream respect. In that regard, there has been widespread failure in doing so.

A bureaucratic arm is going to be saddled with limitations, no matter what tweaks are made. That's because there is a requirement to serve members equally. A privately funded organization would have more power and sway, more ability to be discerning in what is and is not promoted.

Sue: There has been a rotating (meaning different wineries weekly) booth system at the NYC Greenmarkets for the last couple of years I believe. I know that places like Paumanok Vineyards, Waters Crest and others have taken advantage of that program.

Evan: While I agree that the ultimate goal is to "shoot for much larger than that" the fact is that NY wine hasn't even saturated the NY market. If NY wine can't dominate in NY, how do we know it can fare better outside, where "local" isn't an aid?

Lenn - It will never dominate in NY. It just needs to be a major player.

I disagree! NY wine probably can't dominate New York City (okay, I don't think it EVER can) but I think it can dominate the wine regions themselves, and maybe smaller cities.

Syracuse, Albany, Rochester....


First, I agree with just about all the "remedies" that Carlo provided--have agreed with them for 25 years!

I disagree with Carlo that this has become an issue in the past 3-5 years; lack of NY wine industry coordination has been an issue for as long as I've been in the wine business--25 years, as long as the Foundation is old.

The Foundation was formed by the state in '85 as an organization scheduled to phase down in about six years; each year was supposed to have seen increased industry funding, until the funding was nearly 100% industry.

The wine industry never did its part with funding, and so the annual begging from Albany for funding became the modus operandi, but you can't rely on the government forever, and that day has arrived when you can't.

As for the promotional needs of the wine industry: Carlo, when you get all five regions and the majority of wineries to agree on "socialized" promotion, you will be recommended for knighthood!

It is mostly about money. The NY wine industry claims it does not have enough collective money for massive programs. Maybe so, but where does that leave the industry?

In the late 1980s someone at one of the wine magazines interviewed Robert Parker. In the interview, Parker was given a number of words or phrases and he was to answer the first thing that came to his head. When the phrase was New York wine, Parker replied that it would always be a regional curiosity.

I nearly went ballistic when I read that, and I wrote a letter to the magazine. Today, however, I think I understand what Parker may he been getting at. I'm sure that he has seen first-hand how much money it takes to move the wine industry.

Tom - I'm an American. No need for the Knighthood, but thanks for the thought. As for "socialized promotion" what I am really looking for is coordinated effort. Say twice a year - April and October - we have New York Wine Month - with coordinated protions in stores - posters, fixtures, and a deal, say a few extra points on five to ten cases per store, with product from cooperating wineries.

I don't want one giant sales organization. No one wants that. BUt if the French and Italians can get their acts together (I'm Italian, my wife French), then surely we should be able to come together twice a year.

And here's the thing. The NYWGF have attempted this, but the wineries haven't really bought in. They just like to complain. Yes, we might have a capital shortfall, but with some coordinated efort and some enthusiasm, on our home court, we should be able to make a dent.

One of my growing sons asked me, when do you know if you "really" like someone? I told hem when I saw them take a shower, brush their teeth, comb their hair, put on clean clothes, and ask where my aftershave is, then I'll know when they "really" like someone. I thik it's the same thing. When the majority of the wineries really get serious, consumers and wine shops will know.

Lenn & Evan - I don't ever expect to see NY wines dominate NY in my lifetime. We live in a special place, one of the great cross roads of wine, in what Kevin Zraly is calling "the Golden Age of Wine." But when I walk into a wine shop in California or Oregon or Washington, I see the regional wines being touted. I'd say there are a good percentage of the shops that carry little to no quality New York wine at all. And that has to change.

Carlo,

I don't know how long you've been in the NY wine business, but everything in your last post could have been written in the late 1980s. While things have changed, many more things have remained the same.

The fact is that the NY wine industry as a whole has never shown a desire to work in concert and create what you have identified, and what I agree, is necessary. That's in part because the industry is diverse in its wine offerings (hybrids, natives, vinifera). The elitism that some place on some species does not allow them to even consider working with those who produce the other species wines.

It might be a good thing for the state to stop funding the Foundation, if only to motivate the wine industry to stop complaining about conditions and to organize action to change things for the better.

As for France and Italy, I'm unsure about France, but I know that Italy has had government programs to help promote and also that the separate wine regions have done miraculous work to get their messages out--while they also have increased the overall quality of their wines a hundredfold. Their focus has been export markets, and what they have done has been expensive. But at the same time, when you talk to Italian producers from region to region, which I have done many times, you find strong differences among them. Much of their promotion has been confined to regional blocks rather than country-wide.

It is not easy to get any wine industry to work in concert.

Tom - I understand that you and I are on the same side, so we're just parcing words, but with all due respect, I would say there was not enough good quality wine in New York in 1985 to sell, the way there is today. We have more wineries, and more good wine than ever before.

In 1985 I bought my first few First Growth Bordeauxs, and I had visited CT, NY, NJ, and RI wineries at that time. I was buying NY wines back in Union Square from Art Hunt when that was the only place in NYC you could get them. I know what was being offered. And it has improved. And I know the difference.

And yes, Italy has improved a hundrefold, and I believe NY is improving in the same way. And I don't expect a NY love fest. I just expect some cooperation somewhere down the line. You can say we didn't do it in the past, but eventually people come together. In 1775 the Congress of America sent out the Olive Branch proposal to Geoge III. At that time the Adams (Sam and John) were considered absolute freaks, the outer fringe to be avoided at all costs, but by the 1776 Congress they were in the majority. People need to find a common interest, and share a common need.

