Cuomo holds Wine, Beer and Spirits Summit

Oct 25, 2012

Governor Andrew Cuomo pledged to invest more money into promoting the state’s growing wine, beer, and spirits industries, following a day long special summit at the state Capitol.

The governor heard the concerns of dozens of New York state based wineries, as well as craft brewery and distillery owners, in a second-of-its-kind summit focusing on a New York based industry. This summer he held a Greek yogurt summit.

A common complaint among producers is that state-connected functions do not feature or promote New York made alcoholic beverages. Fred Matt, of  Matt Brewing Company in Utica, which makes Saranac beer, says he was dismayed when he visited the Saratoga Raceway this summer and found that most concession stands sold Budweiser. He says the annual state fair in Syracuse also was lacking New York made products, and that a fair-goer might have thought they were in “Ontario, Canada, Colorado or Pennsylvania, by what beer is offered.”

Cuomo, speaking after the summit, says he’s taking the comments seriously. “I think they had a very good point,” Cuomo said. “They should be marketing New York state products.”

Cuomo announced at the end of the formal portion of the summit that his economic development agency will invest $1 million in promoting the wine, beer and spirits industry. He says $2 million more could be spent on advertising, as long as the businesses provide matching funds.

“I want you to have some skin in the game also,” he told the business owners.

The governor says he will also work to promote wine and beer, and hard cider from upstate businesses to New York City restaurants. Summit participants adjourned to the governor’s mansion for a tasting of the products.

Some of the wineries and breweries wanted to talk about other topics, though, like Hydrofracking.  They worry the natural gas drilling process will harm their businesses.

Larry Bennett, of Ommegang Brewery in Cooperstown, sells $30 million a year of specialty Belgian-style beers and ales. He says his product is based on clean water.

“Without water we don’t make beer, it’s that simple,” Bennett said. “The water in upstate New York is pure and clear and we want to keep it that way.”

He says if the water is contaminated, the brewery might have to move out of state, or close.

Bennett made his comments outside the summit. He says he was told by the New York State Brewers Association, which helped organize the summit with the Cuomo administration, not to bring up the topics of fracking or wine in grocery stores, a proposal that is not favored by the governor.

“Those were the two ground rules I was told,” Bennett said. “No talking about hydrofracking and no talking about wine in grocery stores.”

Cuomo denies that anyone was told that some topics were off limits. “Anyone can mention anything they want,” Cuomo said. “But our position is well known.”

The governor has said repeatedly that he will not decide whether to permit fracking in New York until all of the science and facts are gathered.

“We are not going to decide fracking today,” Cuomo said.

Bennett did not get an opportunity to speak during the two hours of formal remarks at the summit.  He did buttonhole the governor at the mansion reception, though, and says the governor listened politely to his concerns.   

Meanwhile, at least one group is pressing for a third summit focusing on a potential New York industry.  The state’s gas drillers say they would like their own summit on hydrofracking. Jim Smith, a spokesman for the Independent Oil and Gas Association, says the experts should be brought together to discuss the “realities” of  natural gas drilling, and  “the benefits and the risks, in perspective.”

Cuomo, whose Department of Environmental Conservation, or DEC, is reviewing fracking, responded by saying, “They have a summit, it’s going on at DEC right now.”

There is another summit planned for the final week of October, but it is on a much more serious topic than breweries and wineries.   Cuomo’s Department of Homeland Security is holding a conference on emergency preparedness.