Last Monday, I was joined by a federation of New York Wine Industry organizations to meet with the new leadership team at the State Liquor Authority (SLA). Over the summer, SLA Commissioner Lily Fan was appointed Chair by Governor Hochul. Along with Chairwoman Fan, our group met with SLA’s senior leadership team, which includes Bill Crowley, Public Information Officer, Shannon Kearney Sarfoh, General Counsel, and Paul Karamanol, Director of Legislative Affairs & Director of Wholesale at New York State Liquor Authority.
These leadership changes have also brought a refreshed attitude to the SLA. They immediately addressed the long permitting processing times and their plans to get it back to a reasonable amount of time. They are implementing a new permitting software system to help quicken their review process. In addition to new software, they have hired new and more staff in the licensing division. Hopefully, over the next couple of months, the permit processing will improve.
Chairwoman Fan was eager to discuss with our group how the SLA could be more supportive of the wine industry. She owns her own Broadway production company and has produced recent hits like Hadestown. She said that successfully launching a show on Broadway depends on the quality of the marketing supporting it. She asked the group several probing questions about how we market New York wines and connect with consumers, and what the industry needs to be successful in retail outlets.
We shared with her the new New York Wines marketing campaign and several wine trail leaders spoke up about their efforts to promote tourism in their regions. I think that we impressed her with the strategic focus we all share to drive consumer awareness and purchasing of New York wines. However, the conversation did touch on the sensitive topic of the underwhelming presence of New York Wines in retail stores and restaurants.
NYWGF remains focused on building relationships with the retailer and restaurant associations to help educate and provide marketing materials to their members about New York Wines. However, it is going to continue to require a team effort to make a significant breakthrough in the retail sector, where hopefully it will be the norm to see a robust New York wine category rather than the current state of a few good champions and limited selection, or just an afterthought stuck in the corner of a store.
Obviously, there are regulatory and legal barriers that contribute to the challenges of the wider availability of New York wines in the market. It will require ongoing advocacy on the part of the industry to work with the SLA to resolve market challenges. NYWGF is not an advocacy organization and therefore does not actively lobby to change or oppose state laws or legislation. There is a statewide advocacy organization called the New York Wine Policy Institute (NYWPI) which proactively lobbies on behalf of the industry. Their Executive Director Steve Bate joined me at the meeting with the SLA, and he represented the industry effectively and eloquently.
I encourage all industry members to consider membership with NYWPI as January marks the beginning of the state budget negotiations and legislative session. There will be some public policy issues emerging that will have a material effect on the grape and wine industry, and supporting NYWPI is the best way to ensure that our industry has a seat at the table. You can see NYWPI’s recent advocacy efforts during a Joint Public Hearing on Packing Reduction (aka Extended Producer Responsibility Act). Steve Bate prepared the written testimony delivered in person by the impeccable Carol Doolittle, Co-Owner of Frotenac Point Winery. You can see her remarks at the 4:22:41 mark here.