As we reflect on a tumultuous period full of unprecedented unknowns, one thing remained steadfast – our commitment to each other. New York wine is nothing without the passionate and pioneering people who make it. They share a commitment to craft and community with a warm, welcoming spirit that makes the wines even better. This week we shine a spotlight on the winery members of the Seneca Lake Wine Trail as they celebrate 35 years of collaboration, community, and the continued knowledge that we are all better together. Thanks to Brittany Gibson, Executive Director of the SLWT for her heartfelt reflection on the spirit of collaboration, and her hope for the future of our regions.
The Seneca Lake Winery Association, aka the Seneca Lake Wine Trail, was founded in 1986, by wineries who knew that they could go further together than they would apart. Over the past 35 years many things have changed, but one thing remains the same and that is the belief in collaboration and cooperation over competition.
In the beginning, a few wineries came together to make maps and pass them out of the trunks of their cars. They distributed them to area lodging facilities, in hopes of bringing visitors to their tasting rooms. Over time, the organization evolved from a few member wineries doing the work as volunteers at their kitchen tables, spending late nights and early mornings dedicated to moving the organization and its activities forward, to where we are today – with two full-time staff members, a finely-tuned, highly efficient, marketing organization.
Partnerships with organizations like the New York Wine and Grape Foundation, Wine America, Finger Lakes Wine Country, and others, are central to what we do. Just as we believe working together will take our individual wineries further, we know that working together with industry partners will take our association to the next level. We are better together.
To generate revenues to support the Trail operations and marketing initiatives, the Trail hosts wine and food pairing events, a tremendously successful model that has been expanded over the years. Revenues from these events were carefully stewarded by the leaders of the organization, with long-term financial independence being a top priority. The understanding was that if carefully invested and mindfully spent, these monies would help the organization weather any future storms and ensure its existence in perpetuity. Who knew what storm would be coming…
Fast forward to March 2020 and cue COVID-19. Despite having to cancel all of our large-scale events and having essentially no income for 18 months (and some), we have not had to cut any staff nor eliminate any of our initiatives or programming. We spent this time planning for the future. We were able to take decisive action where needed, and pause when the situation called for a more cautious approach. This independence and staying power is driven by our member wineries. Those many years of careful financial planning allowed us to remain nimble and strong in the face of uncertainty and adversity.
In witnessing all that has unfolded over the past year and a half, there is so much negativity. So much of every day feels polarized and tenuous. There are days that it would be understandable if one feels like they’re about to be washed under. Maybe it’s a little Pollyanna and naive, but here at the Seneca Lake Winery Association, we choose to hold firm to those beliefs that brought us together in the first place: collaboration and cooperation. We believe that those things will always win out and we’ll remind ourselves as often as is necessary that we have the power to choose. And in exercising that power, we will seek the path of building a longer table, of opening our arms, and of coming together when it matters most.
If you’re feeling down, out, anxious… all the things that are so understandable, please know that you are not alone. Let’s take care of each other, because we are all we’ve got. This is what we believe at the Seneca Lake Wine Trail, and this is what we want to continue sharing with the world. Here’s to the next 35 years… and beyond. Cheers!