Perhaps you are right, if the Foundation is let go or desolved, then the wineries will have to face facts.

"People need to find a common interest, and share a common need."

Carlo,

You are so right about the above.

In my travels through this industry, I've found that common interest has always been its weakest link.

As for the wines of the 1980s, I beg to differ. You may know what you drank, but you may not know all that was being offered back then.

At that time, we had Dr. Franks's, Wiemer, Glenora, Heron Hill, Millbrook, Hargrave, and a number of smaller wineries doing stellar work--they just didn't get the notice that they are receiving today (except that Hargrave is gone).

Sure, we had many clinkers and, unfortunately, that gained most of what little press there was about New York, with the exception of guys like Howard Goldberg, who led the pack back then in providing serious coverage of what was going on in his home state.

I don't think that quality is the only issue that holds back the message.

Also, in the upstate market, there were a number of innovative retailers and restaurants that made NY wine available.

Terry Robards in Lake Placid one was of them; Michael Turback in Ithaca was another.

In 1982, I tasted my first Wagner Chardonnay (Finger Lakes) at Tastings Restaurant, which was located on 55th Street in Manhattan and was operated by the then young and original International Wine Center. It was in fact the wine that got me to leave Brooklyn and come to Keuka Lake.

Carlo:

The battle over wine in grocery stores ended the way it should have, with wine stores prevailing over Big Box chains that could care less about NY wine. So while The Last Store on Main Street Coalition believes there is no fair compromise to that question, we do believe the battle has had some positive impacts that must be pursued.

Retailers from around the state in increasing numbers recognize that supporting New York wines is not just critical from a political perspective, but it can also be profitable. As a result, that relationship has grown stronger and can be stronger still.

The issue comes down to a simple question: How can we increase demand for NY wines? Stores will carry what their customers want, obviously, so how do we get more of them to want NY wine? The answer doesn't fall only on stores, nor does it fall on wineries alone. It falls on all of us who have a stake in the future of this industry.

In an attempt to answer that question, we have held roundtables around the state -- your winery participated in the event at Brotherhood. A lot of good ideas came from those discussions, and we are now trying to distill them down to an agenda that retailers and wineries can support.

There are many things we can do without government help, like promoting NY wine tourism in our stores. There are other things we will need government help to acheive, maybe an I Love NY Wine ad campaign. Many of your ideas offered here make a lot of sense and we look forward to the conversation Lenn has started for additional ideas. We also plan to host additional roundtables this year to bring retailers and wineries together to accelerate the conversation.

It's our hope and intention to develop an agenda that we can bring to Albany with one, united voice rather than gear up for battle again over the grocery store issue. That issue has distracted us for long enough. It's time to try something new: working together on a plan that will increase consumer demand for NY wines.


So Michael, does the new direction mean that some of the retailers that barred or punished wineries for having a position will back off from that tactic? Or have they already?

The rancor was disgusting to watch and listen to, and I do hope that it is avoided in the future.

It's disturbing that a position on an issue can't be debated between parties with sincerity instead of with threats and half-truths. It doesn't bode well for positive promotion.

Tom:

What is disturbing is continuing to perpetuate an total falsehood. Claims that wineries where blackballed were investigated by the Attorney General. who found absolutely nothing to support them. Saying it over and over doesn't make it true.

The grocery issue was debated vigorously over the last two years. I respect the position of those in favor of it -- I just think they are wrong. Like it or not, the Legislature rejected it two years in a row. The fact that Big Box stores lost doesn't mean the issue wasn't debated with sincerity. That sounds like sour grapes to me.

The question now is how we move forward. Wine stores across the state are putting time, effort and resources into a new partnership. So are many wineries. We welcome you to be part of a solution. Or you can continue to throw stones.

In this month’s Beverage Media, 52 NY wineries are listed for sale by distributors statewide. 9 are from Long Island. That means these wines are available on one day’s notice, with 30 days to pay, at wholesale pricing anywhere in the state of New York. From Watertown to Ithaca to Montauk, and of course Manhattan and Brooklyn. Any restaurant, and any retailer can get delivery to the door on terms, and any consumer can get these wines in their own neighborhood on demand just by asking.

What makes California, Rioja (and the rest of Spain), all of Italy, Oregon and Greece so successful in our state? They are in distribution. They are available. They have no choice of course, but my point is, we don’t have a choice either. (There are more 77 Oregon wineries in distribution in NY by the way – do I have to count the Californias?)

Continuing to wait at the cellar door for wholesale customers to find you, and continuing to drop millions of dollars trying to convince people of our quality is a policy that seems valid, perhaps worthy, but ineffective. We can demonstrate how ineffective this policy is whenever Mr. or Mrs. Newyorker goes to the store to buy a bottle of wine and finds limited selection of our state’s produce and selects something else. We can demonstrate how invalid it is when a restaurateur tells you (quite correctly) “how can I place a wine on my wine list I don’t have a regular supply of?” How can my Long Island wine be by-the-glass in Buffalo without a distributor to handle the regular deliveries? Sure, I can UPS it to them, sure, it costs more to do so, but what if I wanted 50 restaurants to do that? How are they going to find me anyway?

