By Finger Lakes Correspondent Jason Feulner

Albany_state_houseMy educational background is in public policy, which does occasionally mix with talk of wine, although not often.

Last month my interest was aroused by a news release from the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, the contents of which were shared on several websites and in print. Through the Agriculture Department a task force has been formed to address the regulations, research and promotion of New York State’s wine industry.

To preemptively analyze this task force’s mission before it even produces a word is perhaps foolish for observer and reader alike, and only an insider or an investigative journalist might find enough information to truly pose an opinion on whether or not this task force will be a colossal waste of time. There are some salient points that can be delivered, however, which neither condemn such an exercise nor put much faith in it either. 

I am going to keep these thoughts and others in mind as I observe the activities of this task force:

  1. In New York State, none of these task forces are ever created without there being an existing (not necessarily hidden) agenda. Governor Spitzer would not have called such a task force into being for academic purposes, but is instead looking for justification for a future policy option. The conclusions of this task force will be used to add credence to any moves the governor’s office wants to make with the legislature
  2. By my count, there are 6 members of the task force with direct links to the Finger Lakes, 4 from Long Island, 2 from the Niagara Escarpment (surprising), 1 from the Hudson Valley and 1 from Lake Erie.  The chair is Kareem Massoud of Paumonok Vineyards. With this makeup, it seems like no one region will be able to form a veto-like majority. The Finger Lakes’ representatives have extremely varied interests.
  3. Some questions arise in terms of member interactions. What does Constellation Wines have in common with New York’s farm and boutique wineries? Where do Constellation’s interests intersect with smaller operations with regional markets and where do these interests diverge, espeically when it comes to distribution and labor policies? In addition, who does Jim Trezise of the New York Wine and Grape Foundation represent at this table and what are the Foundation’s goals? Is the wine business in New York going to be based on what’s best for production volume and sales or on creating a distinct and self-promoting industry?
  4. Who brings the refreshments? I hope it’s not Constellation.

One could come up with many more points or questions, but at this stage I am going to sit back and watch.  I’m curious to see the impetus behind the creation of this task force, which should reveal itself in due time.