At the New York State Fair in August 2001, newly elected Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton convened the first meeting of her Agricultural Economic Development Advisory Committee. She asked the group: “What can I do to show my colleagues in the United States Senate that New York is a major farm state?” My response: “Let's take […]

At the New York State Fair in August 2001, newly elected Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton convened the first meeting of her Agricultural Economic Development Advisory Committee.

She asked the group: “What can I do to show my colleagues in the United States Senate that New York is a major farm state?” My response: “Let's take our program to Washington.”

That was the beginning of New York Farm Day, which Senator Kirsten Gillibrand will again host on September 14 in the elegant Senate Kennedy Caucus Room on Capitol Hill. Over 500 eager visitors " Senators, Representatives, top aides–will imbibe New York wines, beer, spirits, cider, grape juice, apple juice and milk while feasting on Long Island oysters and clams, specialty meats and cheeses, incredible bread like you've never had, fresh fruits and vegetables, Greek yogurt, honey and maple syrup–and of course Mercer's Wine Ice Cream.

Our program was “New York Wines & Dines”, a promotion focusing on New York wines, New York foods, and New York restaurants–an early version of the locavore/locapour concept. The idea was to do it in the late fall of 2001, but 9/11 changed everything, so we pushed it back a year.

New York Farm Day was an instant hit. Not only were there lots of great New York wines and New York foods prepared by great New York City chefs " but also presented by the people who produced them all: The farmers! And then-Senator Clinton did a great job highlighting the bounty of New York agriculture to members of the Senate, House of Representatives, and the Administration. Farm Day was magic!

Farm Day was even the birthplace of Wine Ice Cream. We invited Mercer's Dairy from the North Country to showcase their great ice cream, and logically put them next to the New York ice wines. Senator Clinton was not an ice cream fan, but feeling duty-bound to taste everything, she took a small spoonful…and another…and another. Her eyes lit up.

Meanwhile, Rox Hurlburt (Mercer's) and I noticed that many people were pouring their sweet ice wine into the luscious ice cream. We looked at each other, and the lightbulbs went on in our brains: Wine Ice Cream!

A week later, I sent Rox a case of different types of wines–Concord, Vignoles, Riesling, Merlot, ice wines, and others–so she and her colleagues could experiment. The first flavor was released shortly after, and now Mercer's Wine Ice Cream is sold in many countries around the world, from Europe to Asia. The child of New York Farm Day! And it's a fully family-owned, women-owned business run by Rox and her niece Ruthie.

Senator Clinton's support of the New York grape, wine, and agriculture didn't stop with Farm Day. A week after the first one, she led a delegation of top New York City restaurateurs, retailers, and wine media on a “trade mission” to the Finger Lakes, connecting upstate with downstate.

And after the devastating winter of 2004 which killed many vines, she made a special trip to the upstate regions to better understand the damage, then went back to Washington and got emergency disaster relief.

When she left her Senate position to become Secretary of State, I asked newly appointed Senator Kirsten Gillibrand if she would like to continue the Farm Day tradition. Without a nanosecond of delay, “Yes!” was the response. And since she specifically requested to be on the Senate Agriculture Committee, it was clear from the outset that she also would be a passionate advocate for New York agriculture, which indeed she has been.

I would be remiss if I didn't also mention Senator Chuck Schumer, our senior Senator who is soon likely to become either the Senate Minority Leader or, depending on election results, Senate Majority Leader. Despite his Brooklyn roots, he has been a true champion of the New York grape and wine industry, other craft beverages, and agriculture in general.

We are very fortunate to have such excellent representation in Washington, and we thank them all. We also thank our many colleagues in New York agriculture who bring their products to Washington every fall to give our nation's Capitol a Taste of New York.