Pour New York?: The Economics of New York State Wines
New York State may be no Napa Valley, but it is the second largest wine producer by volume in the country, grossing $3.76 billion annually and maintaining 17,000 full-time jobs.
Because of the industry’s proximity to New York City, it’s cost effective for most of New York’s 300-plus wineries to sell bottles directly to tourists, restaurants and shops, rather than through large distribution channels.
—Dr. Vino, aka NYU professor and wine blogger, Tyler Colman
As a result, New York’s wines don’t enjoy the same international reputation as their West Coast counterparts — but consumer interest is on the rise. State wine production has doubled since 1985, thanks in large part to the vast diversity of growing conditions and grape varieties.
Here’s a rundown of New York’s top three wine-producing regions, with economic insight from Tyler Colman — aka influential wine blogger Dr. Vino — and New York Wine and Grape Foundation President Jim Trezise.
The Finger Lakes
- The Finger Lakes area is New York’s largest wine-producing region, accounting for 85 percent of the state’s total production. It wasn’t known that the area could produce high quality vinifera grapes, which are native to Europe, until the late 1950s, when Cornell University janitor Dr. Konstantin Frank began successfully experimenting with a massive collection of European vines.
- The Finger Lakes are home to 109 wineries. While Riesling made the Finger lakes famous, area wineries offer a rich selection of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and unique hybrids. “It’s cold in the finger lakes, so they need to have cold, hearty grape varieties. A Riesling does very well in the Finger Lakes and some of their Rieslings have been winning a lot of acclaim,” Colman explained.
- The region’s natural beauty makes the Finger Lakes the most popular destination in the state for weekend wine tasting getaways. The number of wine tourists has increased by nearly 90 percent in the past decade, and the tourism industry is so profitable that many smaller wineries don’t bother to distribute outside the region.
On “Vine Talk,” wine expert Ray Isle introduces the Finger Lakes region. Video courtesy of Vine Talk.
- Much like the Finger Lakes, vinifera wine production on Long Island began with a surprisingly fruitful experiment 38 years ago. Today, Suffolk and Nassau Counties boast a collected 67 wineries in three designated American Viticultural Areas (AVA). The majority are located on Long Island’s North Fork area, where, according to The New York Wine and Grape Foundation, Merlot is the top produced wine.
- “Long Island has a bit of an identity crisis, being a younger region. The first thought was that they would go with Bordeaux and red varieties,” said Colman. “Some early producers championed Merlot. Recently, some producers have tried to shift toward white varieties and there’s a bit of Sauvignon Blanc, so the region hasn’t coalesced around one signature grape variety.”
- Its closeness to what Colman considers the best wine scene in the world (“even better than Paris”) allows Long Island wineries to benefit from New York City spending, with much of the profit coming from direct sales to tourists and traveling restaurateurs.
- “The direct sale is like gold for the winery. They love to sell to tourists, because they can sell at full retail price. The number one way to do that is the tasting room,” said Colman.
- The Hudson Valley is home to the nation’s oldest continuously operating winery, Brotherhood Winery. Despite its age and short drive from New York City, the region was not known as a significant viticulture area until the 1980s. With Cornell University’s world class oenology (the science and study of wine and wine-making) program on its turf, the Hudson Valley is a hotbed of experimentation, having 40 wineries along the shores of the river.
- “The Hudson River Valley surprisingly has a lot of hybrids, many of which were developed at Cornell. The Millbrook Tocai Friulano is an interesting wine,” said Colman.
- The wineries in the Hudson River Region AVA benefit from the moderating breeze that sweeps upriver from the Atlantic. The seasons are relatively mild, which is good for the grapes and the tourism industry.