By Allison Collins
SIDNEY – U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D–NY, visited Awestruck Cider Tuesday in response to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau’s (TTB) call for new labeling mandates affecting the state’s hard cider industry.
Terming the TTB’s proposed changes “bureaucratic idiocy,” Schumer said: “I’ll be using whatever clout I have … to get them to desist.”
The proposed rule would force hard cider manufacturers to include the words “sparkling” and “carbonated” on labeling, a change considered cost prohibitive by cidery owners and, according to Schumer, “confusing.”
In a press statement, he said, “Requiring cideries to label their cider as ‘carbonated’ is confusing for consumers and, more importantly, it runs counter to New York (cideries’) desire to compete with beer, rather than champagnes and sparkling wines.”
Grouping hard ciders with more expensive beverages, he said, makes the product less accessible and “puts the burgeoning industry … at a significant disadvantage.”
He said, “(Cideries) seek to broaden their appeal to consumers, and new labeling requirements would impose unnecessary costs on these small businesses.”
According to the New York Cider Association, Awestruck is one of 90 cideries statewide and part of a 300 percent increase seen in the last five years. Schumer noted: “We’re No. 1 in cideries, first in the whole country.”
Hindering the industry’s growth, Schumer said, would prove detrimental to more than just cider producers.
“Cideries … throughout Delaware County and the Southern Tier pour local products and jobs into our economy,” he said, “which is why we must make sure their exciting growth is not choked off by bureaucratic nonsense.”
He added, “For … local cideries like Awestruck to expand and create more good-paying local jobs, we need the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau to back off.”
Schumer praised Awestruck founders Patti Wilcox and Casey Vitti’s commitment to bringing the craft industry to their native Delaware County. The pair grew up in Walton, where Awestruck began, and moved the business to Sidney three years ago.
While the TTB’s mandate wouldn’t significantly impact Awestruck’s current line of ciders, Schumer said, the proposed labeling requirements would inhibit the cidery’s evolution.
“This wouldn’t affect Awestruck much, but this would block off the way for some of their new recipes,” he said. “That’s why I’m here.”
Schumer’s recent efforts reflect an ongoing interest in the craft industry.
In 2013, he introduced the Cider Act, bipartisan legislation that “updated the definition of hard apple and pear cider … by increasing (the) allowed alcohol by volume and … allowing them to be labeled and taxed (as) hard cider, rather than wine or champagne.”
Passage of the Cider Act in 2015, Schumer said Tuesday, gave producers more flexibility and enabled use of a wider variety of apples, thereby expanding grower markets.
Wilcox said she appreciated Schumer’s criticism of regulatory “roadblocks” and “kinks.”
“We’re so honored to have him here,” she said. “Every small business is excited to hear their government is supporting them and helping clear the way to success.”
She added that support from Sidney and surrounding communities has been “amazing.”
Wilcox said, “We’re giving this all we’ve got and we’re hoping to create some economic benefit in our area.” Awestruck employs 16 people.
Sidney Mayor Andy Matviak said, since setting up shop in the village’s Industrial Park three years ago, Awestruck has proven an asset.
“Having a new company such as Awestruck … attracts new people to the village, people who would not normally come to the area,” Matviak said. “Then those people go through downtown and … see the other things that the village has to offer.”
He added, “We’re excited to have young entrepreneurs here looking to grow their business; that’s where we see a benefit for the village.”
Following his address, Schumer sampled some Awestruck ciders and toured the 8 Winkler Road production facility and taproom.
In addition to Matviak, Sidney Supervisor Eugene Pigford and John Redente, grant administrator for the village, and several members of the Sidney Chamber of Commerce attended the event. Glenn Nealis, Delaware County Economic Development Director, and Tina Molé, Chairwoman of the Delaware County Board of Supervisors and Delaware County Chamber of Commerce President Ray Pucci were also present.