Cuomo Holds Wine, Beer and Spirits Summit

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Governor Andrew Cuomo pledged to invest more money into promoting the state’s growing wine, beer, and spirits industries, following a day long special summit at the State Capitol.

Cuomo heard the concerns of dozens of New York State based wineries, as well as craft brewery and distillery owners, in a second of its kind summit focusing on a New York-based industry. This summer he held a Greek yogurt summit.

A common complaint heard was that state connected functions do not feature or promote New York made alcoholic beverages. Fred Matt, of Matt Brewing Company in Utica, which makes Saranac beer, said he was dismayed when he visited the Saratoga Race Track this summer and found that most concessions stands sold Budweiser. He added the annual State Fair in Syracuse was also lacking New York made products, and that a fair-goer might have thought they were in “Ontario, Canada, Colorado or Pennsylvania, by what beer is offered.”

Speaking after the summit, Cuomo said he’s taking the comments seriously.

“I think they had a very good point,” Cuomo said. “They should be marketing New York State products.”

A the end of the formal portion of the summit, Cuomo announced that his economic development agency will invest $1 million in promoting the wine, beer and spirits industry. He said $2 million more could be spent on advertising, as long as the businesses provide matching funds.

“I want you to have some skin in the game also,” he told the business owners.

The governor says he will also work to promote wine and beer, and hard cider from upstate businesses to New York City restaurants. They then adjourned to the governor’s mansion for a tasting of the products.

But it wasn’t just wineries and breweries that owners wanted to discuss. They also wanted to talk about other topics, though, like the controversial natural gas drilling method of hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking. They worry about how fracking will impact their businesses.

Larry Bennett, of Ommegang Brewery in Cooperstown, sells $30 million a year of specialty Belgian style beers and ales. He said his product is based on clean water.

“Without water we don’t make beer, it’s that simple,” Bennett said. “The water in upstate New York is pure and clear and we want to keep it that way.”

If the water is contaminated, he continued, the brewery might have to move out of state, or close.

Bennett said he was told by the New York State Brewers Association, which helped organize the summit with the Cuomo administration, not to bring up the topic of fracking at the gathering  or wine in grocery stores,  a proposal that is not favored by Governor Cuomo.

“Those were the two ground rules I was told,” Bennett said. “No talking about hydro fracking and no talking about wine in grocery stores.”

Cuomo denies that anyone was told that some topics were off limits.

“Anyone can mention anything they want,” Cuomo said. “But our position is well known.”

Cuomo has said repeatedly that he will not decide whether to permit fracking in New York until all of the science and facts are in.

“We are not going to decide fracking today,” he said.

Bennett may not have raised the topic at the summit, but he did buttonhole the governor at the mansion reception. He said the governor listened politely to his concerns.

Meanwhile, at least one group is pressing for a third summit focusing on a potential New York industry.  The state’s gas drillers say they would like their own summit on fracking. Jim Smith, a spokesman for the Independent Oil and Gas Association, said the experts should be brought together to discuss the “realities” of  natural gas drilling, and  “the benefits and the risks, in perspective.”

Governor Cuomo, whose Department of Environmental Conservation, or DEC, is reviewing fracking, had this response. 

“They have a summit, it’s going on at DEC right now,” Cuomo said.

There is another summit planned for the final week of October; Cuomo’s Department of Homeland Security is holding a conference on emergency preparedness.