The first major law that demonstrated the importance of a positive business climate to the growth of the New York grape and wine industry was enacted 40 years ago: The Farm Winery Act of 1976. It was a lifeline for struggling grape growers, a stimulus for industry growth, and a major event in the development […]
The first major law that demonstrated the importance of a positive business climate to the growth of the New York grape and wine industry was enacted 40 years ago: The Farm Winery Act of 1976.
It was a lifeline for struggling grape growers, a stimulus for industry growth, and a major event in the development of the modern New York wine industry.
In the late 1970's, New York's many winegrape growers were hit by a perfect storm: major changes in corporate ownership of the large wineries, a flood of cheap subsidized imported wines, and changes in consumer tastes. Prices for grapes were plummeting, and the market was drying up.
At that time, all wine grapes from independent growers went to a handful of large wineries, most in the Finger Lakes.
The Farm Winery Act created another option: Make and sell your own wine. It had to contain 100% New York-grown grapes (not necessarily your own, however), and at first the annual limit was 50,000 gallons (now 250,000 gallons), but you could sell your wines directly to consumers, as well as directly to restaurants, wine retailers, and of course wholesalers.
This was new freedom: Until then, wineries could sell only 5% of their wine directly to consumers, with the rest having to go through wholesalers (i.e. at half price). For small farm wineries, this was economically infeasible. The annual license fee for farm wineries was also reduced to $125, compared to $625 for wineries.
Benmarl Winery, then owned by the late Mark Miller, who was instrumental in the Act's passage, was granted Farm Winery License #1, and others quickly followed, like Glenora Wine Cellars and Wagner Vineyards on opposite sides of Seneca Lake. John Dyson, owner of Millbrook Vineyards in the Hudson Valley and Commissioner of Agriculture at that time, also opened a farm winery, as did Jim Doolittle of Frontenac Point Vineyard who was deeply involved in the process as well.
With their success, others soon followed, and the new New York wine industry began taking shape. Parallel to this development was the introduction of traditional vinifera (European) varietals like Riesling and Pinot Noir by Dr. Konstantin Frank, which many of the new farm wineries embraced.
In 1976, before the Farm Winery Act was passed, New York had 14 wineries in 9 counties. By 1985, when the New York Wine & Grape Foundation was created, there were 54 wineries in 14 counties. Today, there are 418 in 53 of the State's 62 counties.
Beyond the growth this law stimulated, it also clearly demonstrated the vital importance of a good business climate. In this agricultural industry, we are always talking about the climate, because you need a good climate to grow good grapes that make great wine. But too often people forget that you also need a good business climate to grow an Thanks first to the Farm Winery Act, then the creation of the New York Wine & Grape Foundation and several other pieces of legislation a decade later, and more recently the numerous changes initiated by Governor Andrew Cuomo, today we have the best business climate in New York's winegrowing history–which goes back to 1839!
And the industry is growing like never before.