For a brief moment, featuring intense bright light and a chorus of angels, the center of Gov. Andrew Cuomo[1]’s universe was along the west shore of Seneca Lake in wine country.

Which is to say, that’s where he was. At the end of the day in Watkins Glen Cuomo[2] presented the appropriately named Governor’s Cup to Keuka Spring Winery from neighboring Keuka Lake for a delicious semi-dry riesling as the best wine of the 2013 New York Wine & Food Classic[3] wine competition. In attendance at the awards dinner were all the political Whos of Whoville who wanted to be close to that bright light, or were compelled to be, for 100 miles around and beyond.

Much like the whitewater rafting event in the Adirondacks, it’s impossible to decipher if this wine tourism promotional tour, with an entourage that would qualify as an army, was about the governor scrambling to improve his sagging upstate popularity, or a legit push on behalf of a major state resource. I suppose both are true.

Regardless, it was an important moment for New York’s wine industry.

Not so much because a New York governor was involved, because that is nothing new. New York governors have been closely associated with the steady rise of the state’s wine industry from the beginning, which is not surprising since much of that growth has depended on enabling legislation and other governmental encouragements.

By pure chance, I saw much of it. My 46 years of newspapering overlays nearly perfectly on the last half century when New York went from four wineries in the entire state in 1970, mostly around Keuka Lake ironically, to the present 330 across the state. My initial attraction to wineries and grape growers was agriculture, which I felt was under appreciated and under reported. I think that’s still true.

Carol Doolittle[4] of Ag and Markets organized the first modern all-New York wine competition in 1978, under Ag commissioner Roger Barber[5] of the Schoharie Valley, at the State Fair grounds in Syracuse. By 1981, when I first started judging, she had moved on to public relations at Cornell University[6]. About the same time, Carol and her husband, Jim, an economist who had worked with Gov. Hugh Carey[7]’s staff to develop the Farm Winery Act of 1976, created Frontenac Point Winery on Cayuga Lake.

Carey was persuaded by artist Mark Miller[8], owner of Benmaryl Vineyards in the Hudson Valley, among others, that the state needed to create a vehicle for small wineries to become at-home retailers of their own product so the industry could have a broad growth base. Carey handed off the Farm Winery Act project and subsequent changes to his lieutenant governor, Mary Anne Krupsak[9] of Amsterdam. As a result, she is reverentially known as the mother of New York’s modern wine industry.

Her legacy, the Farm Winery Act, was crucial for preparing the way for what we have today.

The next important milestone for the industry was Gov. Mario Cuomo[10]’s creation, the New York Wine and Grape Foundation[11] in 1985, for promotion, education and marketing.

The foundation has had one leader, Jim Trezise[12], who’s done a terrific job under challenging circumstances, particularly with marketing, often with threadbare resources. That’s improving.

Gov. George Pataki[13] deserves a mention. On a sweltering day in mid-August in 2005 at the tip of Canandaigua Lake, the governor awarded Casa Larga Vineyards in the suburbs of Rochester the Governor’s Cup for a stellar ice wine.

The same day the governor broke ground for the wine and culinary center, a public-private partnership, that today is an important stop on the Finger Lakes wine tour.

The day before, the U.S. Supreme Court brought down barriers to interstate shipping of wine, a big win for small wineries across the country.

Although it was years before that decision would begin to reach its potential, an example of how powerful the forces remain that would control wine distribution for their own gain at public expense.

Unlike nearly every populous state in the nation, we still don’t have wines available in grocery stores, thanks to those same powerful forces and the influential money they spread to key politicians to keep it that way.

Which brings us to the present, and why Andrew Cuomo’s visit and new devotion to promoting New York wines is a milestone in its own right. It’s because the term I’ve been using throughout this column, ”wine industry,” has new meaning.

I’m not sure when it was. Not this year certainly, or even last, but recently New York’s wine industry has gained sufficient gravitas, weight, to be an established, significant force worthy of Made in New York.

It’s no longer a case of a few well-established wineries and wine makers turning out excellent rieslings and other varietals.

Now dozens and dozens all over the state are doing that, from the Niagara Escarpment to the South Fork of Long Island, challenging each other, getting better and better.

All we need now, as the governor noted addressing Whoville, is exposure.

Particularly downstate.

New Yorkers are their worst enemy when it comes to underappreciating New York wines.

So what makes the governor’s splash and dash push behind New York wines special?

Timing. Which as we know, is everything.

flebrun@timesunion.com[14] 518-454-5453

References

  1. ^ Andrew Cuomo (www.timesunion.com)
  2. ^ Watkins Glen Cuomo (www.timesunion.com)
  3. ^ New York Wine & Food Classic (www.timesunion.com)
  4. ^ Carol Doolittle (www.timesunion.com)
  5. ^ Roger Barber (www.timesunion.com)
  6. ^ Cornell University (www.timesunion.com)
  7. ^ Hugh Carey (www.timesunion.com)
  8. ^ Mark Miller (www.timesunion.com)
  9. ^ Mary Anne Krupsak (www.timesunion.com)
  10. ^ Mario Cuomo (www.timesunion.com)
  11. ^ New York Wine and Grape Foundation (www.timesunion.com)
  12. ^ Jim Trezise (www.timesunion.com)
  13. ^ George Pataki (www.timesunion.com)
  14. ^ flebrun@timesunion.com (www.timesunion.com)

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