I do not accept the lack of demand for NY wines as cited by the retailers on its face. They aren’t wrong, but a lack of selection, and the very difficult measures they must take to add 25 or 50 new vendors (as all wineries who self-distribute are) is way too much for the retailer to want to manage – most of them anyway. Difficulty in accessibility of the wines makes the lack of demand a self-fulfilling prophecy. That’s not the retailer or the restaurateur’s fault.

No winery with successful distribution is unhappy with the access they have to the market, and yet there are many things to complain about, like slight profits and lack of attention. But the talented marketers and the knowledgeable and experienced sales people who have managed their distribution well know they cannot get along without it. I’m afraid the vast majority of people in command of our wineries think they understand a wine shop or a restaurant’s needs on a daily basis, but they are wrong. Self distribution makes their job harder. They take your wine out of courtesy and appreciation for your product – many like to deal with the producer directly - but I’ll bet they wish it was easier to get all the same…And of course this does not ignore the fact that many wineries DO NOT want to be in distribution – they are happy with the limited, but very profitable methods they are managing to use to get their products out there.

Bottom line, we can’t compare ourselves to the successful imported wines because we simply don’t behave like them. If we behaved like a new and exotic import, we might find ourselves in greater demand. And to truly unify us under a political banner has proven fruitless, and we should not bother with it, but we can unify ourselves under a group-think flag of “doing business.”

Carlo’s original post and this essay are outstanding, showing a depth of understanding of the “business” of wine that seems lacking so often. I don’t agree with everything, but you know where I stand – in traditional distribution methods, and for consumer access. Access is sales. Thanks Lenn, as always, for an excellent forum.

Michael,

Right. Like I said...

Anyway, which big box stores do you mean when you use that phrase? Is it the grocery stores or the big liquor stores with the stacked boxes of bulk wine that since the 1980s have replaced more than 2,000 mom and pop stores across NY State?

Jim,

You hit on an important subject: there are many wineries that have finally awakened to the fact that the tourist trade isn't going to be enough, and that wider distribution is what they must have (many claim that is their reason for wanting wine in grocery stores, as liquor retailers aren't doing them enough good).

No longer being int he trenches, I have no answer for wineries concerning distribution. I only hope that the kind of stuff I endured when I worked with distributors as a rep for local wineries has diminished greatly. Otherwise, I don't see how much help that route offers to small wineries. The small operations simply don't have the resources to support "programs" on which distributors rely in order to motivate their reps and "move" boxes.

Thomas: Just want to mention that I think you're wrong that the wines "back then" were -- on the whole -- comparable to the ones being made today.

Even just in the last 5 years, wine quality has jumped significantly. There are more better producers and even the lesser ones have really raised their winemaking game.

There are very few absolutely undrinkable wines on Long Island right now -- that wasn't true when I first really got into the local wines. And the top producers have gotten even better.

I can't speak to the Finger Lakes over the arc that you can, of course. But I think I can for LI and HV.

Lenn,

You are right--I am mainly speaking of the Finger Lakes, but was trying to spread the largess around ;)
I do recall the vegetable nature of early LI wines.

My point was, however, that there were some truly good producers that far back and that it wasn't just bad or mediocre wine that kept NY from advancing (a far back as 1976, Taylor was the 6th largest domestic winery--how so?).

With a consumer product it doesn't take much for negative image to become viral, and it takes a whole lot more for a positive one to build. It's worse when the bad image is not counteracted with a good promotion and distribution program to kill it.

I don't want to lose sight of the important messages contained in this posting, but I'd like to agree with both Lenn and Thomas.

I'm the first one to pull out the "remember when?" card in most any discussion, but I don't think the good ol' days were really that good. The wines, from EVERYWHERE in the world, were inferior to today's technically improved wine (sometimes at the cost of their soul?)

There was a whole lot of very bad wine from NY that was extremely popular. I cut my teeth in a huge retail store in Delaware in the late 80s and the best seller in the whole store, bar none, was Widmer (in 3L bottles.)

Dwelling on the past in wine is totally apropos since wine is such a long-lived product - that's the awesome part, but dwelling on the past "wine business" will get us nowhere, sadly!

The country, our palates, the winemaking, the grapes, our competition, and the major players are all different. Really different!

Jim,

What brought Taylor to its high position? Great promotion, sales, and distribution, with which to sell mediocre, yet technology sound products for the time.

Imagine what can be done with great promotion, sales, and distribution with which to sell outstanding products for our time!

Right before reading this post I had read a blog by Matt Kramer. In it he made the following observation:

"Apart from the sheer pleasure that this wine afforded, it reminded me of how many good, even extraordinary, wines are now created in America that most of us never see. Cowhorn Spiral 36 White Table Wine 2009, for example, is just 400 cases. So how many of us will ever come across it? The same could be said of hundreds of wines across the United States, never mind Canada. Here on the West Coast, I don't see a single wine from, say, Long Island.
This situation suggests that in a strange way, we are slowly becoming like Europe, where in many cases locals are the near-exclusive audience for local wines, and the rest of the nation is largely oblivious to what's happening just down the road. We're not quite so extreme yet, but we're getting there. The question is, is that good or bad?"

I thought it was an interesting question to piggyback on this conversation. Is it really a good thing or bad thing that LI (or any individual region) is mostly limited to it's immediate surroundings. From a consumer perspective, I can see positives and negatives either way. Conversely, for those in the wine business in NY I can completely see all the positives (image, recognition, $$$) to "go global"..... or at least "go American".

