A Hometown Winemaker’s Pride Shines Global Spotlight on New York

Kelby James Russell, winemaker at Red Newt Cellars. Standing in cellar with glass of red wine.
Kelby James Russell, Winemaker, Red Newt Cellars
(Photo by Rima Brindamour)

There are many different ways to think about what our purpose as a winery might be: selling wine and sustaining business, stewardship of the vineyard lands, or the character of the wine itself in the bottle. But the longer I work in wine, the more I feel that this world is about people. It is the connections from the wine to customers to the winery to the vineyard and everyone in between, that matter most. And it is ultimately a beverage that brings joy and shares a story to everyone it reaches.

“Those ruminations are great, Kelby, but what the heck does that have to do with the Export program?” you may be wondering. Export can feel so byzantine, fraught, and risky as a small winery – why wade into it? Maybe you’ll improve your business prospects, but what does that matter if you can sell everything locally already? And maybe you have a great wine that will get promoted in a far flung location, but if it is already garnering attention here… what’s the point?

Fortunately, it needs to be said that the Export Program does a fantastic job of reducing many of the barriers to export we all worry about. NYWGF and their partners have all the resources one could ask for in exploring export markets, and they are there to be utilized. Whether in organizing virtual tastings, reverse trade missions, wine critic and journalist content, or trips to the markets themselves, the brand of ‘New York Wines’ has grown at a remarkable rate around the world. And when you find a market that is interested in your wines after those programs? For me, that has been one of the times the Export program has been crucially helpful: connections to importers in those markets, the assistance to evaluate them, and then realistic advice for how to get the wine there.

So the barriers are much reduced, but I still haven’t answered the fundamental question of ‘why?’ There are endless answers that leap to mind: increased sales opportunities, more recognition both abroad and domestically (we’ve had more success with NYC taste-makers because of placements in London than we would ever get by just working in NYC), more sales points for diversification – the list goes on and on.

But for me the reason is different. It may be because I grew up in the Finger Lakes, in the shadow of the Rust Belt economic collapse of titans in Rochester and Syracuse, but for me the success of our wine regions is a point of immense pride. And Export is a means to share what makes this amazing region so special to people around the world. It is akin to the Kodak signs that are still in newspaper stands and convenience stores around the world: Our wines can be a connection to wine drinkers in Tokyo or Oslo or who-knows-where-else, and they then connect those new friends back to our Finger Lakes and the work we do here.

I love our region and the wines we make, it has been the joy of my career to work on the growth of both. But sharing these wines with people around the world who are wide-eyed with surprise over what they are trying? That is a thrill that I’ll never tire of. And I look forward to doing so with even more of you in the years to come!

Join the Export Program!

NYWGF’s Export Program kicks off a new schedule of events starting on July 1st, 2022. All wineries in New York are invited to participate in our international marketing program. Activities include ongoing education about our target export markets (Canada, Western Europe, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, and Vietnam), connections to international importers, agents, media, and finally, access to international marketing opportunities, including potential travel, throughout the year.

  • Please check out the Export Program’s June Update HERE to see the exciting activities currently underway.
  • Catch up on activity updates from the entire year HERE.
  • Program Sign Up for July 1st is open now and costs are $150 for the first target market, and $75 for each additional.
Picture of Kelby James Russell, Winemaker, Red Newt Cellars

Kelby James Russell, Winemaker, Red Newt Cellars

Red Newt Cellars is located on the east side of Seneca Lake in the hamlet of Hector in the Finger Lakes region of New York. Red Newt Cellars was founded in 1998 by David and Debra Whiting. Kelby Russell joined the Red Newt team in 2012. He took on role of lead winemaker in 2013 and has become a respected leader in the world of Riesling in the Finger Lakes and beyond.