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July 09, 2007


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You're right about the smaller wineries - the tasting rooms just aren't condusive to the big crowds - and also with those, alot of times the owner is there to discourage/turn away people themselves (Shinn, Paumanok for example). The ones with the large bars, obviously to be expected at Pindar & Duck Walk. From what I remember, Martha Clara claims to discourage it, but, when it comes down to it, doesn't seem to care much. I was out at a few wineries at few weeks ago, Pugliese seems to encourage a "fun" atmosphere, I thought, but for some reason it didn't bother me there (maybe because they were encouraging it themselves, and not just ignoring it like Pindar). Vineyard 48 was absolute insanity, people quite obviously getting drunk - but with their $7-9 tasting fee, and quality of wine maybe not the greatest on the Island, I think Vineyard 48 maybe makes a decent buck off the tasting fees so they turn a blind eye (there were people smoking cigars in the tasting room!). At Macari, as we were leaving, a bus of 40-50 people showed up, there were people drinking cans of Bud while they walked into the tasting room and swarmed the deck. No idea how they handled it, we ran the heck out.

We at Macari Vineyards are really sorry that you chose to run, Jeff, rather than to see how Macari handles any visitor trying to consume alcoholic beverages. If you had in fact stayed, you would have seen these people met at the door by our fully tips trained staff,and told to leave all other beverages on their bus. After of course it was assured these people were not inebriated. At this time, they were then invited in for a tasting of our wines. We do not, nor ever will promote the party atmosphere. We are about the wine and people's enjoyment of same.

Next time you see a bus or limo at Macari, Jeff, please don't hesitate to come in. There is NO DANCING on the bar!!!!!

Alexandra -- I should have mentioned, we were on our way out anyway (we had finished tasting, and were sitting on the deck deciding where to go for dinner). My experiences at Macari have always been great.

No dancing on the bar? What if it's Lenn? ;)

I made reference to this problem at couple of times in earlier posts and comments: the small Finger Lakes press has been talking about this problem for several months. The Syracuse paper only picked up on it recently.

I agree with Lenn's general observation that some wineries encourage this type of crowd while others do not. For instance--and this is an absolutely fair assessment--Bully Hill vineyards on Keuka Lake wants this type of crowd. They serve a variety of sweet wine. Their serving area is huge, designed to pack in as many people as possible. Their brightly-clad servers have a routine that involves songs, limericks, dirty jokes, and FULL glasses of wine for every taste (and there are many, many tastes per person). It's an absolute party atmosphere.

Bully Hill is right down the road from more serious wineries, like Dr. Frank's. Obviously, someone who really likes wine and wants to taste some in a beautiful setting runs the risk of bumping into a crowd that just got sloshed down the road at Bully Hill and is stumbling into Dr. Frank's for, well, more booze man!

The limo and bus industry sees dollar signs, and advertises in the hope of getting bachelor and bachelorette parties and other groups of people who want to drink without worrying about driving. They turn the wine trails into a pub crawl.

I think most Finger Lakes wineries do not see a lot of potential in the party crowd. These revelers are there to try and squeeze in as many tasting as possible in order to get drunk, which requires constant movement. I doubt they buy much and only do so randomly when time or price permits. Unfortunately, the wineries that have inferior and cheap wine realize the niche that these party folks can play.

I contend that these sweet wineries will continue to attract this type of crowd because it is their best bet as American wine tastes continue to mature away from sweeter varieties. Unfortunately, there is little to stop a group of hyped up drunk people from moving to a party-friendly spot over to a place that does not have such an atmosphere. When serious wineries begin to ban limos from certain companies, things might improve a little bit.

We saw exactly this kind of thing at some Finger Lakes wineries in May, particularly those to the east of Seneca Lake. Half of the busloads of college kids we saw were awful -- the later in the day the worse they were. Two quick fixes: wineries need to get on the horn to places like Cornell and tell them to stay away. And, much as I hate to say it, they need to up their tasting fees. The Finger Lakes wineries have some of the lower fees among those I've visited in recent years. Still, I'm not sure anything would stop some of the youths I saw chugging from bottles, they purchased, on the front lawn.