Dave, that's romantic a notion, no doubt. But imagine now Italy as just regional. That is, no Italian wines here.

Now do the same for Spain. For California.

Boring, no?

Thomas, what you are describing is the Gallo Model. No puns, no hyperbole intended. Gallo invented wine marketing. Smart (large) producers like Taylor learned from it.

Yet it's still quality at the end of the day...

Jim,

I'm not so sure that Taylor (1880) learned from Gallo (1933). Taylor grew just about every day after it opened its doors--it grew even during Prohibition).

In 1933, when Prohibition ended and Gallo began, Taylor likely had the best sales and distribution network in the nation. The company was sold to Coke only after its management realized something was amiss with the growth path--something along the lines of the wine consumer had begun to change in the U.S. after the famous Paris tasting of '76, a turning point year in Taylor's future.

The Taylor story is a most interesting one regarding the way that wine moves through both this country's economy and its social structure.

Michael

We agree and we disagree. Firstly, do not confuse my position - I was against the grocery store bill two years in a row. Read any of my posts on it. It was poorly written legislation, and I agree, the big box stores will not support my little winery, or any of the small wineries in New York state. No questions asked.

Secondly, yes, we seemed to have made good progress back when those roundtables were held, and many of us small vendors were very optimistic. The store owners were kind and friendly. But things seemed to have stalled somewhat after the grocery store bill was defeated and time has gone on.

Thirdly, as I have written often before, I think wineries need to make themselves sexier to consumers and to store owners, and I think there needs to be a better, more concerted marketing effort in general. There is no question that this is a burden the wineries owners need to take up. We have some exceptional accounts, that get the local wine angle, and know that we are making some wonderful wines. They are great partners. Some retailers really get it. Many, however, still do not.

I think this conversation is in fact a great opportunity. I and other winery owners and marketing people, would love to work with The Last Store on Main Street to begin a steady program to show liquor store owners how to maximize their investments in New York wines, and improve their sales and increase their profits, while supporting local growers and industry. We'd love to do more tastings, and get more opportunties to put our products in front of the retailers and their customers.

I also think there is another great opportunity. I would also tell you that NY wineries, especially the small ones, would also love real information from the Last Store on Main Street, on how to best position themselves to make themselves more attractive to liquor store owners. This could be a revolutionary and historic chance to provide real partnership between the two sides.

I and my fellow small, quality winery owners welcome any continued dialogue we can engender to make the NY wine industry as vibrant as possible. We need partners like you and your membership to make New York wine as successful as it can be. We want to be an asset to the liquor store owners, indeed, we would like to be friends.

I hope we can pick up this thread together and take advantage of this tremendous opportunity.

Carlo

Siding with the last store on main street coalition was a bad miscalculation on the part of NYS wineries. NYS retailers do not support your wines, nor do they care to. Last Store represents big box stores. Michael is clearly misusing that term. Big box stores defeated supermarkets. Supermarkets would have less selection of wines than 80% of the wine stores in this state. I just wanted to clear that up for everyone.

NYS wines need promotion. That promotion needs to come within the wineries. The wineries should be targeting small boutique like wine shops, that carry good wines. The ones that hand sell stuff. Not the ones that floor stack Clicquot and Santa Margherita. Last Store protected those stores from supermarkets. They certainly did not protect the "good" wine shops. 35 states allow wine in grocery stores. Plenty of great wine shops in those markets.

Listing wines in the Beverage Media is not enough. Heck, I let my BevMedia subscription lapse this year. Waste of paper, waste of $100.

Wineries need to get out in the marketplace more. Macari and Hermann Wiemer are great examples of successful marketing...they get out there, show their wines to retailers and restauranteurs all over the region. Lo and behold, their wines get onto retailer shelves. The wines are good and people get to see that they are.

PS-Michael, are you saying that because the attorney general found no wrongdoing, that no wrongdoing occured?

Just for the record, I am a retail wine store owner, and I am pro consumer. The majority of consumers in this state would like to see wine in grocery stores (they are already in bog bix stores). I say we let nature take its course, and let the chips fall where they may.

Retailers need to align themselves on important progressive issues. Not regressive ones.

Daniel,

The AG found no wrongdoing mainly because the AG did not go through with the investigation. No one knows why that is so, but many have ideas.

On this, as on many issues, the NY legislature was up for auction, and the powerful Speaker of the Assembly, who refused to even think about the word "consumer" must be courted if an AG wants to trade his job in for Governor.

Daniel, how many dozen NY SKUs does your store carry? From how many NY regions? Do you have the new Fox Run offering? If so, how is it doing for you? I love it.

Ed,

Hello. I know your store--and the others--quite well, and you are an exemplary example of how a big store can still support a local wine industry.

Still, we may disagree on where wine should be sold in NY, but regarding Last Store On Main Street, the issue is: who does that organization represent? If it's the mom and pop stores, as they claim, where were they over the past 20-plus years while mom and pop stores were being forced out of business because they cannot compete with the real big box stores that already exist?

It's quite clear to anyone who knows the retail industry that wine sold in grocery stores presents the big box liquor stores with competition. It's also clear that in this country, we espouse the belief that competition is good and free markets work--except when they apply to protecting our domain in a regulated industry.


