That might be the one thing that all growers of grapes, owners of wineries and juice producers can agree upon.
More marketing, more sales, more research, more data.
But as to how that might look, there are plenty of opinions. And those opinions are being collected during the 11 listening sessions the New York Wine and Grape Foundation is holding with various factions of the grape industry as it tries to update its strategic plan.
Strategy consultants from Farm Credit East and staff from the foundation are visiting with industry representatives across the state this month, having already stopped in the Finger Lakes and Niagara regions. They had earlier visited with industry representatives in Chautauqua County where growing grapes for juice is big but not as big as it once was. They’ll hit every region of the state before March.
“It’s a good time for new energy and new vision, because the market has changed,” offered Hans Walter-Petersen of Cornell Cooperative Extension’s viticulture program, at a strategy session held in Geneva. The wine and grape juice industry now competes with other craft beverages that are more popular among younger drinkers, including hard cider, beer and spirits, quite a few participants noted. And some of those beverages have marketing opportunities unavailable to wine: you can sell hard cider and craft beer in a New York supermarket, for instance, but not wine.
“The pie has not grown as quickly as the people taking slices of it,” said Liz Stamp of Lakewood Vineyards in Watkins Glen.
Several participants at the Geneva gathering praised the foundation’s “NY Drinks NY” campaign, which introduces wines made in New York to consumers primarily in the New York City area. But they also said it’s time to concentrate on other areas, where Finger Lakes wines have less competition from a cosmopolitan range of choices.
They also suggested new marketing campaigns, similar to those they’ve seen by the apple industry or others.
“Wouldn’t it be great if there was a commercial about New York State grapes: The best of the bunch?” said Donna Gridley, owner of an 80-acre grape farm on Bluff Point overlooking Keuka Lake.
Dave Mansfield, co-owner of Three Brothers Winery in Geneva, said more effort needs to be made in-state as well, educating New York consumers about the quality of New York wines. “There will still be people 10 years from now who aren’t buying our product,” he said. He has more success marketing his wines in Mississippi and Kentucky where there are fewer biases favoring foreign-made wines, and asked whether the foundation could help New York growers and wineries market their wines to nearby Pennsylvania and Ohio.
But some winery and vineyard owners said they have to still market on their own. Chris Stamp of Lakewood Vineyards said visitors are coming to the Finger Lakes from all over. Wineries need to check those visitors’ hometowns and make sure their wine is being sold there, he said.
It would be best to focus marketing efforts on metro areas where New York wines are already being sold, added Bruce Murray, co-owner of Boundary Breaks Vineyard in Lodi, Seneca County.
That’s proven successful with New York City, said Peter Martini, vineyard manager of Anthony Road Wine Co. in Yates County. “NY Drinks NY has brought people into our winery. NY Drinks NY has increased our market share tremendously,” he said.
Some growers and producers who handle Concord grapes haven’t seen a similar boost and offered suggestions for creating new products taking advantage of those native varieties.
John Brahm of Arbor Hill in South Bristol said, “There are lots of opportunities for other grape products. If you look at national (sales), a small percentage penetration would make a significant difference.” Eating for the first time at a Waffle House restaurant recently, Brahm said he wondered why the array of syrups seemed to include every fruit flavor except for grape.
Neal Simmons of Simmons Vineyards on Keuka Lake’s Bluff Point suggested more research in using grape seeds as a source of fuel and in other byproducts of making wine.
Sam Filler, executive director of the New York Wine and Grape Foundation, said research has recently been done to see whether the strong Concord flavor can be stripped from the juice by a denaturing process. While that was successful, the next step in the research is to see whether the resulting product works well as a blending juice in wine, such as the 30 percent “other” that is allowed in Cabernet Franc varietal wines.
Filler said the foundation will complete its sessions Feb. 25 and then meet with its board to reevaluate its mission and identify six to eight objectives to follow going forward.