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March 31, 2021

Just a Little New York Crazy w/ Sam Filler, NY Wine & Grape Foundation

Just a Little New York Crazy w/ Sam Filler, NY Wine & Grape Foundation

“You gotta be a little crazy to plant vines in New York,” Sam Filler of the New York Wine & Grape Foundation tells us. Yet, New York is the third-largest wine-producing state after California and Washington. It showcases a diversity of high quality, cool


“You gotta be a little crazy to plant vines in New York,” Sam Filler of the New York Wine & Grape Foundation tells us.  Yet, New York is the third-largest wine-producing state after California and Washington. It showcases a diversity of high quality, cool and cold climate wine growing regions, such as the Finger Lakes, Long Island, and Niagara.  Sam gives us an overview of wine (and juice grape growing) in New York and tells us about how the foundation supports its members by building the brand of New York Wine, its winegrowing regions, and  primarily family businesses that make it up.  

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Detailed Show Notes: 

  • New York Wines
    • 470 wineries, ~100 vinifera producing
    • Mostly family-owned wineries
    • #3 in US wine production behind CA and WA
    • $6.65B in economic impact supports 72,000 jobs
    • ~40,000 acres planted, 11 AVA’s
    • Has a diversity of climates - maritime (Long Island), river influenced (Hudson Valley), great lakes (Finger Lakes)
  • Main AVA’s
    • Finger Lakes - Riesling; lots of winegrowing history; 1st wine trail (1983), Pleasant Valley Winery founded in 1860 - 1st US bonded winery
    • Niagara - could be a leading Pinot Noir region
    • Long Island - debate on the signature grape, Merlot the base of Rose, Sauv Blanc, Cab Franc; the breeze from bodies of water reduce mildew pressure
    • Lake Erie - major Concord grape growing region for Welch’s grape juice, Double A Vineyards nursery an important player; Riesling, Traminette (like Gewurztraminer)
    • Hudson Valley - Cab Franc focused, 500 acres planted
    • Finger Lakes and Long Island recognized both locally and globally
  • Main varietals
    • Riesling - grown in most regions, biggest in Finger Lakes
    • Cab Franc - grown in many parts
    • Chardonnay - Finger Lakes, Lake Erie, Long Island; more Chablis style wine
    • Pinot Noir - big for sparkling wine production
  • Unifying elements of New York wines
    • Cool climate, mainly driven by family businesses
    • Defined by bodies of water that surround the regions
    • Personalized hospitality (elevated with Covid, e.g., Macari Vineyards glamping tents)
  • NY Wine & Grape Foundation
    • Established in 1985 by state law - to lead promotion and research efforts for the state
    • Associated with Cornell University and various programs, including the wine analytics lab
    • Includes juice grapes (⅔ of vines planted in the state) - Welch’s a key partner for viticulture research; very limited table grapes in the state
    • Success for the foundation is building the capacity of the industry - e.g., getting DTC online, improved websites, connections to customers, and maintaining relationships
    • Members are mostly “farm wineries” (a legal term that means wineries use 100% NY grapes), grape growers, and business partners
    • State provides baseline funding for infrastructure, receive some matching funds for research, and some membership dues
  • Working with other local wine marketing groups
    • Used to fund some marketing materials
    • Now co-sponsor events and collaborate closely with the local marketing bodies
  • Geographic Focus
    • New York City is the #1 focus
    • Chicago and Florida also important; PA difficult b/c of the liquor control board
    • Some export but need to find the right niche
  • Marketing efforts and programs
    • NY wine ~70% sold out of tasting room - hospitality key
      • For markets w/in a 5-hour drive of NY state, NY is the #1 destination to visit
      • Tourism sales did well in Covid with people traveling locally (less visitation, but higher sales/visitor)
    • Building more online presence (e.g., Macari vineyards dialed in their wine club program during Covid)
    • Virtual tastings helping broaden the geographic reach
    • They did some advertising on Levi Dalton’s I’ll Drink to That podcast and now with SevenFifty to reach the trade audience
    • The key effort is in keeping consumers engaged with wineries
    • Believes telling the individual stories of wineries is compelling, potentially more than having a signature grape
    • Most effective marketing - when people can connect in person, started experimenting with incorporating local elements in trade tours (e.g., state park visits, walk-around tastings with a meal, more curated events vs. bussing around to many wineries)
  • NY State Wine messaging
    • Used to be “Uncork New York”
    • Now “Boldly New York” - embodies the risk-taking spirit across the state, “gotta be a little crazy to plant vines in New York”
    • Vision - To be the world’s greatest cool and cold climate grape-growing region
  • NY wine investment
    • Paul Hobbs started a winery in the Finger Lakes focusing on Riesling
    • The trend has mostly been family wineries buying other family-owned wineries - the industry is investing in itself
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