Thomas, Hello!
It is fairly useless to discuss at this point but I met and worked with many small winestore owners and winery owners in the fight against WIG. There were some winery owners for it as well, my good friend Scott at Fox Run was one of them (and Scott and I are friends, he as a person is quite incredible and I consider that our relationship transcends the business). Fox Run, Anthony Road and Red Newt make great wine (I assume Miles does as well considering their fruit source and winemaker). If any store is depriving their customers of these wineries, shame on them- I hope their customers follow the wine and find a new store.
As far as any winestore owners being for it, the only 2 I've heard of did not support NY wines. I hope Daniel comes back with a link to his website showing plenty of support for great local wines and does not make it 3.

Ed,

I'm working on a story about another issue connected to depressed grape prices. One of the reasons for the drop in prices is a drop in demand; one of the reasons for that drop in demand, according to Scott, Miles and others, is the need for more retail outlets, because, for whatever reason, there aren't enough people like you in the NY liquor retail trade.

Maybe Scott and the others place their bets with opening more outlets at the expense of better promotion and marketing. I see the need for both, but nobody pays me either for my advice or my opinion, so I'll end it here, knowing that Micheal McKeon doesn't seem interested in providing me an answer to my questions.

Thomas,
I actually did not for Daniel P to get back about the NY wines he carries. I clicked on his name, followed the link and searched New York on his store's website was disappointed. It is unfortunate that some store owners do not care to provide customers with local wines. I will tell you it is my opinion that stores and restaurants in New york that do not carry NY wines are shameful.
I recognize it might be easier to sit back and not bother to visit a winery but it is the most personally and professionally rewarding aspect of my career. It's how I met Scott (who promised to introduce me to Doug Miles). Believe me, I'd drop everything in a second if I ever came up with a better way to support NY grapes, farms and wine.

Carlo:

We very much want to keep this conversation going, so I will reach out to you directly to see how we can bring your ideas to life. Thanks for the offer.

If there was any "stall" in the conversation, it was likely due to the fact that the budget battle this year lasted much longer than anyone expected. But now that it is over, we are committed to picking up the pace of those conversations.

As I stated early on, I am not looking to keep fighting the grocery store issue on this blog. Rather, I and the members of the Coalition are hoping we can work together with wineries and others to lift our industry. Sorry, Tom and Daniel, but I dont think its all that productive to keep arguing that question. Lets just agree to disagree on that one.

No Michael, I don't agree to anything unless, maybe, you can answer simple questions.

Where was your "coalition" when over 2,000 mom and pop stores faded?

What exactly do you mean by "big box" Stores?

Who funds your outfit?

The first thing that is necessary for a relationship between your "coalition" and the wine industry should be transparency. Can you provide that?

A very thoughtful piece, for sure. I think it makes sense to have NYW&G focus more heavily on NY City as it is a large, very large, market for fine wine (and very close). A marketing focus similar to that of New Zealand, Australia, Washington, also makes sense, just as separating the needs of the juice grape growers does. Hopefully, NYW&G will morph into something more strategically important to the industry in building the NY brand.

I didn't read all of the comments above yet - too much on WIGS (be interesting to see how you guys got on that).

Duncan,

We got on WIGS because wineries claim that they need more retail outlets and grocery stores would provide it. The so-called "coalition" was against the idea, which initially was truly a bad one. But after many concessions were put into a new proposed bill, to take into consideration the needs of the retail trade, the resounding response from the "coalition" was "we don't want anything to change."

One of the things that holds the NY wine industry back (only one of them!) is liquor control regulations. Here, the state was ready to dismantle pieces of the regulations and this "coalition" of retailers fought (and some say paid) for its defeat.

The issue is one spoke in the wheel that Carlo got rolling in his original post.

I am in fact unconvinced that grocery chains would do much to help the access problem, but I also see where more availability may help boost sales of local wines, and that the present system of distribution isn't exactly free trade.

Great post, important discussion. I'm sorry I joined so late.

I do think that all issues are important and valid, but to focus on the WIGS is letting the core of the issue get away a bit. It is the easier discussion to have but does not address the bigger issue. "Carry my wines in your store" is fine, but I don't believe sales come simply from availability.

Getting the consumer to pick the NY bottle off the shelf instead of one of the many similarly priced (or lower priced) offerings that they are more familiar with is what needs to be addressed. The reputation of the wines is not where it needs and deserves to be.

I work every day to sell various NY wines into retail and restaurant accounts in manhattan and brooklyn (admittedly for MUCH less time than many of you). I would rather have my wines btg at restaurants than languishing on a list or a shelf. Yes, there are many stores that do a good job selling NYS wines, but there are not enough stores that can hand sell the wines effectively.

The industry needs to help increase demand. People walk into stores all the time and say "I'm looking for a....". The sentence rarely ends with "Finger lakes Riesling" or "Long Island Merlot". That is not the retailers fault.

Every type of wine is Available in NY city. People buy what they want, and the industry needs to drive the demand by getting consumers acquainted with and excited about our wines. Coordinated marketing efforts including large tastings for industry, press, and consumers is a good start. Harvest celebrations (in the city) are another. Easier access to the wine trails is a third.

Let's not forget that we who read this blog are involved with NY wines on a daily basis. You would be amazed how many people I encounter at in-store tastings in Manhattan and Brooklyn that still exclaim "I didn't know they made wines on Long Island!" And these are not tourists. Yes, having the wine more widely available will help solve the issue of awareness. But it won't sell the bottle.

