By Evan Dawson, Managing Editor

NYWC Carlo DeVito, owner of Hudson-Chatham Winery in the Hudson Valley, spent a long time studying the numbers. To him, they told a grim story — New York wine continues to grow as an industry, but New York State offers less support each year.But in other wine-producing states, government support is growing to match the industry.

Virginia's state government offers far more support, and DeVito noticed that even Ohio is squashing New York when it comes to state investment.

Armed with the numbers, DeVito met on Monday with members of the state assembly, Senate and Governor Andrew Cuomo's staff to discuss his proposal for the creation of the New York Wine Council. DeVito figured it was a waste of time to simply ask the state for more money — especially in lean times — so he made an extensive presentation that included comparisons to other states, recent trends, and benefits of further investment.

"I didn't meet a single person who didn't understand or appreciate our position," DeVito said afterward, noting that he went with the support of 13 other producers, including flagship Finger Lakes producer Hermann J. Wiemer. "Lawmakers said that this is a tough time to ask for more support, and I respect that. But we believe that the return on state investment is enormous, and we showed them that."

His proposal would dramatically alter the relationship between New York state and its growing wine industry. DeVito is seeking at least $1 million in state support, with an eye toward more, and he wants to see the creation of a New York Wine Council.

Such action would not, DeVito explained, seek to eliminate or diminish the New York Wine and Grape Foundation. "Not at all," DeVito said. "It would be a different entity with a different mission. The Foundation's work is too important and they're underfunded as well. In our view, they're a vital partner."

On his website, DeVito laid out the statistics and arguments he took to Albany. You can read it here. Some highlights include:

Catching up to other states

"Virginia is setting a great example," DeVito said. "Their industry is certainly smaller than New York's industry, but they're investing in ways that are very serious and effective. What a message that sends. You can't doubt the impact that has on growth, tourism, and their economy."

DeVito presented the following figures:

Wineries: 135
Total budget: $4.5 million ($1.5 from agriculture / $3 from tourism)

Wineries: 125
Total budget: $1 million

New York
Wineries: 273
Total budget: $750,000

"Nobody believes that the state ought to spend more money for no reason," he said. "We're talking about one of the rare opportunities to spend money that immediately comes back, and then some. Virginia is doing it. Other states are doing it. Our lawmakers have great challenges — it's tough, I know that. But we think that with a little more information, they'll see how valuable this can be."

Expanding the "I Love NY" campaign

DeVito told lawmakers that there is a natural extension of state support for tourism. He'd like to see the I Love NY campaign expand to offer I Love NY Wine. And the target markets include New York City, which DeVito feels is ripe for new business.

"There are major wine and food magazines in New York City," DeVito said. "There are major retailers and New York wine barely has a foothold right now. We don't engage the New York media enough. We can change all of those things."

And DeVito pointed out that New York City is home to offices or bases for more than a dozen domestic and international wine councils.

Establishing an Identity for New York Wines and Reaching New Markets

The creation of the New York Wine Council would require more details and planning, but DeVito already sees opportunities for the council and New York state. His proposal targets new markets for expansion, mainly focused in the northeast and including major cities like Boston and Philadelphia while reaching out to Portland, Maine; Montpelier, Vermont; Springfield, Massachusetts; Trenton, New Jersey; Hartford, Connecticut; and Nashua, New Hampshire.

These are markets that some individual wineries already engage, but DeVito wants to see the state put its efforts to create a bigger business map for the industry.

Such efforts would engender fresh thinking about New York wine, DeVito argues. He says, "Branding is about offering tasting two or three times a year, it's about courting major media and new media," DeVito said. "It's about doing things the other countries and regions are doing that we don't do."

Governor Cuomo has entered office with a plan to cut most departments, and expanding state expenditures might seem unlikely. But DeVito has informed lawmakers that failing to invest more would only worsen the state's economy when there is an opportunity to strengthen it.

"I can't predict what will come out of this," he said. "But I do know this: They listened."