Reed unveils GRAPE act in Branchport vineyard

Julie Sherwood
U.S. Rep Tom Reed talks with grape grower Jim Bedient at the edge of a vineyard of Niagaras that Bedient says are at their peak.

Lifting a law that restricts grape haulers would hasten grapes to market, according to growers and industry experts.

U.S. Rep. Tom Reed, R-Corning, met with some of them at Bedient Vineyards last Wednesday to announce legislation he is introducing.

The Grape Region Accelerated Production and Efficiency (GRAPE) Act of 2011 would lift a restriction during harvest season that dictates haulers must stop for 10 hours after logging a certain number of on duty hours if their delivery is within 175 air miles of the farm. With the need to get grapes quickly to processing plants and empty bins back to the farm quickly, the current law is cumbersome at best, the growers said.

Removing the restriction “would be a huge benefit,” said Jim Bedient, a member of New York State Wine Grape Growers, who runs the family vineyard above Keuka Lake. Sometimes rigs break down or haulers need to stop for various reasons, he said, including to rest, but it doesn’t have to necessarily be for 10 hours straight.

Under the existing law, a hauler can drive for 11 hours or be on duty for 14 hours before they must stop for a stretch of 10 hours.

“Grapes are perishable,” said Bedient. They must be delivered within a certain time to meet requirements for freshness or juice-making. Then, haulers are needed back at the vineyard so tractor trailers and bins can be reloaded for the next trip.

He noted the harvest season lasts only six to eight weeks, and major processing plants are a distance from the Finger Lakes. They include Welch’s processing plant in Westfield, Chautauqua County, which processes Welch’s grape juice, and Royal Wine Corp. in Ulster County, which processes Kosher wines.

“It is common sense,” said Reed during his visit. Growers and haulers should be able to exercise “individual responsibility” in transporting their produce in a safe and smart manner.

Among others attending the announcement were Jim Trezise, president of New York Wine and Grape Foundation, and Don Tones, president of  New York State Wine Grape Growers and owner of Clearview Farms vineyard.

“Given the perishable nature of grapes, being able to get their product to processors more than 100 miles away in an expedient manner is critical to the industry.”  Some processors require delivery of grapes in as little as eight hours after harvest.

Reed said former Rep. Randy Kuhl, R-Hammondsport, had championed similar legislation that was in effect for a time for growers in the Finger Lakes, but it expired in 2009.