RIT partnership uncorks potential of N.Y. wineries

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Photo submitted by Paul Stella

Representatives from dozens of the Finger Lakes region’s wineries enjoy an opportunity to sample New York state wines. The tasting session was part of a training program at the New York Wine & Culinary Center in Canandaigua, presented in partnership with RIT.

Vinny and Kim Aliperti have little time these days to toast their good fortune. Some unexpected circumstances last year presented the couple with an opportunity to go into the winery business. Today they’re busy running Billsboro Winery, located along the Seneca Lake Wine Trail, just south of Geneva.

“We just realized that something great was dropping in our laps,” recalls Kim Aliperti. “If we did not take advantage of it, that wasn’t going to happen again.”

Now the former English teacher is supervising Billsboro’s tasting room and is training to manage the winery’s bookkeeping. “This is really new to me,” she admits.

That’s what encouraged Aliperti to take advantage of a new effort targeting the state’s burgeoning wine industry. On Feb. 27-28, she joined nearly 50 of her peers in Canandaigua for an education and training program, created through a partnership between RIT and the New York Wine & Culinary Center.

The New York Wine and Grape Foundation sponsored the initiative through a $100,000 grant. The foundation’s goal is to increase the state’s competitive position by teaching and instilling quality among its wineries in various aspects of the business. The program is also being conducted in Long Island and the Hudson Valley.

“RIT and the New York Wine & Culinary Center assembled a group of experts to address a broad range of industry-related issues,” explains James Myers, director of RIT’s Center for Multidisciplinary Studies. “The result is a highly dynamic instructional experience that is having an immediate impact on the business performance of the attending wineries.”

Joining Myers as members of the training team are Lorraine Hems and Rick Lagiewski, faculty members in RIT’s School of Hospitality and Service Management; Shannon Brock, wine coordinator for the New York Wine & Culinary Center; Paul Stella, director of RIT University News; and Kitren VanStrander, director of RIT Outreach Education and Training.

Sessions emphasize tasting operations, electronic marketing, trade relations, media relations, wine competitions and label design. Discussion in all areas focuses on how wineries can increase quality as well as project a quality image.

That focus is already being reflected at Billsboro Winery. “I took home a bunch of little tips that I could implement right away, and I took home some things I can implement over the long term,” says Aliperti. “So this is really an investment in the business for me.”