Friday, July 8, 2011

A Winery Owner's Screed

by Scott Osborn, President

The big question I hear in the tasting room these days is, “Why don’t New York restaurants carry a selection of New York wines?” This is a one of those hot-button questions that can get a winery owner seething with frustration. I define 'local' as anything made in my state, or better yet, within 100 miles or so of where it's being sold. We see advertisements every day from restaurants boasting that they use only local ingredients. This practice, called Locavorism, is a big selling point at the moment.

But too often you go out to support a good restaurant and the local farmers who they are sourcing from, and the first thing you notice is that the wine list is heavy on west coast and imported products. Often there are no local wines at all, or a token one just for show. How can they reconcile these two practices, one wonders? These folks have a double standard that is not even remotely defensible.

Here are some statistics.
The multiplier effect is pretty powerful when you buy anything that is locally produced, but it’s staggering when you buy wines which are grown and produced within 200 miles of the winery. For every dollar you spend on a local wine, $10.05 is returned to your  community. When you buy one of those imported wines you return 67 cents.  When a local restaurant won’t put my wines on the wine list or feature them with the local produce, perhaps you can understand why I get frustrated and annoyed!

Why do they resist the idea of pouring Finger Lakes wine? It can’t be a quality issue. Fox Run was named one of the top 100 wineries in the world in 2008, and recently a number of my neighbors were also so named. Fox Run and many of the wineries in the Finger Lakes have won Best of Show, Gold Medals, Best of Variety and many other accolades all over the world with our wines. Most of us have distributors, so delivery and ease of ordering is taken care of. So again, why can’t they carry local wines?

Are our wines more expensive than wines from other regions? Not really, when you compare apples to apples. For instance, mass-produced wines from other regions are pretty much priced the same as our large volume wines. When you compare the premium wines from other regions to ours, many of ours are a dollar to five dollars a bottle less expensive. So it can’t be pricing!

When I give a tasting at a local restaurant for the staff and ask if they get any requests for local wines, they usually say, “Yes, many times a day.” So why doesn’t the restaurant carry our wines, I wonder (aloud)?

If you are dining out and don’t see a comprehensive selection of local wines on the list, please make a point of asking the owner or manager what the story is. Tell them you hope to see some of your favorites the next time you come in, and if that isn’t the case, walk out and go to a restaurant that does carry local wines. Make sure you tell the owner or manager why you’re going somewhere else. A good restaurant in upstate New York should have a minimum of 30% local wines on their list, with at least one red and one white offered by the glass.

I have some fantastic employees who are incredibly dedicated to making great wines. My vineyard manager has planted every vine on the property and watched them grow, and my winemaker was trained in Australia and came to the Finger Lakes expressly to make cool climate wines. We are dedicated to producing the best wines the year will give us and will not shirk our responsibility to achieve that goal. So my request to you is make your voice heard in restaurants about which wines they need to carry. Tell the manager or owner; don’t leave it to the waiter or waitress, not because they don’t care, but because they are too busy serving on you to remember at the end of the day to pass your opinion on.


  1. Great points Scott. I only support restaurants that support local. So many great local choices (in Buffalo we have Finger Lakes, Chautauqua and Niagara County!) to not have local is a sign of laziness, I won't eat food made by lazy people.

  2. Claud Stewart at Atwater conducted a tasting for a little wine club that Doug and I belong to in Phelps. Afterward he passed out folded cards to leave on restaurant tables where NY wines are not available. Seems to me they came from the NY Wine and Grape Foundation.

    I ran out of them very quickly. :(

  3. Unless you're laying concrete foundations, the word you meant to use is "creed"...