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New York Wines Land Prized Spot on Inaugural Menu

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Wines from Schumer’s home state of New York will be featured at the inaugural luncheon, including a riesling from the Finger Lakes region.

New York’s growing wine industry has home state Sen. Charles E. Schumer to thank for two spots on the inaugural luncheon menu.

As the chairman of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, Schumer suggested a 2009 merlot from Bedell Cellars on the North Fork of Long Island and a Tierce 2010 dry riesling produced from grapes from three Finger Lakes vineyards.

With hundreds of guests including President Barack Obama, his Cabinet and the Supreme Court justices, landing on the inaugural table is the political equivalent of “Top Chef.”

“It does have commercial value. ... It’s a stamp of approval,” said Cary Greene, chief operating officer and lead lobbyist at WineAmerica, one of two associations that represent domestic wine producers. “I imagine that this is the most prominent event that Bedell has been served at. It’s a big deal.”

Trent Preszler, the CEO of Bedell Cellars, serves on the board of directors of WineAmerica, which spent $100,000 on lobbying in 2011.

There are currently 8,000 domestic wineries, more than double the number that existed in 2000, said Greene. With 328 licensed wineries and an annual harvest worth more than $50 million, New York is the third biggest producer, behind Washington state and California, which accounts for nearly 90 percent of American wine, according to the Commerce Department.

But only one California libation will be served on Jan. 21: sparkling wine from Korbel Champagne Cellars, of Guerneville, Calif., will accompany Hudson Valley, N.Y., apple pie. In 2008, when California Sen. Dianne Feinstein chaired the inaugural committee, all of the wines came from her home state, inaugural planners said.

The exposure is also a boon to the farms selected to provide ingredients for menu items, although most do not know they are under consideration until well after they’ve been selected, said Kathy Valentine, the CEO of Design Cuisine, the Arlington, Va., based catering firm managing the meal.

The taste-testing began early this fall with the spouses of the members of planning committee: Iris Weinshall, Schumer’s wife; Diana Cantor, the wife of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va.; Landra Gould, the wife of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.; Leslee “Honey” Alexander, the wife of Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.; and Paul Pelosi, husband of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who owns a vineyard in St. Helena, Calif. worth at least $5 million, according to the couple’s joint financial disclosure form. The wife of Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who is also on the planning committee, could not participate.

The ingredients will arrive at the Capitol in the dark of early morning. Some 15 chefs will prepare the meal on site behind Statuary Hall in a makeshift kitchen equipped with stoves, ovens and refrigerators.

Valentine declined to disclose the cost of the meal.

Here’s the menu:

First Course: Steamed lobster with New England chowder

Wine: Anthony Road Winery, Fox Run Vineyards & Newt Red Cellars, Tierce 2010 Dry Riesling, Finger Lakes, N.Y.

Second Course: Hickory grilled bison with wild huckleberry reduction and red potato horseradish cake

Wine: Bedell Cellars, 2009 Merlot, North Fork, Long Island, N.Y.

Third Course: Hudson Valley apple pie, sour cream ice cream, aged cheese and honey

Wine: Korbel Natural, Special Inaugural Cuvée Champagne, Calif.

An earlier version of this article misstated the number of wineries in the United States.

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