Sitting in the Rochester International Airport last night waiting for the 7:30 Jet Blue flight bound for JFK, my phone began to beep incessantly — one of my fellow judges from this week’s New York Wine & Food Classic was texting me the winners of the competition as promised.
Normally, the triumphant are announced soon after the judging finishes, but this year was a little different. The winner of the Governor’s Cup — a stand-up 2012 Riesling from Keuka Spring Vineyards in the Finger Lakes — as well as the other top award winners were announced by Governor Andrew Cuomo himself, after a triple-vineyard tour and trek with a multitude of journalists, sommeliers, and other wine-industry insiders. You’ve got up put up or shut up, the old saying goes — and it seems the Governor Cuomo is opting for the former.
Which is smart — wine, beer, spirits, and other agricultural endeavors in New York are great business across the board, and Cuomo’s thus-far good support of these industries is seeing its rewards in hard numbers. According to his office, since 2010 farm wineries have grown 17%, micro-breweries 74%, cideries a whopping 83%, and farm distilleries 211%. Add in a 400% increase in hop production and you’ve got quite a lot to clink to.
“Wine, beer, dairy – these are industries that have no where to go but up,” said Josh Vlasto of the Governor’s Office, adding that in the past sticky, contradictory regulations and massive taxes were part and parcel to impeding their growth, but the current administration is more interested in creating an overflow of New York liquid treasure, and all the benefits that come along with it in the form of tourism dollars and jobs. “We have great product — but nobody knows about it.”
That might be taking it a little far — certainly the producers themselves have done their share of pavement-pounding and product pouring to infiltrate difficult markets like New York City. But help from the Gov is certainly a very good and needed thing, indeed. For his part, Cuomo has been making a very visible and consistent personal investment of time in the industries, showing up to tour the wineries, walk the vineyards, and host events like yesterday’s awards announcements, and last winter’s Beer, Wine, Spirits, and Cider Summit. He’s also about to launch a $1.2 million in ad campaign, with a slick, up-beat TV commercial touting New York wine and (smartly) the national accolades its received.
This week’s competition had more entries than any Classic in the competition’s history, with 875 entries from 120 wineries and distilleries (although wine is easily the brunt of the competition). What I can tell from being there and tasting through the entries blind is this: The consistency of quality was exciting, and it’s something that’s becoming nearly impossible not to get behind. Throw a supportive governor in the mix and we might just be entering an era of the unstoppable.