I would love for this discussion to pick up steam again on what I think are the bigger and more important issues. They are, unfortunately, the more difficult ones to address.

May I also suggest another possible hurdle to the issue at hand: Do NYS winery owners really want to work together? In my, again limited, experience I have seen and heard some evidence to the contrary.

questions some of you may be able to better address:

1) Are Producers primarily concerned with selling wines at maximum profit (through tasting rooms or direct to retailers) or with getting wider distribution of their brand?

2) Do the majority of producers agree that success for others in the state will translate into additional success for themselves? Or are they fighting each other for what they see as the limited slots on retail shelves?

3) Is there enough capital in the coffers to forgo short term individual sales for coordinated marketing efforts that will take some time to bear fruit?

Lenn good for you to stir up the hornets nest. We are smack into harvest so I will try and respond to some of this.

First: Let’s talk about the big box stores. NY wineries out there who say that a big box store won’t carry your wines: Have you actually asked them? So how do you know? As a business person how can you make a statement like “Big Box Stores won’t carry my wines” without asking them? Check out the Big Box Stores in California, TX,AZ, SC, VA,OR, WA et. al. and see if they carry local wines. Take a trip to Sonoma and visit some of the Safeway’s and then tell me you don’t have a chance. You sure do!

NY State law will not allow central warehousing so each store will have to purchase the wines individually. Think about a grocer and their warehouse space. So large quantity purchases are going to be out of reach for most grocers and specialty stores!

Everyone forgets about the Big Box Liquor stores that are devastating the liquor store industry by putting out of business thousands of smaller stores because these stores cannot compete because they are limited by what they can sell. The Big Box liquor stores with their huge warehouse space can purchase larger quantities and sell it with full mark up for the same price the small liquor stores can BUY it for. Many of those small stores would welcome the chance to sell other items because they know they can compete on service to the customer by selling gift items and delivering gift baskets with all sorts of items like cheese, coffee, glasses, etc. They know they can compete against all those other stores out there because they have the expertise. Why can’t we give them a chance to compete against those Big Box Liquor Stores?

Now let’s talk about the New York Wine Industry.

I have been in this industry since 1985 in one form or another here in NY and owning my winery since 1993. We had 14 wineries on Seneca Lake in 1993 now we have 60. The tourism pie has not grown since 2000 yet we have added 30 wineries to the mix since then. The pie slices are getting smaller.

Those of us who started early on selling our wines to the retail trade were able to get some of the limited shelf space that is offered by the liquor stores. Since all these new wineries have opened up and not been able to sell their wines out their tasting room door, they have begun selling to retailers. The retailers are not willing to cut into their Australian, French, South African, or Italian sections to replace them with a local product so they take my wines or other well established New York wineries wines off the shelf. So what does that mean? It means we are cannibalizing ourselves.

As much as Michael Mckeon says they, the NY Liquor stores, are opening up to us but he is a paid lobbyist for them and that is his job. They aren’t opening up to us. Go out into the market and look. How many liquor stores in the NY city area carry any NY wines? If they do most put us on the bottom shelf or in some weird section of the store. They as a whole have no respect for local products like ours. Most of them think we are a bunch of hick farmers. There are not enough outlets in this state to accommodate all the wineries. You new wineries that are opening up in other regions have not had the pressure of new neighbors cutting into your shelf space yet. What are you going to do 5 years from now when there are 20 wineries all within 20 miles of you and you can’t sell your wines and Mike is telling you about all that great support the liquor stores are giving you?

Have any of you thought of the distributor aspect and their sales people? Think about this! Distributors represent wines from all over the world. When we as NY wineries start to cut into their business by taking shelf space and therefore sales away do you think they are going to sit idly by and let that happen? There are only three large distributors left in the state and they will not pick up every little NY winery that wants to sell wholesale. The distributor sales people have relationships with stores that go back as much as 20 years. The distributors also sell distilled spirits which every liquor store needs. Do you think the liquor store owner is going to bring in your wines when he sees you maybe once or twice a year vs that distributor sales person he sees once or twice a week. They will fight us for that space and most of you will loose.


The marketing has been done at some point or another. Yellow Tail did not do one bit of advertising or marketing. It was all done by the distributor and the retailer. The distributor supported it with deals and the retailer gave the wines prime shelf position and told their sales people to recommend it. That is all that needs to be done in marketing NY wines. But as many of you have experienced when you are standing in line at a liquor store waiting to speak to the owner and someone comes in and asks for a nice Riesling you watch in awe as the owner or one of their employees say “come over here to the Washington state section and I will show you a nice Riesling”. It’s not what they tell you it is what they do that shows how they really feel.

Lastly, the boycott of my wines. I had 375 liquor stores and growing and now have less then 200 since I spoke out in support of wine in grocery stores. Contrary to Mr. McKeon’s comments for which he is paid to say, it would indicate to me that there is something going on so if it is not a boycott what would you call it? I have customers who come into my tasting room daily saying “I used to be able to buy your wines at such and such store how come they don’t carry you anymore”?. Why would a growing brand in January of 2009 all of a sudden loose this kind of market share? So I don’t know what you would call it but boycott and conspiracy come to my mind.

We do need wine in grocery stores because we need more outlets to sell our products so our industry can grow and we can take back the number two position in wineries and sales of local wines.

