Is NY going too wild for wine centers?

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One year ago, a $7.5 million wine center designed as a tourism and educational facility was opened in the Finger Lakes city of Canandaigua, NY.

Now, a mere 65 miles away in downtown Ithaca, another entity called the Finger Lakes Wine Center will be created to promote the region's wine industry, primarily to tourists, if Gov. Eliot Spitzer signs a bill passed by the Legislature. There already is $100,000 in the state budget to get it going.

It's all part of New York State's typically convoluted efforts to get something right. The New York Wine & Culinary Center in Canandaigua got $2 million in state taxpayer money to get rolling and has been drawing nice crowds for tours and events since opening last June, thanks to the tireless efforts of its staff and that of the New York Wine & Grape Foundation, which is headquartered at the Center on the shore of Canandaigua Lake.

And, the Foundation recently revealed it is using a $44,500 Empire State Development Grant to explore the feasibility of building a similar, albeit smaller, wine center in the lower Hudson Valley.

Did I mention there already is something called the Finger Lakes Wine Center, and New York owns it?

It is located at Sonnenberg Gardens and Mansion State Historic Park, just two miles from Canandaigua Lake, and is part of the state parks system. It operates from mid-May to mid-October, offering tastings, retail wine sales and special events. Its Italian Garden is seen here.

One would think three wine centers -- one of which is owned by the state, and all of which get taxpayer money -- plus all the wine trail organizations throughout the state would be sufficient if efforts were coordinated and properly channeled. Why, then, yet another wine center?

The legislation was sponsored in the Assembly by Barbara Lifton, the Democrat who represents Ithaca. Her formal language for the project reads thus:

"The bill will provide authorization for the Finger Lakes Wine Center, a not for profit corporation, to operate as a tourist oriented wine center dedicated to celebrating winemaking and the wines of the Finger Lakes and New York State. The Wine Center will serve as a resource for the regional tour information and provide educational opportunities that include winemaking demonstrations and classes. It will offer the opportunities for visitors to purchase New York state wine and serve as a venue to host events. It will also engage visitors with interactive exhibits. The Center also plans to hold classes in cooperation with participating wineries, local wine experts, members of the Cornell University community from the Cornell Hotel School and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the New York Wine and Culinary Center. The Center also plans to make the Center available for public functions and events such as wedding receptions and business meetings."

That is pretty much the same mission statement the New York Wine & Culinary Center in Canandaigua already is carrying out, except that it deals more with Rochester Institute of Technology than Cornell.

The Ithaca project took Jim Trezise, president of the Wine & Grape Foundation, by surprise.

"I hadn't even heard about this Ithaca project until a few weeks ago when Alexa (Gifford, executive director of the Wine & Culinary Center) got wind of it and mentioned it to me. It has no connection at all with us or anything we're doing,'' Trezise told me.

Sen. George H. Winner Jr. (R-C, Elmira), a backer of the Senate version of the bill, explained the project in a much more parochial pronouncement, saying, "The wine industry is a mainstay of the culture and economy of the Finger Lakes. Anything we can do to further promote it and help it grow is a good investment for the future success of our region.''

Even if, apparently, it splinters the efforts.

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