The Oscars of New York Wine

Governor George Pataki addresses the luncheon crowd at Canandaigua’s Inn on the Lake. Photo by Laurel C. Wemett

There was more than one reason to celebrate at this year’s New York Wine and Food Classic. A statewide competition known as “the Oscars” of New York wine was held August 9 and 10 in the Finger Lakes region at Canandaigua’s Inn on the Lake. Adding to the excitement of announcing the annual awards to New York State wines, was the anticipation that soon wineries will find it easier to ship these to customers in other states.

New York State’s Governor George Pataki was on hand for the first time to award a large silver chalice, or “Governor’s Cup” trophy, for “Best of Show,” the top prize of all entries at the luncheon. Gathered in a large tent overlooking Canandaigua Lake were a large number of wine aficionados, representatives from New York’s wine and food industries, plus state and local officials. A special multi-course luncheon featuring all New York ingredients was accompanied by last year’s award-winning wines.

The competition, sponsored by the New York Wine & Grape Foundation, a private not-for-profit trade association representing grape growers, grape juice manufacturers, wineries and others, was celebrating its 20th year. Headquartered in the Finger Lakes region, the statewide organization serves to stimulate coordination and cooperation among all segments of the industry in four regions: the Finger Lakes, eastern Long Island, the Hudson River Valley, and the Lake Erie Region.

“New York wines are winning awards all over,” said Ann Littlefield, who works in sales and marketing at New Vine Logistics of Napa, California. Littlefield was one of the 25 prominent wine writers, restaurateurs, retailers, and wine educators who carried out blind tastings for this year’s Classic. Littlefield is a veteran wine industry professional and a longtime wine judge who grew up in nearby Penfield. Jim Trezise, president of the New York Wine & Grape Foundation and the master of ceremonies at the awards luncheon, called her “a tireless promoter” of Finger Lakes wines.

The much anticipated awarding of the “Governor’s Cup” went to a Finger Lakes winery, Casa Larga Vineyards in Monroe County. The winery’s 2004 Fiori Delle Stelle Vidal Ice Wine was picked from 617 entries in a variety of categories from 90 of New York’s 218 wineries. The winning dessert wine whose name means “Flowers of the Stars,” won Best Dessert Wine in last year’s Classic so was among those served at the August luncheon. Governor Pataki visited Casa Larga in nearby Fairport later in the afternoon where the Colaruotolo family has been making fine wines for over 25 years from a hillside vineyard with a view of the Rochester skyline.

The “Winery of the Year” award went to Ospreys Dominion Vineyards of North Fork on Long Island. This award is presented to the winery with the best overall showing based on the level and number of awards in relation to entries. Osprey’s Dominion, on the North Fork of Long Island, won medals for all seven wines entered.

Adding to the celebratory mood of the day was the fact that this year’s Classic took place just one day before the lifting of the state’s ban on interstate shipping of wine. In May, the state law that banned out-of-state wineries from shipping wine directly to New York residents was struck down by the Supreme Court, paving the way for a new state law which enables reciprocal wine shipping privileges between New York and other states, with an annual limit of 36 cases per customer. Several of the California-based judges at the Classic announced that they have already ordered the wines to be shipped when it becomes legal. It is expected that the change will help wineries build their businesses and expand New York’s reputation as a fine wine-producing region.

“The New York wine industry has been transformed from a local curiosity into a national player,” confirmed Jim Trezise.

As in previous years, these wines are featured at the Governor’s Commissioners’ Holiday Gathering at the executive mansion in December, from which all proceeds benefit the Make a Wish Foundation.

Complete results of the 2005 Classic are posted under “New York Gold” at www.newyorkwines.org, which also includes Gold medal New York wines from other major competitions.

The New York Wine & Culinary Center
There was more excitement immediately following the 2005 Classic event when the Governor participated in a ground breaking for the New York Wine and Culinary Center in Canandaigua. Within view of the northern shore of Canandaigua Lake on South Main Street, the Center is expected to welcome thousands of visitors as early as next summer.

The Center will be the one place to find out all about New York wines and produce. It will offer everything from courses in culinary science to a wine tasting room featuring New York State wines, exhibits highlighting New York agriculture, a retail center, private dining room, and a live garden. Governor Pataki announced at the ground breaking that $2.1 million of state funding will be spent to build the 19,475-square-foot facility.

Grape grower Jim Bedient, who operates a large vineyard near Branchport in the Finger Lakes region and serves as president of the New York State Wine Grape Growers Association, as well as heading up the Winegrape Growers of America, calls the plans for the center “the next big step in New York.”

“From North Country apples to Long Island wine, the New York Wine and Culinary Center will be a celebration of New York’s agriculture and its many offerings,” the Governor said. “We are proud to be a partner in this tremendous effort that will showcase New York’s rich abundance of outstanding food and wine products and our agricultural heritage in this new state-of-the-art facility located right here in the heart of the Finger Lakes.”

In addition to the New York Wine & Grape Foundation, the Center partners include Wegmans Food Markets, Constellation Brands, Inc., and the Rochester Institute of Technology Hospitality and Service Management School. Constellation, formerly Canandaigua Wine Company, and now the largest wine company in the world, donated three acres of land for the facility next to the Inn on the Lake.

The focus on food and agriculture will broaden the appeal of the center. RIT announced that it has created a concentration of six courses that can be taught at the center or in a “blended” format (online and face-to-face). A Wegmans chef has joined the RIT faculty to design and instruct culinary and food management courses in food preparation techniques, new technologies, health-related issues and New York State foods. In addition, RIT students will be offered co-op positions at the center

The New York Wine & Grape Foundation plans to move its headquarters to the center from Penn Yan next year. A two-story building design, inspired by old hotel resorts found in the Adirondacks, is planned according to project architect Tim Tyskiewicz. Trezise called the project “exciting,” adding, “Its unique blend as both a physical and electronic gateway to agri-tourism, culinary tourism, and education and training for consumers and professionals will make it one of the leading-edge facilities in the world.”


by Laurel C. Wemett
Laurel C. Wemett is a correspondent for the Messenger-Post Newspapers in Canandaigua.