By Amanda Garris
Need some grapes? Have some to spare? For many years, growers with excess grapes relied on word of mouth alone to find buyers. The New York Grape and Wine Classifieds hosted by the Finger Lakes Grape Program (FLGP) not only provides the convenience of an online marketplace, in 2010 it generated $1.2 million in economic activity.
With listings provided free of charge to New York wine and grape industry members, the Classifieds include grapes, wine, juice, equipment, and help wanted ads. While the majority of the users of the Classifieds system are from the Finger Lakes region, growers and wineries in other parts of the state, such as Long Island, Lake Erie and the Thousand Island regions, also post on the site.
"With the investment of a relatively small amount of time and funding, we have documented a large economic benefit—over a million dollars in sales—just in the past year," said FLGP viticulture extension educator Hans Walter-Peterson. "The Classifieds have already proven their value to the state's grape and wine industry."
The website has hosted over 1,400 ads since its launch in 2009 and is maintained by the FLGP staff with financial support from the New York Wine and Grape Foundation. It is a streamlined version of the email classifieds started by then FLGP viticulture extension associate Tim Martinson in 1998 on the advice if his advisory council.
"Committee members suggested an email listing of available grapes to help both growers and wineries communicate," said Martinson. "A grower might find they had a few extra tons of Cayuga white, for example, and didn't know that a winery the next lake over needed some."
Although some of the transactions mediated by the Classifieds site might have happened anyway, Walter-Peterson said he believes the majority of them occurred as a result of the Classifieds. He also said the site can help growers maintain both profits and fruit quality during the rush of the harvest season. If a grower realizes in the middle of harvest that he has more fruit from a vineyard than he anticipated, the Classifieds enables him to let many people know at once about its availability.
"This increases the chances that the fruit can be picked when it is still sound and of high quality," explained Walter-Peterson. "While a grower tries to find time to make numerous phone calls to find a winery ready to buy, the remaining fruit decreases in quality and value."
Savvy users also mine the site to spot trends, risks, and opportunities in the industry.Over the years, it has been a good barometer of which varieties are in demand and which are oversupplied.
"I find it helpful to get an idea of the quantity and types of fruit that are on the market, as well as price," said Susan Higgins of Heart and Hands Winery. "If I see a large buy order for a specific variety of grapes, it may mean that there is a producer who is expanding, which could strain existing supplies."
The Finger Lakes Grape Program is a regional extension program of Cornell Cooperative Extension serving the grape and wine industry of the Finger Lakes.
Amanda Garris is a freelance writer in Geneva, N.Y.