Advocacy joins a wine promotion event
BURDETT--More than a dozen Finger Lakes wineries and vineyard owners hosted a tasting at the new Forge Cellars production facility and tasting room on Matthews Road in Burdett, Friday afternoon in honor of National Drink Wine Day. They'd actually jumped the gun a little on National Drink Wine Day which is declared to be celebrated Feb. 18, the following day, but then, they were there to affirm their belief in being proactive. The declared purpose was to focus attention on the still unresolved issue of whether New York state will endorse the proposed expansion of Crestwood's storage facilities for liquid petroleum gas (LPG) near the Seneca Lake shore.
Most of those present were winemakers and winemakers opposed to Crestwood's plan and members of Gas Free Seneca, a coalition of similarly-minded business owners and residents. Gas Free Seneca's president and co-founder, Joseph Campbell, explained the group's position by the numbers. Among those potentially affected by an LPG storage facility, "There are 32 municipalities representing 1.2 million upstate residents in seven counties," he said. "Governor Cuomo already banned fracking and he's in favor of going green, so it doesn't make sense to expand a dirty fossil fuel infrastructure. And he's a strong proponent of tourism. We feel he should stand by his constituents."
But for Tina Hazlitt of Sawmill Creek Vineyards in Hector, the issue is far more personal. "All these farm wineries are family wineries started to save the family farms," she said. "We're a multigenerational family farm. It's taken us how many decades to build the brand. One accident and you've blown everything we've worked decades to build."
Added Scott Osborn of Fox Run Vineyards in Penn Yan, "Each winery creates four to 21 jobs--many more than Crestwood would offer. It's personal for us. We're fighting to save our livelihoods." Osborn, among others, cited the Texas-based Crestwood as having less connection and personal investment in this area than those who live and work here.
"Good planets are still hard to come by," quipped Diane Buglion-Mannion, owner/winemaker of Rasta Ranch in Hector. "The gas storage issue has been a game changer, something that absolutely needs to be addressed. This is the first time we've confronted something like this. We're a hard core group of farmers and we will not allow the storage to continue."
Possibly in part because Forge Cellars does not yet have signage, most of those present were winery or Gas Free Seneca affiliated, but no one seemed worried by the turn-out. Instead, winemakers networked with each other, stood in front of a map of the area around Crestwood to speak their views for a video taping and explained the potential threats to the area's health and safety to a few visitors who'd heard about the event and came simply to enjoy a tasting. Auburn newlyweds Maggie Sheppard-Hunter and Bob Hunter were celebrating Maggie's birthday, for which she was wearing a festive "Wine Me Up & Watch Me Go" t-shirt. They said they hadn't read up on the issue, but they did want to support local wineries.
Amy Opperman Cash of Larson Publications in Hector is a Gas Free Seneca donor, and noted although she does not see the gas storage facility as a threat to her business, "We're all part of the same community, and we love the area for its beauty and integrity."
Kate Thomas of Shalestone Winery (Lodi) pointed out, "if something ever happened, it would affect the entire lake. And we all get our water from the lake."
"We want to protect our way of life," Hazlitt said. "Write letters. Call Cuomo. Be in contact with our legislators. For us, that's where our focus is."
Host Justin Boyette, owner of Forge Cellars, a winery specializing in Riesling and Pinot Noir wines, which opened its doors to the public in early February, was pleased with the event. "We want to continue to bring attention to the gas storage issue," he said. "We have to keep the heat on."