John, I seriously doubt Cornell produces most of the revelers. They could also be from Ithaca, Syracuse, ESF, Le Moyne, Hobart, Colgate, Hamilton, SUNY Cortland, SUNY Oswego...ok, I'm proving the sad fact that higher education is the only thriving industry in that area of NY! In any case, the point is that there are numerous colleges and universities in the immediate area, so the kids will keep coming if the limo and bus companies keep on advertising to these groups. Those companies and their access to wineries are the key to stopping most of this behavior.

As for the tasting room fees, much of Upstate New York is used to low prices on service goods, and most of the winery visitors are still from the immediate region (although this is changing). Heck, I can go to a nice bar in Syracuse and get a pint of good beer for $4 and often even less. In Corning, where I grew up, I can get a pint of good beer for $2!

I've learned to avoid most of the revelers by going to wineries in the spring and fall and going on in the summer during weekdays and, if needed, early on weekends. If you can take time off during the spring, May and early June is the best time to go. The weather is nice, the wineries are open to their full schedule, and most of the rieslings from that year are available in the tasting room!

Something I forgot to add - a tip i've figured out - if you go, go early. Most of the limo's/buses seem to not start until noon or 1, so if you get started at 10 or 11, you can hit at least a few in peace.

Maybe you weren't quoted because the writer wanted to tell a shocking story?
On my visit to Pellegrini earlier this year, I was next to a group of gals who were more interested in chatting with each other than tasting wine, but they were by no means drunk.
I had a top notch educational experience because I was pretty much the only person at the bar there to learn and taste, but I was lucky. I suppose if the tasting staff is busy controlling an unruly crowd, they can't offer personal interaction with their true customers.
I can see that a few years from now I will have to do more legwork before visiting wineries, booking appointments and such, as more wineries become invitation-only in an effort to discourage 'partiers'.
This is sad because it flies in the face of what a friend told me earlier in the year - many weekend visitors leave the Fingerlakes with money in their pockets because they cannot find enough places to spend it before Sunday afternoon.
Albany, NY

Hey Len, curious you weren't quoted! I agree with the poster who thought maybe they wanted to run a "shocker" story.

Why not trying writing a Letter to the Editor and have your voice heard.

Yeah, shock plays much better... I wrote a much longer comment over on the Walla Walla blog, but the gist is:

1. Limo and bus people better be aware that bringing drunk non-buyers to a tasting room will eventually kill the golden goose - if no TRs will admit them, they can't sell winery tours.

2. Bringing genuine potential buyers to TRs is in everyone's best interest.

3. Wineries still have the ultimate responsibility to control all of their guests and refuse service when appropriate.

fortunatly for Martha Clara here there are no bad incidents ever here for us you should really take a Saturday afternoon and come stop in for a tasting to see for yourself

Thanks for all the great comments guys.

This is really an interesting issue.

Alene, I'm glad to hear that MCV hasn't had any issues...just huge crowds! (I speak from experience). I've seen rowdy groups there, but it's never been a really issue for me or the people I'm with.

I think that well-trained tasting room staff can go a LONG way to helping the problem.

As a property owner that is immediately adjacent to Macari, and with our back deck literally a row of evergreens from the tasting room parking lot, I can speak to the atmosphere at Macari. Do they invite groups? Yes. Do they encourage fun? Yes. Are they contributing to people becoming drunk and acting like fools? Not actively or intentionally - if at all.

We hear the groups coming in and out all the time. But most often, the loud and raucous groups arrive that way - and seem to leave much more quickly than the quiet ones. I can only speculate that the staff at Macari has the common sense to know when to send a group packing - and when to allow the tasting to continue.

Overall, the sound of the Macari helicopter is much louder than any of the partying groups that arrive there. ;-) I think they've struck a fine balance between allowing a group to be entertained and getting them drunk. There are definitely other tasting rooms in the region that know nothing of this balance.

