Putting all their wines in one state basket

New York wines have a continually growing reputation, particularly in the realm of rieslings and red blends. But trying to find a source offering a wide range of what the state's 240 wineries produce is next to impossible.

People living in or near the state capital, however, will be finding their search a lot easier if a new wine shop in the old mill city of Cohoes, just outside Albany, takes hold.

The Harmony House Marketplace, located in a 175-year-old building on Remsen Street, opened this week selling only New York brand wines. The owners are Diane Conroy-LaCivita and Jane LaCivita Clemente.

Conroy-LaCivita, a former municipal clerk and high school social studies teacher, said she and her partner will carry about 138 brands from 40-50 wineries in their 700-square-foot shop. Their goal is to raise that to 90 to 100 wineries.

The city of Cohoes helped the entrepreneurs with grants and other incentives. Conroy-LaCivita said the upfront investment for renovations and other expenses was more than $300,000.

One of the major marketing problems New York wineries traditionally have faced is that few but the very largest companies -- Dr. Konstantin Frank, Herman Weimer and the like -- have enough customers outside their immediate neighborhoods. Most are small-scale producers whose output is snapped up by visitors to the wineries and by nearby stores and restaurants.

The new partners latched on to the New York-only concept after taking several classes at Schenectady County Community College, then embarking on some self-education in the wine world.

"We realized New York had a wide range of very good wines,'' Conroy-LaCivita told me. "We like the idea of supporting state businesses, the ecology, sustainable agriculture, and all those things can work together.''

The shop owners also like the idea of building relationships directly with the winemakers and wineries, something they wouldn't be doing if they handled imported wines.

"We've already visited many of the wineries in the state and started developing close relationships with some of them,'' Conroy-LaCivita says, although she concedes there sometimes is a problem with availability of small-batch wines and
wholesale pricing to vendors.

Harmony House Marketplace (238-2233), 184 Remsen St., is open every day, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday-Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays. Tastings are scheduled each Friday.

For a video, created by Kathleen Lisson, with the entrepreneurs click here.

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