Equal Time: Winery owner was speaking for himself

02/06/2016 3:00 PM |

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Southold Farm + Cellar co-owner Regan Meador’s recent guest column was filled with so many specious claims informed readers might find it difficult to take him seriously.

Regan, you’re obviously determined to foist a private zoning board matter onto the rest of the local wine industry by proposing ill-considered changes to the basic definitions of farming.

You don’t speak on behalf of our industry, and we don’t want your battle.

It is quite a shrewd PR trick that you’re distracting people from your private legal zoning matter by making inaccurate claims about the definition of a “small” winery. You even took your crusade a step further by calling for production caps and legal limits on larger wineries.

The uninformed observer might see you painting a portrait of the North Fork wine industry as some kind of David vs. Goliath struggle. But your approach in this regard is fallacious and insulting to the many heroic people who built this industry over the past 40 years.

In your words, a “small” winery produces fewer than 5,000 cases, “cannot rely on low margin/high volume business model” and is “focused on farming … and producing a high-quality product.”

Clearly, you made up an arbitrary number to suit your own arguments and generate the most sympathy, because a 5,000-case production threshold is certainly not rooted in any real-life facts. Those of us who make more than 5,000 cases are just as focused (arguably even more so) on meticulous viticulture and extraordinary wine quality.

You cannot corner the argument that smaller equals better here, and I’ll tell you why. Those of us who have been in the New York wine industry for a while (I’m going on 15 years) know we are ALL small producers.

One medium-sized winery in Napa making 300,000 cases would be comparable to our whole industry – and there are 4,300 such wineries in California. As such, your arguments about economies of scale are off base and irrelevant.

Historically, in both Europe and the U.S., differences in profitability between premium quality vineyards are mostly due to wine quality, brand reputation, labor costs and bottle prices. In the premium wine business, economic efficiency is not strongly influenced by size.

All of this is somewhat moot anyway, because you’re engaged in a private legal zoning issue with Southold Town related to your specific property. You’ve succeeded in drawing a broader audience to your plight by means of a PR campaign, which I find both clever and disingenuous at the same time.

But I recognize that you have every right to do that — just like I have a right to make more than 5,000 cases of wine.

If you’d like to become a constructive citizen of the local wine industry, there are well-established avenues for that to happen. You could actively participate in Long Island Wine Council meetings to discuss policy matters of regional concern with colleagues. You could also join Long Island Sustainable Winegrowing, the first third-party certifying body for sustainable vineyards in the eastern U.S. We would welcome you into the fold and you could become part of the dialogue, rather than operating as a lone wolf.

Regan, it turns out that we’re all in this together — and, trust me, size doesn’t matter.

Caption: The Bedell Cellars vineyard as captured on a snowy evening in 2013.

Trent Preszler Bedell CellarsThe author is the CEO of Bedell Cellars in Cutchogue and chairman of the board of the New York Wine & Grape Foundation. He has a Ph.D. in viticulture from Cornell University.

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