Hunt Country harvest

Fall in the Finger Lakes region is one of the most beautiful in the country, attracting tourists from near and far as this year’s grape crop is harvested at the same time as peak season for fall foliage. Many wineries in the area take advantage of this by presenting fall festivals, including Hunt Country Vineyards in Branchport.

The decision by Wine Enthusiast magazine to name New York as its Wine Region of the Year might surprise those unfamiliar with the state’s booming wine industry.

It did not surprise Jeff Shipley.

“While I am extremely happy to hear the news ... they’re telling us something we already know,” said Shipley, director of the Seneca County Chamber of Commerce. “Those of us in New York affiliated with the tourism industry already know this is one of the premier regions in the entire world when it comes to wine.”

Not that Shipley objects to the reminder.

“Press like this, acclaim like this, really are what drives the growth in our communities,” Shipley said. “I think a lot of people have a lot to be proud of today.”

New York beat out Champagne, France; Chianti Classico, Italy; the Sonoma Coast, California; and Red Mountain, Washington, for the honor.

Wine Enthusiast said New York’s five wine areas have grown from a minor economic and tourism blip to a set of internationally recognized destinations.

Since 1985, the magazine reported, the number of wineries has grown from 37 to 375 and the number of annual tourist visits from 340,000 to more than 5 million.

“The New York wine industry has made a remarkable comeback in the past 30 years in terms of the quality of wines, number of wineries, and economic impact,” Wine Enthusiast Publisher and Editor Adam Strum said on the magazine’s website. “All of those positive indicators have accelerated tremendously during the past four years, making New York State one of the most vibrant and promising wine-producing destinations in the world.”

Jim Trezise, president of the Canandaigua-based New York Wine and Grape Foundation, called New York an overnight success story 30 years in the making.

“That’s huge,” he said of the Wine Enthusiast honor. “This is a result of hundreds of people working together for decades to improve everything from the quality of the grapes and wine to the size of the industry.”

Trezise credited current Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo, for their support of the wine industry.

“Diversity is our strength. Unity is our power,” Trezise said. “That has been our mantra for 30 years, and this award reflects that combination. ... This award is also a major step toward the fulfillment of our goal — to have the New York wine and grape industry recognized as a world leader in quality, productivity and social responsibility.”

Trezise said he knows of no way to directly track whether the honor translates into more tourism and more business for local wineries — but believes it will help.

“This is a huge piece of recognition, and it’s going to have a lot of legs,” Trezise said. “This is basically worldwide recognition for New York. The retailers and restaurants that may not have been carrying New York wines, or not many New York wines, are all of a sudden going to pay notice and say, ‘They’re better than we thought.’”

Shipley made a similar point.

“All of the recognition that comes our way, be it from a state level or be it from a regional level, that’s all positive,” he said. “It will help to get people thinking that might not have associated New York necessarily with the premiere wine region it is.”

And if the article puts New York on people’s radar screens, one of the first things they will find is the Finger Lakes, he added.

He sees the honor as a good marketing tool for the state and believes it will help the area capitalize on its growing culinary, beer and distilling attractions. A similar thing happened in California’s most famous wine region, he said.

“We have really seen gigantic growth in the wine industry, and it’s really remarkable how closely we mimic the Napa Valley region in California,” he said.

Wine Enthusiast will formally present the Wine Region of the Year Award at its Wine Star Awards gala, scheduled for Jan. 26, 2015, in the New York Public Library’s Celeste Ballroom.

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