Warning! A Threat to Regional Wine!

Disturbing news came in my e-mail today, courtesy of an article in the Rochester (N.Y.) Democrat & Chronicle.
New York Gov. Patterson, trying to cope with the economic downturn and a
rising state budget deficit, is proposing to eliminate funding for the
New York Wine and Grape Foundation. The state executive branch currently
provides $1 million per year to the foundation, an amount matched by
industry. The legislature contributes $1.8 million.

Jim Tresize,
the foundation’s director, told the paper that the proposed cuts could
mean the end of the foundation’s promotional efforts on behalf of the
state’s wine industry.

Trezise said if the proposal becomes law, the foundation would have to
shut down its efforts to push juice, wines and wine trails €” industries
he said have a $3.4 billion impact.

Wine lovers around the country should be alarmed at this. Why?

As Jeff Siegel, aka “The Wine Curmudgeon” and my co-conspirator in creating DrinkLocalWine.com, wrote to me: “If
they get cut €“ and they€™re one of the most important €“
everyone will get cut.”

State governments around the
country are facing severe budget crises and will have to make painful
cuts in services and support to various industries. That is an
unfortunate fact of life. Gov. Patterson is also proposing to increase
New York’s excise tax on wine from 18.9 cents per gallon to 51 cents.
That’s a matter of maybe, oh, a quarter per bottle of wine? If even
that? No biggie, there.

But cutting the foundation budget could
have a lasting negative impact. Tresize, whom I’ve met several times
over the years, is probably the most forceful advocate of regional wine
in the United States. Sure, his job is to promote New York wines. But in
doing so he has brought attention to the rise of regional wine
throughout the country. He serves as a judge at wine competitions from
coast to coast and is a tireless promoter of Wine America, the national
winery trade association. His foundation helps sponsor viticulture
reseach at Cornell University – one of the nation’s leading viticultural
programs – which benefits wineries all over.

The foundation also
sponsors an annual Governor’s Cup competition to crown New York’s best
wine. I had the pleasure of judging once a few years ago when one of the
regular judges canceled at the last minute. I was impressed not only by
the quality of the wines but by the professional and efficient way
Tresize managed the competition. I’ve begged him to invite me back, but
the regular judges don’t give up their seats easily – the wines are that
good, and the event is that fun.

I’ve written several articles about New York wines over the years, most notably for The San Francisco Chronicle
just after the 2005 Supreme Court decision prompted the state to allow
direct shipping to consumers. I don’t know how much wine New York sold
as a result, but the article would not have been possible without
Tresize’s help in getting word out to wineries that I needed samples and

New York wines are finally creeping onto shelves in
the D.C. area. Not a whole lot of impact yet, but I suspect they owe a
great deal of their presence to Jim Tresize.

Jeff Siegel is right.
If New York ends its support for its wine industry as a result of the
financial crisis, other states may follow its example. Virginia’s wine
industry would not be as successful as it is today if it did not have
state support. Richmond cut off that support a few years ago and closed
the state office that was analogous to the N.Y. foundation, only to
restore it on a more modest scale later. I haven’t had time yet to
research how other states may or may not support their wine industries.
But whatever support they give – that means product improvement, market
expansion, jobs, revenues, and tax income for the state.

I don’t know what we wine lovers can do to stop this, given the economic circumstances. And most comments posted on the Democrat & Chronicle article were in favor of severing state funding for the foundation.

But we can at least call attention to the threat this poses to the growth of regional wine – in New York and elsewhere.

And we can contact Gov. Patterson to voice our support – from across the country – for the New York Wine & Grape Foundation.

This entry was posted in Competitions, Eastern US, Local Wine, New York, Regional Wine Week, Riesling, Virginia, Weblogs, writers and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Warning! A Threat to Regional Wine!

  1. Jeff Siegel says:

    In bad economic times like these — and Dave and I are old enough to
    remember bad times — governments tend to cut first and think later.
    This is understandable, but it’s not always the best course of action.
    Wine, and especially regional wine, provides jobs in hard-pressed rural
    areas. We’ve seen that in Texas. But when cash-strapped states start
    cutting funding, as in New York, they’re taking away one of the engines
    that promotes that rural growth. Talk to any regional producer, and
    they’ll tell you they couldn’t do what they do without marketing support
    from groups like the one in New York. They don’t have the resources to
    do what Tresize and his colleagues do for them.
    In the end, regional wine means jobs. It’s not about some snooty
    oenophile sniffing and sipping. It’s about keeping family farmers on
    their land, that’s a point state governments need to understand.

  2. The Wine Curmudgeon says:

    Tuesday tidbits 59: Texas wine at the White House, wine

    packaging, iPod breathalyzer
    € A big-time Texas recommendation: Lettie Teague, the executive wine
    editor at Food and Wine, told a California newspaper that
    president-elect Barack Obama needs to add some regional wine to the
    White House list. “As a New Yorker, I’d like…

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