What am I missing?

Not too long ago, there was a general uproar in New York over the potential loss of annual state funding to the New York Wine and Grape Foundation (NYWGF). It’s one area that the governor sees as a way to save budget money.

Most of the people who write about the issue talk about the valuable promotional needs that NYWGF meets regarding what many still view as a nascent New York wine industry. I wonder five things about this subject.

First, it’s been around since 1858; when will the New York wine industry be weaned from infancy?

Second, if a 151 year-old wine industry still needs to beg for attention in restaurants and at retailers, shouldn’t the promotional value be subject to stringent review?

Third, why do so many winery owners complain to me, personally, about what they view as its relative ineffectiveness, yet they take NYWGF money?

Fourth, why aren’t the defenders talking more about NYWGF funded research programs?

Fifth, I wonder how many of the politicians, journalists, and bloggers who write about the subject know that the NYWGF was originally established in 1985 with state funding as seed money?

The state fully funded NYWGF to get it started and then, over the course of three to five years, wine and grape industry money was supposed to gradually increase until NYWGF was fully funded by the industry. Of course, this never happened.

The industry either could not or would not fund itself, but should the industry expect an endless largesse of politicians handling taxpayer money?

The funny part, to me, is to read the pompous pandering populism on this issue that one supposed fiscally conservative state senator has blanketed in newspapers in his district, which happens to include the Finger Lakes wine industry. He’s shameless.

I have a sixth question but it is arguably related to the NYWGF. It involves one major (I think) donator to the organization: Constellation Brands, based in Canandaigua, New York.

Constellation is the largest wine holding company in the world (or maybe it isn’t; I don’t keep up on such things). Anyway, under its international wing, Constellation includes its founding winery, the Canandaigua Wine Company and all the holdings of that company, which until recently included the once mighty Taylor brand, Widmer, and Gold Seal.

A few weeks ago, Canandaigua canceled all local vineyard operations in the Finger Lakes—now that’s showing support for the wine industry. And I hear that it offed the Gold Seal brand, but I haven’t confirmed that one.

NY starves for money and threatens the unthinkable to many—cut off funding for promotion and research—while the largest wine company on the planet, which is based in NY, and which supports the organization that needs the funding, can’t find a way to make Finger Lakes vineyards pay off.

I really don’t think I’m as dumb as this situation makes me feel. Somebody, anybody, please tell me what I am missing about all this.

One more thing: The governor still wants to gain some revenue by allowing wine sales in grocery stores. The protected retailers and distributors are of course unhappy about the plan. Yet, their arguments thus far have been rather lame. To prove the emptiness of their claims, they have started with the old “it will increase under age drinking” argument—the last vestige of a specious campaign.

I’ve read the arguments pro and con, and the one thing that seems to be lacking from the debate: the consumer. Access to wine in grocery stores is good for the consumer and long overdue in New York. Every other consideration is merely fatuous positioning.

If you are reading this entry anywhere other than on the vinofictions blog, be aware that it has been lifted without my permission (and without recompense), and that’s a copyright infringement, no matter that the copyright information appears with it.

Copyright Thomas Pellechia
March 2009. All rights reserved.

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