Is there a Market for Long Island Wine Beyond New York?

Posted March 6, 2013 by Len Dest in Regions

Since I first became involved with Long Island wine, I have said privately and publicly that I simply do not understand the general lack of national distribution. I have argued that with wider distribution there would be increased recognition and demand, which will benefit all of the wineries on Long Island.

In response to my recent NYCR piece which included another comment with regard to Long Island wine distribution issues, I received two comments. Charles Massoud, proprietor of Paumanok Vineyards in Aquebogue, commented: “As to distribution, indeed we may never be able to distribute beyond our local market, because our local market is huge with over 10 million people between NYC, Suffolk and Nassau. But we do not see this as a weakness or a challenge. In the wine world there are small regions and large regions and they cohabit together happily.”

James Silver the General Manager of Peconic Bay Winery in Mattituck and Empire State Cellars in Riverhead commented: “We are pretending that our (LI wineries) lack of distribution is a choice. It is absolutely not a choice. It is true that we as a group have dabbled in CT and FL and stuck a toe in OH and a little in NJ — but even the greatest of LI wineries can’t (with a straight face anyway) tell you they’ve found real honest to goodness acceptance in NJ or any other place outside of the immediate area….We want distribution and we should strive to get it, but don’t pretend for a minute that we can just take it like it’s low hanging fruit…The modern day distributor of fine and not-so-fine wines is being led around by the nose by one or more of the six mega-producers of wine and spirits. This leaves precious little attention time left for NY wines in, say, Kentucky and Missouri, when they have their own local wineries to distribute. Even then, the local distributor is merely ‘obliged’ to handle their state’s producers.”

I understand both comments. But what really troubled me was an additional comment from Jim: “It’s well known by now that I have found (literally) 100 times more interest in our wines in Shanghai than in Hartford or Hoboken….There is no demand, none whatsoever, for LI wines 100 miles beyond the George Washington Bridge, except by collectors of curiosities.”

Since I have the greatest respect for Jim’s business and marketing knowledge, his comments floored me. I had for years promoted Long Island wines in the Northeast region, as well on the West Coast, and I found among wine professionals that had sampled Long Island wine great respect for the style and quality of most Long Island wines. From their comments, I had projected that consumers would also be interested in Long Island wines and there would be good distribution markets outside New York. But I had not really tested this theory that if wine professionals enjoy Long Island wines that there was in fact a market beyond New York.

So to test my assumptions that Long Island wines can be marketed outside the NYC region I decided to conduct a very non-scientific survey. I spend the winter season in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. During the winter months 20-30 percent of the population in the area is from the Northeast, with the largest group from New York State. While not wine country, Palm Beach has a number of positives for wine enthusiasts. Wine can be purchased virtually everywhere; wine shops, wine and spirits supermarkets, food markets, convenience stores, drug stores, etc. Restaurants have extensive wine lists due in part to many national and regional distributors serving Florida. The local Palm Beach Post newspaper has multiple wine articles weekly. And there seems to be a wine tasting or wine dinner almost every night during the winter season at retail stores, wine bars and restaurants featuring wines from California, Oregon, Washington, Chile and Argentina, France, Germany, Italy and Spain, Israel, South Africa, and Australia and New Zealand. However, New York wines are difficult to find due to the distribution issues.

I went to the three leading upscale retail wine sellers in Palm Beach Gardens; Total Wine & More (a national wine and spirits warehouse store), Publix (a large food market group which along with its Whole Foods type store, Greenwise, is the largest wine retailer in Florida), and Whole Foods which has a large wine section with 100s of domestic and international wines. I talked to the wine managers at the three retailers and asked if they carried New York and particularly Long Island wines.

The results were uniform and supported Jim Silver’s assessment. Only Total Wines routinely carry New York wines, but of the 57 wines that the company has in its national inventory, only approximately 20 are carried by the Palm Beach Gardens store and almost all are Kosher wines with a few sparkling wines from Great Western and Taylor. Publix occasionally carries some Finger Lakes Rieslings, while Whole Foods does not carry New York wines. The reason is simply that there was no demand.

I was very disappointed that in an affluent community with significant New York residents, there was no demand for New York wines. I doubt it is price as the wine managers indicated that the typical price paid for a bottle of wine in their stores was greater than $20 (closer to $25). Perhaps it the demographics; younger New Yorkers buy Long Island wines and older New Yorkers do not. Perhaps buyers are conditioned to purchase wine while visiting tasting rooms on Long Island, and do not think to buy at the wine retail shop. Or perhaps there really is no interest in Long Island wine.

For those of us in Florida interested on Long Island wine there is some good news with regard to purchasing Long Island wines. Since 2007, wine shipments from other states to Florida residents is permitted with no restrictions on the quantity of wine that can be shipped to Florida. Also recently, Bouké and Bouquet wines, and Macari Wines are both available from Amazon.com wine.