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NY Wine Spotting

The search for regional wines launches a grassroots movement

It’s no secret we live in an up-and-coming winemaking region. Why, then, is it so hard to find Finger Lakes wines on local restaurant menus? That’s the question asked by radio show host veteran Michael Warren Thomas when he launched NY Wine Spotting in spring 2013. “NY Wine Spotting is more than restaurants simply acknowledging our local wine industry,” says Thomas.“It’s about truly making it a mission of the restaurants to partner with world-class winemakers and take pride in our local wines.” NY Wine Spotting calls on three distinct groups to take action. Consumers, dubbed “wine spotters,” are encouraged to inspect local wine lists and participate on social media; wineries are encouraged to join NYWS tasting events and educate their fans; and restaurants are encouraged to listen to consumers, network with local winemakers, and alter their purchasing habits. In wine-producing states like California and Oregon, wine lists are typically comprised of fifty to seventy-five percent local products, though it took years to achieve that. Thomas sees the NY Wine Spotting initiative as a way to speed up that process in NewYork and increase what is now a mere seven percent average for Rochester restaurants.

Currently headlining the list of top ten NYWS restaurants is Simply Crepes (specifically, the Pittsford location) and Joey B’s in Fairport, where Finger Lakes wines make up over one-third of the list. And it’s not tough for restaurants to rise in the rankings—take the case of Fraîche Bistro & Dessert Bar on East Avenue. The restaurant debuted on the NYWS list in the mid- thirties but quickly jumped to sixth place in late 2013. “A lot of NYS wines are food wines, and with our caliber of foods, it just ties in to the whole experience of our brand,” says Kathy Mason, Fraîche manager. “We bring in a lot of local ingredients and focus on using local food purveyors, so this was an easy decision.” Fraîche added about seven different wineries to its repertoire and carries more than thirteen Finger Lakes wines. They’ve also hosted several food and wine pairing events featuring local wineries like Zugibe and Ravines. “The response has been great,” says Mason. “It’s been especially exciting to see Finger Lakes red wines come to the forefront and get noticed.”

Other restaurants are responding to the fervor of both wine spotters—who are actively spotting and sharing with hashtags like #nywinespotting on social media—and wineries. At Heron Hill Winery in Canandaigua, the movement has shown a tangible impact on the relationships between local wineries and restaurants, with consumer demand playing a large role. “There are certain people with a passion for Finger Lakes wines who regularly question restaurateurs, but in the past, they’ve felt alone,” says Eric Frarey, Heron Hill Winery director. “Now they feel part of something bigger.”

More than 100 “wine spotters” signed the pledge at the campaign’s kickoff event at Casa Larga Vineyards in Fairport last July. That number continues to grow, and in 2014, NY Wine Spotting plans to expand through- out the state. While the movement equips wine spotters with tools such as “drop cards” and social media guides, Thomas suggests a more direct approach. “When you call to make a reservation, simply ask what percentage of wines (by the glass) are Finger Lakes wines,” he says. “If they can’t answer or don’t have any, tell them you’ll call back next year.” And for those who travel often, he offers the reminder that NY Wine Spotting knows no borders. “Finger Lakes wines are available in surprising places—they can be found in Cape Cod, San Francisco, Boston, even as far as Alberta, Canada, and more,” he says. “It’s a sign of how Finger Lakes wines can compete on a world stage.” 

Sara Frandina is a wine-loving freelance writer, editor, and social strategist based in Rochester. 

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