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Sam Filler is president of the New York Wine and Grape Foundation (NYWGF), which has a mission to provide robust research, promotion and education programming to support New York state's wine and grape industry. The NYWGF has worked with Cornell AgriTech for over 30 years on research to strengthen the industry. We recently spoke with Filler about how Cornell AgriTech has helped foster industry growth.

How has the New York state wine and grape industry grown in recent years?

The industry has seen tremendous growth in the past decade as the result of liquor law changes and overall state support. In 2010, there were about 280 wineries in New York state. Today there are over 450 licensed wineries in the state.

In terms of economic impact, the New York wine and grape industry started the decade contributing about $4.8 billion in economic activity. The latest economic impact study shows that in 2019 the wine and grape industries in New York directly create 71,950 jobs, generating $2.79 billion in wages. The industries directly generate $6.65 billion in economic activity in the state.

Why is Cornell AgriTech important to New York’s wine and grape industry?

The success of our industry links back to Cornell AgriTech research and extension. The Geneva campus has been very influential in breeding new varieties of grapes, especially ones that thrive in New York state. The wine analytical lab at Cornell AgriTech is a huge asset for New York wineries as it allows them to send wine for a variety of tests, including measuring for alcohol, which is required of all wines to meet federal labeling requirements.

The Veraison to Harvest newsletter produced weekly by the enology and viticulture extension program at Cornell AgriTech is a particularly valuable resource for wineries. In the newsletter, experts report on harvest conditions, berry weight and weather conditions across New York state. Many wineries purchase grapes from various parts of the state, and the newsletter lets them know what the quality of grapes will look like from these areas.

What are some notable trends that you’re seeing in the New York wine and grape industry?

Over the past decade consumers have become concerned about the provenance of their products, particularly fresh fruit and vegetables. They want to know how they’re grown and what inputs are going into the ground to support the harvest of those products. In New York, climatic and weather challenges make organic or biodynamic certification for wines difficult to achieve. The partnership between Cornell AgriTech, the industry and NYWGF is important to the development of locally appropriate and feasible solutions for New York grape growers and wineries.

How do new grape varieties developed at Cornell AgriTech fit with industry trends?

Recent NYWGF research suggests that millennials in particular are more willing to try new grape varieties because they are looking for fresh experiences. As long as these new varieties are marketed well, taste great, make good wines and are easy for the winemakers to work with they will succeed. The Traminette grape developed at Cornell AgriTech is an excellent example because it is delicious, tastes like Gewürztraminer and grows well. As a result, many wineries in New York have enjoyed commercial success with that grape.

Looking toward the future, New York state has a comparative advantage over many other wine producing regions in the world because of the USDA-ARS grape germplasm repository at Cornell AgriTech. This library of grape varietals can be used to search for new breeds and new varieties that will be successful in our cold climate and in our growing conditions. We look forward to the development of grapes that can handle a cold winter, a wet spring and maybe a wet summer and still produce quality grapes. At the end of the day, wine quality certainly depends on a quality grape.

What are your thoughts on the growth of other sectors besides wine within the New York craft beverage industry?

For a long time wine was the leading beverage of the state. I think it’s great to see spirits, cider and beer emerge as important New York products. If they can be successful, it just adds to the success of the wine industry. The growth of those sectors will also attract more support and resources to showcase that farm-based beverages are a way to support our economy and create jobs. All of this growth goes back to the importance of having an established research institution like Cornell AgriTech to support the growth of industry. Not too many states have this type of resource to support the economic development of a whole craft beverage industry.

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