Cuomo’s Beer, Wine & Spirits Summit – a boost or bust to the industry?

First yoghurt, now alcohol. What do these two have in common? Governor Andrew Cuomo. Last week, Governor Cuomo hosted a “Beer, Wine & Spirits Summit” in Albany to address promotion of the New York-produced alcohol beverage industry, similar to the event earlier this year on yoghurt.  Cuomo met with farmers, orchard growers, beer breweries, and whisky, vodka, brandy and vermouth distillers for two hours to discuss concerns for this rapidly growing industry.

According to an article in Business Week on October 24, 2012 and another in the Post Standard on October 23rd, alcohol beverage is a $22 billion industry and is still growing. New York has over 300 wineries, around 100 breweries, and 28 farm distilleries. Hops, a key ingredient in beer, are one of the state’s major crops. Recent developments in grape varieties that survive outside traditional regions and are less susceptible to common diseases have expanded grape production in areas like Albany, Saratoga, the Thousand Islands, and Lake Champlain. All of these factors make the success of this industry a hot topic for New York State.

Unfortunately, the summit failed to address to important issues that have been the subject of debate for months, if not longer: hydrofracking and selling wine in grocery stores. This issue with fracking is whether or not it can be done in a way that will not produce harmful effects on the environment that will negatively impact the farms and water supply for these NYS products. And although Cuomo did not address the issue of allowing wine for sale at retail in grocery stores, he has commented that he still opposes it. In response to criticism, Cuomo argued that the purpose of the summit was to address promotion, which it did, in spades.

So what did the summit accomplish? Mostly plans and proposals. Research and promotion are vital to the success of small, local producers.  One of the biggest challenges for craft producers has been the post-prohibition laws that limit research and development and diminish the ability for craft producers to market their product. At the New York State Fair, for example, craft producers are having a difficult time competing with bigger national and international brands. One of Cuomo’s proposed measures will be to support New York producers with new legislation that allows them to offer tastings at markets and fairs as a way of getting their name out. Cuomo also announced a $1 million budget devoted to TV ads that promote NY wines. He plans to target New York City bars and restaurants, home to over 11,000 licensed establishments, to purchase New York State products as an immediate boost to the industry.

When you’ve only got two hours, you can’t expect to gain a whole lot. The summit seemed more of a tribute to what has already been accomplished and an announcement for what is yet to come.  It certainly was a great platform for discussion, even though it arguably missed the mark on some major concerns for local producers. But if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. As Gov. Cuomo points out, it worked for the yoghurt industry. Perhaps I’ll trade in cheese for some local NYS yoghurt for my next wine pairing.