New York vintners see red over rowdy winery tourists
Winery tourists are acquiring a taste for obnoxious behavior. Winery owners tell shocking tales of drunken tourists urinating in public...
The Post-Standard of Syracuse, N.Y
Winery tourists are acquiring a taste for obnoxious behavior.
Winery owners tell shocking tales of drunken tourists urinating in public and running naked through the vineyards, of stolen wine and loud profanity.
The problem is worsening, and winery owners are fermenting a plan.
Stealing a page from the sport of soccer, more than half of the 95 wineries in New York state's Finger Lakes region are participating in a program to issue yellow-card warnings to tour groups whose behavior is out of bounds. Those who continue their offensive ways will receive red cards and get booted off the region's three wine tour "trails." The Safe Group Wine Tours program is being uncorked this summer.
The Cayuga, Seneca and Keuka lake trails constitute the biggest concentration of wineries east of California, according to the Finger Lakes Wine Country Tourism Marketing Association.
In June, a woman in her 40s stripped off her halter top, slid her panties to her ankles and then yanked up her skirt in front of a crowd of wine-tasters on a nearby observation deck at Red Newt Cellars in Hector, N.Y., near Watkins Glen.
Some people cheered, others were horrified, and Red Newt co-owner Debra Whiting saw red.
"I was so enraged," Whiting says. "Having someone basically strip at your winery is not a good thing."
"We don't want one or two people, who should be in a bar or home with their keg, ruining the good time of other customers," says Paul Thomas, executive director of the Seneca Lake Winery Association Inc. "Nobody wants tourists driving back to Philadelphia and having someone going topless in the vineyards as being their lasting memory of the wine trails."
The wineries are asking the region's 180 bus and limousine tour operators to take a more active role in policing their customers because it's predominantly their riders who become inebriated and wreak havoc, Thomas says.
Tour groups often bring along wine and coolers of beer because they can legally drink on their chauffeured rides to the wineries. They also can stop at bars for more drinking along the wine trails.
Bottom line? You've got the makings of a cheap buzz that sometimes bursts out of control, wine officials say.
Credit Mike Fitzgerald, co-owner of Finger Lakes Winery Tours in Geneva, with hatching the yellow- and red-cards plan. He suggested it to the Seneca Lake Winery Association's executive committee last December.
"We like the idea of the wine trail becoming family friendly," says his wife, Lisa Fitzgerald. "We don't want the trail to become a glorified fraternity party."
Their company already prohibits drinking on their public trolley rides down the wine trails. Some wineries, including Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards on Seneca Lake, have taken it upon themselves to ban some limousine and bus companies that continue to let their riders get out of control. Other wineries are limiting the number of weekend tour groups or employing parking-lot patrols to weed out boisterous drunken groups.
The wineries are in many ways victims of their own success and admittedly are walking a fine line. They don't want to scare away business by squashing a good time, but they also don't want to continue letting a few spoil the wine-tasting experience for others.
"Our winery is a fun place ... but if one of your customers is throwing up in the bushes in your front yard, that's a problem," says Joe Gober Jr., owner of Americana Vineyard and Winery near Cayuga Lake in Interlaken.
Gober says he hopes the new crackdown on rowdy party groups reduces offensive behavior. At his winery, he says, drunken patrons often frolic nude in a pond not far from his vineyard viewing deck, and last year a rowdy customer tore a toilet off his bathroom wall.
Enough is enough, he says.
"We want our groups to have fun, but we also want our regular customers to enjoy themselves, too."
When vice president of Sub Pop Records Megan Jasper isn't running things at the office, she's working in her garden at her West Seattle home where she and her husband Brian spend time relaxing.