The growth of a young wine region is a blessing and a curse.
As it grows, more wineries pop up, more acres are planted, overall quality grows, and a solid reputation begins to form.
And as that reputation grows and spreads, more and more people want to experience the region first hand, so tourism grows as well. Unfortunately, not all tourists are wine tasting purists. Some are on a fun daily get-away (aka: party).
If we love Long Island and want to see the regions quality and reputation continue to grow, we must understand that - - like it or not - - pockets of partiers are simply part of the equation. I don't think the % of partiers has increased in LI (or any wine region for that matter), but they become much more noticeable when overall visitor attendance more than doubles from 500,000 to 1.2 million in a short period of time - - because the partiers have likely doubled, too.

PS: I'm glad I read in the NYT story that Raphael is closed on Saturday to appointments only so I can plan accordingly for my next few trips. Is anyone aware of any other wineries who have recently adopted this approach and now require appointments???

I think a topic like this really requires a response from the Long Island Wine Council.

First of all: Bravo to Foley for pointing out the crux of the matter: the media coverage of our region continues to grow every year, and with it the number of people visiting the wineries. As Foley suggests, the number of problem cases is a very small percentage of the overall experience. The vast majority of visitors are truly interested in the wine tasting experience, particularly the education they receive from winery owners and staff, but also the very pleasant environment that all wineries offer.

No winery encourages bad behavior and it is highly unfair to suggest that some of our members invite or condone it. It is not only illegal for wineries to serve anyone that appears intoxicated, it is also bad business to allow a small number of rowdy groups to scare away the very people the tasting rooms are trying to attract.

Most staff have been trained to deal with such problem situations, and the NY Wine & Grape Foundation will be organizing local sessions of the national TIPS (Training in Intervention Procedures) course this September for those who haven't yet had it.

As mentioned in the NY Times story, the Wine Council has been working with Long Island limousine companies to get them to understand the problem and to take greater responsibility for their customers' behavior. The wineries mentioned in Lenn's column have been on the forefront of our efforts to develop guidelines for bus and limousine operators. Hardly an indication that they welcome rowdy groups.

We're pleased that we're beginning to see some results from our efforts: several limousine and tour companies are making serious strides in educating their customers and monitoring them to avoid difficult situations. It is clearly in everyone's interest to ensure that all visitors - indivuals and groups - continue to enjoy the wine tasting experience on Long Island.


Thanks for the comment. Always welcome...and it's the stance I expected from the LIWC.

But, I think the reality is a little different here. Whether it's illegal or not, I've seen people who were clearly intoxicated served more wine. And more wine...and more wine. I've been next to these people at the tasting bar.

I don't think that I went so far as to say that anyone is condoning the behavior...but it's pure fantasy to pretend that some tasting room environments aren't more welcome to the rowdy crowds. Visit a place like Wolffer Estate or Channing Daughters and then visit Pindar or Duck Walk. They are very different operations/tasting rooms/environments. If these rare bad incidents are going to happen (and we know they will), where do you think they are more likely to happen? By saying that, I'm in no way suggesting that ANYONE wants them to happen, encourages them to happen or condones them.

I think that this discussion veered in a direction I didn't intend anyway...my main point (at least in my head) was that the NYT story irresponsibly makes it sound like these events are common. And they just aren't.

Good dialogue overall for sure. Certainly when a story like this enters the wilderness of the media, many writers (and editors more often than not) are prone to sensationalize and make dramatic the story. They are, arguably, obligated to do so in their endless quest to snag more readers with salacious stories, thereby maximizing shareholder revenue. So a balanced, accurate press release ends up in sensationalist, telephone-game fashion, turning into a story about streaking in the wineries and "hordes" of ill-mannered customers. When in reality, as many concede, these unruly groups, while incrementally growing in frequency, are by far and away the minority. The key thing is to take a positive, proactive approach to the phenomenon and strive to gently bend aggregate behavior to where we all want it to be. Maintaining the balance between fun, responsible winery visits for the betterment of both the industry and its customers. Everybody working together- both in the wine and transportation industries- and providing a united message focused on education and responsible appreciation of wine will continue to positively impact this phenomenon.

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