Talk to most Long Island winery owners and winemakers, and they’ll mention proximity to New York City as
a main advantage for the region. New York City is probably the most important wine market in the world, and if local wines can ‘get in’ there, they should be on the road to easy street on the world stage, right?

Well, it’s a nice theory. Unfortunately, only a handful of producers have been able to infiltrate New York City restaurants lists — places like Channing Daughters Winery, Paumanok Vineyards, Lieb Cellars and Bedell Cellars (not a comprehensive list by any means). There hasn’t been a concerted, or at least effective, effort on the part of the region as a whole to market its wines in New York City. As such, the average New Yorker doesn’t think much of Long Island wines. They’ve probably only tasted one or two low-end wines from one of the larger producers. New Yorkers can be a judgmental lot, so they are more than willing to write off an entire region based on one or two bottles of plonk. Is that a bit like judging all of California wine based on Sutter Home White Zinfandel? Maybe, but in a city filled with endless wine options, New Yorkers can afford to be particular. There are always different (and often cheaper) wines they can try.

But, I think if Long Island wineries can get their better and best wines, many of which are in fact values) in front of more New Yorkers, they can start to turn the regions NYC reputation around.

And $200,000 that New York State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle assigned to the 2008-2009 New York State budget specifically allocated for marketing Long Island wines in New York City should help… if they use it well. I haven’t heard any specifics about what programs they plan to invest the money in, but the grant will be administered by the New York Wine & Grape Foundation and will focus on four ideas outlined by the Long Island Wine Council: awareness building, media outreach, restaurant outreach/direct marketing, and marketing analysis and education.

According to a press release I got this week about the news:

The goal of this initiative and the focus of the strategies are to generate wholesale opportunities in restaurants and retail stores in the New York City market. Ideally, the project will not only result in new sales over the course of the (one year) initiative, but will also lay the groundwork for sustained, longer-term interest and demand on the basis of a new understanding of the quality and consistency of our region’s products, as well as new relationships formed between wineries and sales targets.

I, for one, will be watching this closely to see what programs and strategies the region comes up with. This would seem to be well timed considering the continuing "local" movement. Maybe this will be a perfect storm of funding, programing and audience. Maybe it will be another costly flop of a tax-supported program.

With so many wineries involved, with so many strong personalities (both in good and bad ways) the LIWC and NYWGF will have their hands full trying to focus members on common goals.

A press conference is scheduled for Friday at Paumanok Vineyards. Unfortunately, I can’t attend. If anyone is going and wants to offer a report, shoot me an email.