Every spring we pause to come together and recognize people who in various ways have made major contributions to the New York grape and wine community. The "Unity Banquet" name and theme reflects the overriding importance of unity to our industry's success, as well as the top award we presented on Wednesday evening at Belhurst in Geneva.
But there are many others as well, and it is always uplifting to feel the excitement and sense the gratitude of all who attend, including the award recipients who are often suprised. Here are this year's honorees.
UNITY AWARD: PETE SALTONSTALL. This award is for "major achievements in promoting unity in the New York grape and wine industry", and certainly no one is more deserving than the co-owner of King Ferry Winery (Treleaven wines) on the east side of Cayuga Lake north of Ithaca.
Pete served on the New York Wine & Grape Foundation Board of Directors for about a decade, including three years as Chairman, guiding the organization through challenging times and constantly emphasizing the importance of everyone working together. He also courageously volunteered to serve as the "poster boy", with John Martini of Anthony Road Winery, in the long but ultimately successful legal and legislative battle to allow direct interstate shipment of wine, a campaign with great risks for his winery. And he has made major contributions to the grape-related research programs at Cornell University.
In all of those endeavors he has been joined by his wife and business partner Tacie Saltonstall. www.treleavenwines.com.
INDUSTRY AWARD: PATRICK HOOKER. For a couple decades, Pat Hooker has been contributing to the grape and wine industry in various ways, primarily while at New York Farm Bureau and then as Commissioner of the Department of Agriculture & Markets. In accepting the award, he noted that he had actually been present as a junior Farm Bureau staffer in 1985 when the law was passed creating the New York Wine & Grape Foundation. He gradually rose to Director of Government Affairs at Farm Bureau, a position which requires thorough knowledge about the many complex issues involving agriculture. That, in turn, served him well when former Governor Eliot Spitzer appointed him Comissioner, a position he held until this January. Happily, Pat remains in State government in a key position involving agricultural economic development.
GROWER AWARD: JIM JOY. Jim is the Field Services Specialist for National Grape Cooperative in the Lake Erie and Finger Lakes regions, working closely with growers whose crops go into Welch's grape juice and similar products. He is also a Director of the New York State Wine Grape Growers, and a reliable participant on trips to Albany involving public policy. A graduate of the superb LEAD-NY agricultural leadership development program, he convinced several others in the grape community to enroll as well, including Linda Purdy and Greg Tones who just graduated last night.
RESEARCH AWARD: DR. GREG LOEB. The work of entomologist (bug specialist) Greg Loeb has always been important to grape growers, but certainly never more than now, as the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug invades the vineyards of the northeast. Greg's work at Cornell has involved insect ecology, Integrated Pest Management, biological control, plant-insect interactions, and many other areas designed to protect vineyards and grape crops. www.entomology.cornell.edu/cals/entomology/people/greg-loeb.cfm.
WINERY AWARD: RED NEWT CELLARS. David and Debra Whiting are true pioneers in local wines and foods, with Red Newt Cellars & Bistro now a magnet for locavores and locapours. After making wine for others several years ago, Dave decided to create his own brand which features small quantities of hand-crafted wine made from local growers' grapes. Deb is a self-taught chef passionately devoted to fresh, local foods who has long been President of the local-focused Finger Lakes Culinary Bounty organization. Her culinary creations, along with Red Newt wines, are popular attractions at the annual New York Farm Day celebration in Washington, DC. www.rednewt.com.
RESTAURANT AWARD: SUZANNE FINE REGIONAL CUISINE. "Excellence in promoting New York wine as part of a fine dining experience" is the basis for this award, and the relatively new, small restaurant on the east side of Seneca Lake certainly qualifies. As with Red Newt Bistro just down the road, Suzanne Stack focuses on fresh, local ingredients and a broad array of Finger Lakes wines within a broader list which has repeatedly received the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence. www.suzannefrc.com.
RETAILER AWARD: NEIL KRATZER, THE WINE ROOM. A hobby that became a passion that became a business is the best way to describe Neil Kratzer's evolution into being an innovative retailer with a focus on New York wines. When his corporate career ended in 1999 after moving to Buffalo, Neil apprenticed in various wine stores, rising in responsibility along the way until he opened The Wine Room in 2006. It's a relatively small store in the Village of Williamsville, an eastern Buffalo suburb of about 5,000 people, and the focus is on high quality wines at a value price. Neil carries an extensive selection of New York wines, and features them prominently. www.neilswineroom.com.
DISTRIBUTOR AWARD: UPSTATE WINE COMPANY. Kevin Faehndrich of Ithaca is carving out a timely niche: distributing upstate New York wines in New York City. The Big Apple is the world's most competitive wine market, and few upstate wineries have the staff to work the streets. In addition, most large, traditional distributors aren't interested in representing New York wines in New York City, so this is a perfect fit. The company concentrates on "outstanding local wines that focus on environmental responsibility." www.upstatewineco.com.
CONSUMER AWARD: THOMAS PELLECHIA. This award is for "enthusiastic support of the New York wine industry", which describes avid wine consumer, former winery owner, and wine writer Thomas Pellechia. In addition to writing regularly about wine for various publications, Thomas has written three books: "Wine: An 8,000 Year History of the Wine Trade"; "Complete Idiot's Guide to Starting & Running a Winery"; and "Garlic, Wine & Olive Oil." www.thomaspellechia.com.
We congratulate all the recipients, and once again thank them for all they do for us.