By Jessica Bakeman, Albany Bureau
ALBANY -- At Gov. Andrew Cuomo Wine, Beer and Spirits Summit on Wednesday, industry professionals sounded off about permit regulations, legislative red tape and archaic alcohol laws that keep them from growing their businesses.
Owners of wineries suggested taking the Legislature out of the process of coordinating wine trails for tourism. Brewers advocated establishing centralized grain depots and mobile bottling plants.
Distillers and cider makers requested more representation in the state's tourism campaigns to heighten awareness of their products.
At the Yogurt Summit in August, Cuomo announced that the state would relax environmental regulations on dairy farms. It is unclear whether the governor plans to make a similar announcement regarding the craft beverage industry when the summit reconvenes Wednesday afternoon.
Cuomo said Wednesday's summit will help build collaboration between the companies and the state. He was hosting a reception at the governor's mansion later Wednesday for the industry.
New York has long been known for its wineries, particularly in the Finger Lakes, the Hudson Valley and Long Island. Craft breweries and liquor distilleries have increased production in recent years.
According to the governor's office, there are a total of 321 wineries, six breweries and 75 micro-breweries statewide, as well as 58 liquor distilleries and 23 cider producers.
"I think your industry has tremendous potential," Cuomo said. "First of all, the numbers in your industry are astronomical. The growth has just been staggering."
Ginny Clark, vice president for Constellation Brands and president of the New York Wine and Culinary Center, located near Rochester, said the nearly two-hour discussion will "certainly take the industry to a whole new level."
She was particularly interested in an idea floated by several speakers that the industry focuses its efforts on promoting New York beverages in the very competitive New York City market. One speaker even suggested a "blowout" launch party to turn city residents on to the drink-local movement.
"We should all get together and go to New York City and pull the team together," Clark said, "and have New York City recognize all that's great in New York state."
Others suggested that New York wines, beers and spirits should be sold and promoted at the state fair and at state-owned race tracks.
Elizabeth Stamp, partner at Lakewood Vineyards in Watkins Glen, in Schuyler County, said showcasing the products at official functions enhances citizens' pride in their state.
"Looking at other states that have done this, their industry has such ownership from the people within the state, and they're so proud of it," Stamp said. "It makes a huge difference in their production levels and the success of their businesses."
Ralph Erenzo, partner of Tuthilltown Brewery in Gardiner, Ulster County, spoke about the alcohol laws, particularly those that govern liquor distilleries, that were enacted to solve problems that don't exist anymore.
"A lot of changes in alcohol law are statutory changes," he said. "They take a long time to go into effect."
A brewery operator and a winery owner held a press conference outside the summit to call on Cuomo to ban hydrofracking for natural gas.
Larry Bennett, communications director for Brewery Ommegang near Cooperstown and an outspoken critic of fracking, said the "ground rules" laid out for the summit prohibited speaking about hydrofracking and the hot-button issue of wine in grocery stores during the panel discussion with the governor.
Cuomo has yet to decide whether to allow hydraulic fracturing in New York. He is opposed to letting grocery stores to sell wine.
"Those were the two ground rules I was told: no talking about hydrofracking and no talking about wine sales in grocery stores," Bennett said prior to the summit.
Cuomo's office denied that there are any ground rules at the summit.