More than 200 people filled one of New York City’s largest wine stores in mid-March to swirl, sip and spit hundreds of wines from over 40 wineries that call New York State home.
Representatives from each winery set up shop in Astor Center in Manhattan’s NoHo neighborhood for a Grand Tasting sponsored by the New York Wine and Grape Foundation, where they served their wines first to members of the media and then to the general public.
The event was the culmination of a month-long campaign promoting New York wines.
East End wineries Raphael, Lieb Cellars, Macari Vineyards, Palmer Vineyards, Paumanok Vineyards, Channing Daughters and Wölffer Estate Vineyard showcased old vintages and new releases to familiar and brand-new faces.
Wineries around the state banded together to reach an audience that is perhaps more appreciative of New York wines than ever before. Historically, New Yorkers haven’t been inclined to purchase local goods just because they’re grown or made in the state, said foundation president Jim Tresize.
“New York wines do not get a break because they’re local,” he said. As opposed to wines in other states, where a local label is more significant to consumers, he said, “We have to sell on the merits of our quality.”
And that they have.
Gabriella Macari, sales representative at Macari Vineyards, said her vineyard’s wine is currently stocked by more New York City restaurants than at any time in the past. International visitors to New York City who want to taste wine made in the state seem to be the impetus for city restaurants to place more local wine orders, she said. From there, the popularity of wines from Macari and other local wineries has ballooned.
“It’s a beautiful thing,” said Macari, daughter of Macari Vineyards owners Joe and Katherine Macari. “This is what we’ve been wanting for a long time.”
Raphael sales representatives agreed, saying they feel more welcome in the New York City market now than ever before.
Jennifer Elten, a Raphael sales representative, recalls the struggle her winery faced about six years ago, when New York City restaurants turned them away.
Back then, the vineyard didn’t encounter enthusiasm with which Long Island wines are now greeted.
At the sold-out Grand Tasting, wine lovers shuffled around a packed room — long-stemmed Riedel glasses in hand — waiting on lines for tastings.
It was not unlike being cramped in a packed subway car, but most seemed not to care. They happily clinked their glasses and nibbled on local fare provided by the New York Wine and Culinary Center in Canandaigua. In between sips of wine, tasters noshed on buckwheat bellinis with roasted red pepper caviar and sour cream, butternut squash spring rolls and roasted root vegetable skewers with turmeric-infused grapeseed oil.
Amanda Aldinger of Harlem, who attends tastings from time to time, said she bought tickets for the event as soon as she saw them on sale.
“We’re interested in local wine,” she said of herself and her friend, Anne Larsen of Brooklyn. “We wanted to come to this one.”
Between sips of Wölffer Estate Vineyards’ 2009 Cool as Well Sparkling Brut, Aldinger paused to jot down tasting notes for potential future purchases.
Lisa Corrente of Bayside made the trip to NoHo for her first wine tasting. She had visited Bedell Cellars and Pellegrini Vineyards, but had never taken part in a formal tasting.
“I wanted to try New York wine without dragging myself all over the state,” she said, adding that she prefers drinking New York wines over out-of-state bottles.
Tresize said his foundation’s goals are to continue serving those who already buy local wine and to gain new customers.
“The point [of the Grand Tasting] is to give New York City a flavor of where these wines come from and hopefully have them stock up on them,” he said, adding that he hopes the restaurant managers who attended will increase local wine purchases for their eateries.
The March campaign was the second phase of a two-part strategy, Tresize said. Over the past year, the New York Wine and Grape Foundation brought wine writers, sommeliers and wine store managers on two- to five-day trips to wine regions around the state to introduce them to winery staffers. The second part of the initiative, which ran through March, brought the wineries to the people of New York City. Both parts of the program were paid for by a grant obtained by Tresize’s foundation.
In addition to sponsoring the Grand Tasting, the New York Wine and Grape Foundation helped wineries set up appointments with New York City retailers throughout March to run in-store tastings and winemakers’ dinners.
Kareem Massoud, winemaker at Paumanok Vineyards in Aquebogue, said his wines, unlike most, have been stocked in New York City since 1991, just a year after Paumanok opened. While he’s had a long-standing relationship with consumers in New York City, Massoud said the Grand Tasting would help to bolster connections with restaurants and anyone living in the city who loves wine.
“It’s not every day you have the opportunity to bring your tasting room to Manhattan,” he said.