Governor holds 1st wine, beer summit

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ALBANY -- The desire for greater access to New York City's robust wine and beer market -- and the need to further reduce regulatory red tape -- were the prime issues on tap at Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's first Wine, Beer & Spirits summit here Wednesday.

Cuomo pledged as much as $3 million for new advertising promoting state wine and beer and to conduct a big event to encourage New York City restaurants and bars to promote the products. He also said there would be specific changes in State Liquor Authority regulations to reduce business restrictions and expenses.

"I believe our [wine] products have not gotten the attention they deserve," he said.

Hundreds of winemakers, grape growers, brewers and distillery owners showed up for the standing-room-only summit at the Empire Plaza facility across the street from the state Capitol building. Most applauded Cuomo for the work his administration has done in pushing through bills to promote and grow the industries, and directing the State Liquor Authority to ease up on "archaic" rules that stifle growth.

Among the dozen or so Long Island wineries and brewers here were Ron Goerler, president of the Long Island Wine Council and owner of Jamesport Vineyards, and Larry Perrine, chief executive of Channing Daughters winery in Bridgehampton. Perrine said the Long Island growers were on the cusp of greater access to the neighboring market. "We're just about there. . . We can't stop."

Cuomo in his opening remarks joked that he was considering opening a tasting room at the Executive Mansion, where he will host state producers in a tasting event Wednesday, but added he gave up because "I just didn't want to go through the SLA for all the permits."

But he said he was worked to change New York's reputation as an "anti-business" state, and he spoke of his philosophy of "entrepreneurial government" to foster business growth, including wine, beer and spirit production.

"I think your industry has tremendous potential," he told the producers, adding the state wine industry has "not gotten the attention it deserves."

Cuomo said the state would inject $1 million for a new ad campaign to promote the beer and wine industry, and would increase the amount up to $2 million more if the industry matched it. A new working group led by Cuomo secretary Larry Schwartz will coordinate "specialized annual marketing events."

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Addressing complaints, the state will explore ways to make New York-made wine and beer available at state horse racing venues and the New York State Fair, where they are not sold.

Also in response to requests at the forum, Cuomo said the state would ease other SLA regulations such as: eliminating a ban on multiple licenses that had prevented, for instance, beer brewers from operating whiskey distilleries or winemakers from making brandy.

New rules would also allow wine, beer and spirits makers to sell bottles of their products at events where they also conduct tastings, including street fairs and charity events.

Local wineries appreciated the attention. Cuomo "definitely recognizes how important wine and agriculture are to the state, and with help they can grow further," said Jim Waters, owner of Waters Crest Vineyards in Cutchogue.

Wineries, which got a big boost from the administration of his father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo, in the 1980s, have seen 17 percent sales growth in the state in the past two years. "Is there a connection between my governorship and people drinking more? I don't know," he joked.Cuomo declared many of the laws that govern the industry "historic and archaic and written at a different time," and he offered his administration's help in changing them. He also said the state would be a willing partner in the recommendation for a large event in Manhattan to help open up that market to locally produced wine, beer and spirits. "However we can do it big, we're in," Cuomo said, offering the Javits Center as a possible venue.

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Local producers applauded Cuomo's effort.

Cuomo is "listening and understanding," said Goerler, the Long Island Wine Council president.

Joe Gergela, executive director of the Long Island Farm Bureau, said he looked forward to any effort by the state to help open the New York City market for all regional products, including wine. "We have to compete with all the other growing areas in the world," in gaining access to the city. "That's where we need support from the state."

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