When Paumanok Vineyards' Charles Massoud planted his vineyard in 1982 with his wife Ursula, there were only a handful of vineyards on Long Island.
Over the subsequent 20-plus years, Charles, Ursula and now their sons -- this is a true family-run winery -- have worked hard to put and keep Paumanok Vineyards in the upper echelon of wineries on the East Coast.
Charles takes a very pragmatic approach to running his winery and, over the years, he has seen wineries come and wineries go. He's seen wineries, including his own, succeed not only with critics but also in the New York City market.
I know that I personally have learned a lot from Charles, and he was one of the first people we wanted to invite to take part in this series. I'm happy that he's agreed to do so with the following essay:
The Good News and the Bad
By Charles Massoud
Carlo DeVito make a lot of good points, but I'd like to add some of my own as well.
The Good News
New York city has embraced Long Island wines! We used to play victim, complaining that New York City turns its nose up at Long Island wines. No longer true. Over the last few years, of the top 50 Zagat restaurants almost all have at least one Long Island wine on their list and pour by the glass. There are at least ten Long Island wineries doing a brisk business in the city. So let us stop saying we should raise our profile in New York City. We have. It has worked and it will benefit the rest of those in the industry who will craft high-quality wines.
Those who stick with low quality swill, nothing will help them.
There are some terrific wines being made in New York and the critics, for whatever it is worth, have said so. Robert Parker's Wine Advocate has given ratings from 90 to 92 to more than 100 New York wines. The Wine Spectator has likewise been rating New York wines higher than ever, having invited several Long Island wineries over the years to its major event, the NY Wine Experience.
These are the leading indicators.
Now the Bad News
If you wait for the government to help you, I would suggest you might do better with Santa Claus. The industry must help itself. Or go out of business.
New York's wine image isn't where it needs to be. A report published by Wine Market Council titled "U.S Wine Markets Trends and Analysis," page 62, states "New York wines ranked lowest in quality compared to all of the other states."
This was made available to us last December. Based on this I issued a call to action and included the NYWGF, the Long Island Wine Council and about twenty wineries. I asked if there would be any interest in exploring how we might, as an industry, positively change our image to reflect the leading indicators mentioned above. There was polite interest by some but in the end I was left alone to conclude that the real problem is the lack of understanding of marketing by New York wineries.
In general, those who are serious will work hard at creating good wines and wait for the world to beat a path to their door. And wait they do, which drives many of them to start a circus at the winery to attract tourists and -- by the way -- sell them some wine. They certainly do not understand that this brings down further the image of their wine. Because if the wine is good it does not need a circus to be sold, it follows that if you create a circus your wine must not be so good. By and large there is poor understanding of basic selling and basic marketing and our industry would benefit from some basic education in these areas.
Carlo is right about identifying the need for leadership, because currently we do not have effective leadership. Those who know better have long figured out that they have to strike out on their own to be successful.
The NYWGF has an impossible mission and must be all things to all people. As such it cannot be very useful at providing strong transformational leadership, in spite of the many useful little programs that it has developed over the years.
The wine trails are ineffective as they spend most of their budget on salaries and have no play money. And their budget is too small to attract highly qualified promoters/marketers.
So Where Do We Go From Here?
The NYWGF must be reformed and adopt the concept of zero based budgeting. All the nice-to-have but strategically unimportant programs must be dropped. Even though it has organized good education programs, that mission belongs to Cornell which should take up that task. The NYWGF should stop funding the trails and use all of its funds (whatever is left) to do one thing but only one thing and do it well. My vote is to "Change the image of New York Wine" to match what the critic are saying.
Perhaps in year one and with the recently limited budget it should use the money to hire a professional firm to develop the blue print for an effective PR campaign and put it out to bid. If it comes out with a credible program then it can use the suggestion I make below. The trails can fund themselves if they want. And if they choose to shut down their staff will be easily placed in the wineries.
The NYWGF should devote itself to doing what none of the trails can do by itself and that is to put New York wine on the map.
The industry needs to wake up and learn marketing and selling. With that here is a suggestion: Every winery spends a few thousand dollars on advertising in obscure media that has almost no impact. If all three hundred wineries in New York would contribute $5,000 per year ( the average advertising budget?) for three years to a professional PR campaign that would positively change the image of New York wine, a successful campaign might raise the demand for New York wine.
If then this allows a winery to raise its average bottle price by one dollar, a 10K case winery will have added $120,000 in net income at the end of year three and every year thereafter. It looks like an investment that cannot be ignored.
Yet I doubt that wineries have the self confidence to make such a commitment and I am not holding my breath.
No one will give such a sum unless there is a credible plan that justifies such an investment. That is the opportunity that the NYWGF has. Will it seize it?
Self reliance in the meantime is the best formula and perhaps some day someone else will have better luck at energizing the wineries of New York to see that they have a great opportunity.