4:42pm

Tue October 9, 2012
Regional Coverage

Upstate wine industry uses the personal touch

It’s the staple of just about everything. From dinner parties, to weekend shenanigans, to church, wine is a big part of our lives – and it’s a big part of the economy, too.

Each year, the wine industry generates more than $3.7 billion in economic activity for the state, but it is still hard for local wines to crack the big markets.

This week, some of the big names from New York city are coming upstate to get their hands dirty with the locals.

A New York exchange program called Harvest House brings wine writers, sellers and sommeliers to upstate wine country to help with the harvest.

Participants are getting involved in every stage of wine making -- from grape picking to drinking the finished product -- and the hope is that they will go back to the city with a personal attachment to local products.

The wine director for Armani Ristorante in New York city, Jim Clarke, says being a part of the industry -- and seeing all the hard work that goes into making wine -- really boosts appreciation for the product.

Clarke is taking part in the exchange program this week, and he says he is impressed by the region.

"Compared to the rest of the state, I think the Finger Lakes is really the leader these days. The tradition is here, they have the older plantings, this is really a key spot," Clarke says.

Although the warm temperatures brought on a premature harvest this year, Clarke says even being involved with the clean up is fun.

"Sometimes they say wine is 49 percent cleaning, 49 percent moving heavy things around, and 2 percent beer," Clarke says. "So to really see the practical aspects of it instead of just how it happens in a book is great for the knowledge base. In terms of selling the wine, just seeing the process brings a little more enthusiasm to what you do."

President of the New York wine and grape foundation, Jim Trezise says this one-on-one, personal approach is one way they are keeping the New York wine industry strong.

He says it’s important not just for the industry, but for the state’s economy as well.

“It’s a huge economic driver of the upstate economy, and it’s the fastest growing industry still, in the agriculture and tourism sectors," Clarke says.

Later this month Governor Andrew Cuomo will host the state’s first Beer and Wine Summit to discuss the issues the industry faces. He's also announced a push to try and revitalize the tourism image of upstate.

Trezise says the wine industry needs to invest in itself, as well as partnering with New York state to ensure continued growth.

For more from the Innovation Trail and Kate O'Connell, visit their website. You can also follow Kate O'Connell on Twitter @KateOCWXXI

The Innovation Trail is a collaboration between six upstate New York public media outlets. The initiative, funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), helps the public gain a better understanding of the connection between technological breakthroughs and the revitalization of the upstate New York economy.

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