Many people are unaware Long Island wines grace the tables and shelves of the finest restaurants and retail shops in the world. From Sydney to Stockholm, London to Montreal and Shanghai to Copenhagen, our wines can now tell the story of our terroir globally.
It is not like anyone set out to get their wines represented in these exotic locales, in fact, it seems most of the exporters approached our wineries because they were excited about the wines. International distribution displays their world-class character, and the national and international press has confirmed that.
In November 2007, in a Food and Wine article, Lettie Teague asked, “Can Long Island make world-class wines?” The last sentence was a bit of a challenge. She said, “The potential is there, and perhaps a few wines already qualify, but world-class wines need to be out in the world—not just in New York.” I was a bit taken aback. I knew the quality of Long Island wines, as did the best establishments in New York City. However, it was true we had zero wines overseas and not much nationally. Now, six years later, the landscape is quite different, so I wanted to follow up.
I sent out e-mails to a few comrades asking if they export wines: if yes, where and why? if no, why not? Kareem Massoud of Paumanok—just back from representing Long Island at the London International Wine Fair—sent this:
“Yes, we do currently export to Japan, Australia, the UK, Switzerland and China. We export because we have connected with importers, who are enthusiastic about our brand and our region. Furthermore, for Paumanok to be seen as a world-class producer, producing wines of world-class caliber alone is not enough, a presence in the global marketplace helps achieve this goal. Ironically, it is far easier to export our wines overseas than it is to ship it over certain state lines.
This sentiment is now held by many producers, one I strongly agree with; however, David Page of Shinn Estate Vineyards has another view I also find truth in:
“We have exported tiny amounts of wine (less than 1 percent of production) to both China and France. Although it seems like a natural way to expand our brand, I am concerned about the sustainability of this business practice. Barbara and I have worked for more than 25 years as proponents of a sustainable farm-to-table agricultural and viticultural economy.
Sending agricultural products by truck or ship to faraway places is contrary to that philosophy and much too often results in the industrialization of the food we eat and drink. The Long Island wine industry is within 125 miles of 30 million people. Surely we can and should market wines directly and sustainably to this ever-growing wine-drinking community.”
Anthony Nappa of Anthony Nappa Wines and Raphael said he was concerned about the availability of wine, as well as low price points, logistics and getting paid. Brewster McCall of McCall Ranch voiced similar issues, though they exported to Japan once in their six-year history when a very interested buyer willing to deal with all the logistics came along and made it happen. These can be difficult hurdles. Yet wineries have the choice of how to work when they are approached. Tom Morgan of Lenz seems to have a healthy method and replied this way:
“We do export, and Lenz and has done so since 1986 at the same price that our wines are sold to licensees in New York. The wine plus shipping costs are paid by the importer; it is also a testimonial to the product’s quality when a couple of sommeliers in Sydney, Australia, start an import company to import Lenz and a few other New York wines. We have shipped wine to Denmark, Singapore, Sweden, UK, Hong Kong and Australia.”
Wow. Sounds pretty good to me, and mirrors how we at Channing Daughters work with our importers in Australia, Canada, the UK, Denmark, China and Sweden. Wölffer Estate has had success overseas as well. Sales director Peggy Lauber says:
“Ironically, we did not actively seek any of the three markets where we currently export our wines. They approached us and were a good fit, so we went with them. It’s been an excellent relationship because they are small importers focusing on quality, mostly restaurant placements—and they believe in the quality and potential of New York wines. We are certainly intrigued about other markets, such as China—but it’s a big world out there with many, many wine regions competing with large volume, good quality and low price points. Moreover, these regions receive substantial funding and support from their governments, utterly dwarfing the support we are able to get from New York. In New York, our wineries need to band together to make an impact, and even then we will be perceived as a “niche” region. But, having poured New York wines at international trade shows in London, Germany and Hong Kong, I have observed that the simple fact that we are located in NEW YORK often gets our foot in the door. They may never have heard of New York wines, but they are all familiar with the Statue of Liberty, and even the Hamptons. We need to then take it from there.”
Jim Silver of Peconic Bay Winery found this to be true after a recent sales trip to China with a contingent of New York wineries. He says: “I get more inquiries from China everyday than I get from New York, Connecticut and New Jersey combined. Why go to Europe and compete against them, when you could dominate a market like China?”
So the times, they are a changin’.
James Christopher Tracy is the winemaker and partner at Channing Daughters Winery in Bridgehampton.