MILO — When Tim Martinson looks at a recent report on wine grape production in New York, he can’t help but point out two initials — not numbers — starting in 2018.
The numbers, compiled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, are there for 2015-17. They include about 57,000 tons in 2017.
After that, it reads NA — not available.
Martinson, a senior extension associate in viticulture and enology for Cornell University, knows the reason for the initials. He just doesn’t agree with it.
“We have 40-plus varieties of grapes grown in this state, but they are counting the states with the most production — California and Washington, not New York,” said Martinson, who is based at Cornell AgriTech in Geneva. “They thought California and Washington was enough. California is the 800-pound gorilla in the room.”
With those missing numbers as a backdrop, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer made a stop Monday afternoon at Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard to push the USDA to restart annual data of grape production in New York. It was his 23rd trip to Yates County since he became a senator.
“The USDA has not collected data for New York in more than two years, even though we are the third largest wine producing state in the nation,” Schumer said. “We have learned with COVID-19 that science is the key. Without data, there is no science.”
Schumer was joined at the podium by Martinson and Oskar Bynke, co-owner at Wiemer. Bynke and winemaker Fred Merwarth both worked with Hermann Wiemer, considered one of the pioneers of the Finger Lakes wine industry.
“We are getting some very serious wine recognition, not only in this country but around the world,” Bynke said. “We are on the right trajectory but we need data, tools, and surveys to keep this recognition.”
The upstate New York wine industry is estimated at $6.65 billion annually, with a large portion of that in the Finger Lakes. Martinson said wine grapes are grown in many other regions including near Lake Erie, the Hudson Valley, Long Island, and even the Thousand Islands.
Schumer said data can also determine how much invasive species, such as the spotted lanternfly, is impacting grape production in the state.
“The spotted lanternfly has decimated the wine industry in Pennsylvania,” he said. “It’s now at our doorstep.”
Bynke and Merwarth said grape production data can determine what variety of grapes vintners should be growing more and less of. For example, Bynke said while Riesling is still the dominant variety in the Finger Lakes, Wiemer has been growing more Cabernet Franc over the years.
Schumer also wants to see the USDA resume a vineyard and orchard acreage survey of New York that stopped in 2011. Martinson said that was largely done by the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service field office in Albany, which has gone from about 15 employees to two over time.
“We still get data for snap beans, sweet corn, potatoes, but not grapes. Hey, we all love snap beans, but we feel it’s very important to keep track of grape production,” Schumer said with a laugh. “This data collection keeps the New York wine industry competitive with California and Washington — and the world.”