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Cultivating the Seneca Lake Wine Industry

SENECA LAKE, N.Y. (18 NEWS) - Over the last few decades, the wine industry along Seneca Lake has helped evolve the area into a destination. Even though a wealth of competition exists among wineries, they work cohesively to further grow the industry they've cultivated. 

It's an industry nearly 40 years in the making and its purpose is to bring people together. 

Before it all began, Seneca Lake was a quiet getaway for very few tourists. However, change was born in the late 1970's.

"When we started in 1977, being the only winery on the lake, this area wasn't much of an attraction for wine visitation," Owner of Glenora Wine Cellars, Gene Pierce said. "It really took almost until the mid 80's and late 80's before there were enough wineries to bring people to the area."

Glenora Wine Cellars was the first winery established along the lake. Primarily their clientele was made up of locals and the occasional passerby. Slowly but surely, several other families followed in their footsteps and understood that Seneca Lake was a land of opportunity for future tourism. 

"We had all worked together, being grape growers, so we had a spirit of community that transposed into when we all first started doing wineries," Pierce said. "That spirit of working together brought the 10 or 12 wineries together in 1986 to form the Seneca Lake Wine Trail."

One by one, new wineries were adding to their ranks and creating a larger list of establishments for consumers to enjoy. 

"The first members of the trail were basically trying to attract people to this area, to visit their wineries, and knew that as a group their dollars would go a lot further," President of the Seneca Lake Wine Trail and Partner of Lakewood Vineyards, Elizabeth Stamp. 

"If we market the region together, there is a lot more to gain than just marketing our own specific wineries," Co-owner of Wagner Vineyards, John Wagner said. 

"Those core members that started this wine trail had a commitment to working together, knowing that people aren't going to come from very far or for very long, they might stop if they happen to be passing by, if there is one winery," Stamp said. "But, if there area a group of us and we promote together, we create a destination. I really feel like we have done that." 

Hotels, restaurants, events, and other amenities are popping up left and right. This progression has made tourism a major economic influence across the area. Meanwhile, the progression has created positive competition among the new establishments. 

Despite the competition that now exists between the wineries, they continue to work side-by-side.

"The comradery is unparalleled that I have seen in any other industry," Wagner said.

"We had a part break in our press the other day and our bottling line," Owner of Atwater Estate Vineyards, Ted Marks said. "I immediately went over to Chateau LaFayette Reneau and borrowed their piece and finished off our line."

When sales margins mean the difference between a financially successful year and a poor one, owners rely heavily consumers coming through their doors instead of buying products a wholesaler. 

"70% of my sales are from the tourists that walk in the door," Marks said. "The nice thing about that is, of course within reason, its full price. Where if we have to use a wholesaler, we automatically have to, shall we say knock 50% off the price to the wholesaler. As far as I am concerned, we could not survive without the Seneca Lake Wine Trail."

Many of the owners describe the industry as one big family with each winery working together to further enhance one another's business. 

When asked about the best part of working in the wine industry along Seneca Lake, their answers were unanimous. 

"The best part for me, is the people," Pierce said.

"We're working with a lot of great people," Wagner said. 

"To me, the best part is the people," Marks said.

"The other people involved in the wine industry," Stamp said. "The people that we get the privilege to work with and be neighbors and friends with."

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