As a wine professional, my area of knowledge is local wines and I make a good living. NY seems to have a group of hardcore advocates who foster relationships and disseminate knowledge. Ron Reals (now of Opici) for example introduced the wine store owners of WNY to several different wineries and his passion for NY wines goes beyond his corporate interests. The Lenn and the team at the NY Cork Report is another example. How can we create more individuals and groups like these? If the W&G Foundation had more funding could they create/employ more advocates and then create more demand?

There are some Wine Stores that do not carry NY wines. There is a lot of quality NY wine out there at a great price, the wine is not an issue.
There are many wines not available through major wholesalers, a lot of the smaller wineries have to sell themselves and that can make service to the stores a challenge. A store that does not serve the local wine market is not necessarily run by lazy owners and staff, sometimes economics does not allow owners to seek out local wines. A small restaurant owner has to get dinner on the table and cannot drive out to wine country. If Daniel P. returns to this thread I'll simply ask "If small production NY wine was as easy to order and discover as fine European or Californian wine, would you do it?" If so, how can we make that happen? Is it the job of the State? The W&G Foundation? the small wineries to band together like Ron Reals did years ago? The large proactive retailers promoting NY wines, creating demand that will filter across to the smaller/family run stores?Can we create more visionaries like Ron Reals/Len Thomson?
As more top quality wines are produced in state, we need to ensure shelf space devoted to NY wines will increase with it.

Scott's quote from above
"But as many of you have experienced when you are standing in line at a liquor store waiting to speak to the owner and someone comes in and asks for a nice Riesling you watch in awe as the owner or one of their employees say “come over here to the Washington state section and I will show you a nice Riesling”."
Wow, that turns my stomach.

Well Duncan, it got on WIGS because WIGS is core to the success of selling NY wines and helping the whole rural NY economy.

Carlo, I applaud your “attack” plan. But crucial to successful promotions, reviews, and tastings are enough stores where people can pick up a bottle of ‘that’ wine. We're getting great press now. Next we need great distribution before investing more in building a market demand we can't satisfy. Getting more distribution in a few liquor stores, with such limited space to sell wines, isn't going to help much.

Currently few wineries benefit from promotions because of the lack of distribution of most NY wines.

Why is there a ‘lack of distribution?’ Liquor stores, no matter how supportive of NY wines, do not have enough shelves to stock enough NY wines so consumers can purchase the wines they hear about when they want to purchase them – not have to wait for a special order to arrive.

There are 14 million adults in NYS but only maybe 1,000 stores in cities and towns where a consumer can buy a NY wine for off-premises consumption. There are hundreds of towns in NY where there isn’t even a liquor store – but there are grocery stores.

Perhaps this has contributed to the dilemma of/for the NYWGF. Lots of great press but since it’s not easy to buy the wines the NY wineries aren’t making the income they could and should.

Lenn, since Jim T took the leadership role, you are right the industry has changed. Many promotion, tourism, wine quality, and other industry organizations have sprung up throughout the State in the last 15 years. Each targets certain goals and wineries/growers/others can join the organization(s) that provides what they want at a membership price they want to pay. These organizations sometimes complement each other. The Pride of NY offers excellent options. No one organization can provide everything for everyone. But one umbrella organization would be helpful to coordinate and connect the others.

Ben, you are right – sales don’t come only from availability in a liquor store. They will come, however, from impulse purchases in grocery stores. “Hey let’s try this Pahrump Valley Winery Syrah,” I said to my husband when we were in a grocery store in CA last year. We had selected food for dinner and were cruising the wine aisle. Never heard of the winery but the wine was perfect with dinner. Pahrump Valley Winery is in Nevada! We subsequently found their wines in a CA liquor store so bought more there.

People who start to purchase wines in supermarkets will ask for NY wines when they graduate to liquor stores which most will do because liquor stores will offer different selections. And if they sell high mark-up artisan cheeses (retail prices between $19 and $36 a pound isn’t chips/dip), and other products and offer services - that will increase the store’s adult customer base.

Wineries, grape growers, suppliers, restaurants, food stores, and related businesses do work together, Ben. Look at the successful Wine Trails that include associate members. But when you are threatened, and have seen the threats carried out with other wineries, to oppose wigs or lose accounts what would you do?

Mike McKeon says the wineries that claim such threats are “perpetrating a falsehood.” This comes from the man who is paid by a NYC PR agency, with the Last Store on Main Street account, which said many times in 2010: “No State in 23 years has passed legislation legalizing the sale of wine in grocery stores.” If anything is a falsehood –that is. Arkansas legalized the sale of wine in grocery stores in 2001 and broadened it in 2007 - uh, that's not 23-years ago. So why would anyone believe anything that Mike or the LSMS says?

There are many liquor stores in NYS who feature high quality wines from NY as well as other regions in the world. Many want to increase their customer base by getting big box wines off their shelves to make room for specialty wines and other products but the liquor store organizations ignore them. We want and need to continue to work with those stores to sell NY wine – and supplement them by opening the market to a broader adult audience. Then promotions – and organizations such as the NYWGF – will be most effective.

Carol Doolittle

Carol,
Avoiding the WIGS issue, yet following some of your points & using your figures. You said NY wine can be purchased in about a 1000 stores. That leaves about 1000 winestores left without NY wine under the current law. In your opinion, is there an economical, reasonable way to tap into that market? How many of those existing stores would have to come on board to make distribution possible? Certainly the wineries have provided quality and value- all we need to do is open some eyes.

