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NYWGF taking steps toward a more equitable, inclusive, & sustainable future.

The NYWGF Board of Directors held its quarterly meeting on Tuesday, May 25th. They met to conduct their annual board elections, approve updated organizational by-laws, and a 2021-2022 fiscal year budget. Charlie Marshall will continue to serve as Board Chair, Mike Colizzi will serve as Vice Chair, Oskar Bynke will continue to serve as Treasurer, and Katie Roller will serve as Secretary. The NYWGF Board bid a heartfelt farewell to Kim Wagner and Oscar Vizcarra who both concluded their board service after serving nine years. I personally valued their participation on the board as they acted as reliable sounding boards to me for advice and strategic direction. We will feature our new incoming board members in a Press Deck later this summer.

As part of the meeting, the NYWGF Board held a discussion about Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI). To prime their thinking, the NYWGF Board heard from Donna Hayes and Bill Sweat from Winderlea Vineyard and Winery in Oregon. Donna currently serves as Board Chair for the Oregon Wine Board, and she shared about their experience incorporating DEI into their organization’s priorities. Bill formerly served as Board Chair for the Willamette Valley Winery Association (WVWA), and he shared about the resources developed by WVWA to support their member wineries in advancing their knowledge of DEI and how they can take action to incorporate DEI into their businesses. We also heard from Sita Fey, Director of Policy at NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets. Sita helps to lead Commissioner Richard Ball’s Black, Indigenous, & Other Farmers of Color (BIPOC Farmers) Initiative. She shared about the Department’s efforts to engage the broader New York agriculture community in a dialogue about BIPOC Farmers and why it is a priority for the State.

As a first step, the NYWGF Board voted to form a DEI Board Committee by its next quarterly meeting in July. The committee will be charged with how the NYWGF will address DEI internally and how NYWGF can engage the New York industry in a broader conversation. There is not just a social imperative that our industry take DEI seriously, but there is also a clear economic imperative to evolve our business practices to reach more diverse markets and communities. I highly recommend reading Dottie Gaiter and John Brecher’s July 2020 article in the Grape Collective where they implore the wine industry to make itself a “Big Tent” industry:

“We are big-tent people. Over the almost half century we’ve been enjoying and learning about wine, our goal has been to entice as many people as possible to join us under the tent of wine appreciation. That’s why, instead of sharing a lot of minutia, we write about how we live with wine, from the modest to the majestic, day to day. And we enjoy introducing you to the passionate people who make it. Our hope has been that by relating those things, you will embrace the idea that wine can enrich your life, too, in immeasurable ways.”

You do not need to wait on NYWGF forming a DEI committee to take action yourself. June marks the start of Pride Month when our nation celebrates the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ+) community. Brittany Gibson, Executive Director of the Seneca Lake Wine Trail, shared an excellent article earlier this week with her members on how they can support Pride Month activities. And CNET posted a comprehensive article on how to get involved with Pride Month both personally and from a business perspective. Everybody enjoys celebrating life, so let us throw open the doors to our “Big Tent” and invite everyone in to discover how New York wine always makes the best compliment to any occasion.

On another important initiative front from NYWGF, the sustainability program is gathering momentum and we are releasing an RFP today to seek a qualified consultant to update the VineBalance workbook specifically for the Finger Lakes. Yates County Planning and Development Department awarded NYWGF a grant earlier this year to update VineBalance to specifically address vineyard water quality impacts on the Canandaigua Lake, Keuka Lake, and Seneca Lake watersheds. The VineBalance RFP is available here and responses are due by June 30, 2021.

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Sam Filler

Sam Filler

Since his appointment to Executive Director in 2017, Sam Filler has led the New York Wine & Grape Foundation in supporting sustainability efforts and has spearheaded marketing initiatives to elevate the image of New York wines.