Hi Ed,

Understand about wanting to avoid wigs - me too!

I wish I could think of an economical and reasonable way to tap into that market - reliably (that's the trick word). But even if we could do that, one shelf slot in a food store where thousands of people pass by each day, will sell more bottles of a wine than several shelf slots in a wine/liquor store where maybe a hundred people go into in a normal day. That said, more people would go into wine/liquor stores if those stores had other products to sell. And more people would go into wine stores after being introduced to wine where they buy their food. This happens in other states and it seems in other wine-producing regions in the world.

While I agree with your points and many others made above I believe opening the market is the only way to solve many problems with the industry - and the state economy (more wineries in rural NY would be fantastic for employment and tourism).

Jim and I have been literally immersed in the NY wine industry since 1974 and have learned a lot first hand ☺ which is where I'm coming from now. Hope to meet you someday - have heard a lot of good words about Ed Draves.

Thank You Carol, that is very kind. I hope I do meet you someday soon. Local wines are my passion.

After reading this thread I have a bit of a different perspective than some. The distribution is a clear problem but I wouldn't necessarily think that the outlets will have much of an impact on sales of NYS wine. Convincing distbutors that NYS is a high quality, marketable wine is the most effective way to increase sales volumes. Whomever wrote that NYS wine is not the problem they are correct, however, the perception of the wine is still not there. When I open up bottles of wine with friends who are not familiar with nys wine they are always amazed at the quality. I know there has been some good press through WS recently but the perception still is not the greatest. When I was in Napa in the spring I would speak with the people in the tasting rooms and they would inevitably ask what I normally drink, I would respond that I love Finger Lakes wines especially Rieslings. Almost always they would say that they didn't realize NY had good wines and a woman a Clos Du Val even went so far to ask if the reason I drank NY wine was because they were cheap. I'm a big supply and demand person and I think that demand tends to drive supply not the other way around. If people desire NY wines enough distribution will increase to support demand.

Mark,

Agree with you (and Ed) but if wineries spend lots more money to create demand and consumers can't buy the wine what's the gain?

I wonder if, instead of a promotion/wine tasting/tourism organization, we need a distribution/sales one?

It is comical to listen to Carol Doolittle and Scott Osborn continue to cry sour grapes. WIGS was defeated because it was garbage legislation designed to benefit one organization's interests...the grocery stores. Osborn and Doolittle should be ashamed of themselves and the setbacks they have presented to others in the wine industry in NYS. Instead of focusing on growing demand for NYS wines, we have been distracted by internal conflicts of interest that have held the industry's growth back. When the NYWIA has to submit its first 990EZ, we'll uncover where Osborn and Doolittle got their contributions for this sham organization and we'll hold them accountable at that time.

As for the debating points from Carlo, the issues facing NYS wineries is that we have tapped out NYS wine demand. Its very simple economics, there is now too much supply of NYS wine for the demand in it. More outlets for wine in NYS will not increase consumption, as every community in NYS is well served with a sales outlet in their neighborhood. Liquor store geo-location coverage in NYS has be optimized to the point of diminishing marginal return. Simply stated, you cannot generate additional demand when none exists. Only so much can be gained through personal selling efforts by liquor store owners and the wineries need to look beyond maximizing profits built off the distribution system provided to it by the NYS government.

The problem with wineries in NYS is that there are no formal marketing departments at these companies. Most of the winery owner are hobbyists that have turned it into a small business. Do Scott Osborn or Carol Doolittle have a VP of Marketing at their podunk vineyards? Doolittle has all she can do to even harvest her crops, let alone have the business expertise to hire a seasoned marketer. The answer is that neither Osborn or Doolittle have hired a marketing professional and instead of making an investment to grow their company, they looked to shifting the existing distribution channel in hopes of "incremental sales" that would be non-existent and cozying up with the biggest wallet in Wegmans in hopes of preferential treatment for their personal wineries.

The fact the NYS wines have no brand image even inside NYS says it all. Personal selling at the store level will not make a dent on awareness. With the lack of monetary resources from these small businesses, it falls upon the NYWGF to step up and provide a marketing function to bring awareness to NYS wines inside and outside of NYS. The small wineries, as part of their membership, should be contributing advertising dollars to generate awareness outside of NYS.

Until this is done, there will be no growth for the industry and wineries will go out of business. As new NYS wineries pop up, they will cannibalize the sales of existing NYS wineries. Sales growth will only come from out-of-state sales and that is where the focus needs to be. These are basic economic principles that fools like Scott Osborn and Carol Doolittle want others to dismiss. The reality is they cannot be dismissed and every winery in NYS needs to be focused on building awareness for NYS wines through effective marketing efforts.

Frank -

Do you want to make an allegation about a winery owner, or do you want to make unsubstantiated remarks? That's the last we'll tolerate of that around here. If you have something you'd like to share, go ahead.

Regarding marketing, I think you raise fair points (in a horrendously self-immolating manner) about the value of a strong marketing team. But to call Scott Osborn a fool is to detonate your credibility here. Do you hold a personal grudge with Scott? What is your position in the industry?

This forum needs substantive debate, even heated conversation - as long as it stays courteous and respectful. I'd ask you to try again.

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