The Agricultural Industry Group as Landscape Manager: the case of viticulture in the Finger Lakes region, New York, USA

Authors and Affiliations: 

Thomas Oles

Cornell University


The Finger Lakes area of New York is a depopulating rural region in the northeastern United States. The traditional agricultural land use, small-scale dairy farming, has been in decline for many years, and abandonment and reforestation are widespread. The one exception to this trend has been the transformation of an increasing number of former dairy lands to vineyards. While the Finger Lakes have been a wine-producing area since the nineteenth century (Newman 1986), in the past two decades small-scale viticulture has grown significantly (Newman 1992). There are currently over 100 wineries in the Finger Lakes, with many new enterprises established each year. This rapidly expanding industry is among the prime drivers of economic growth in the region and has attracted an increasing number of visitors over the past decade (Finger Lakes Wine Symposium 2012).
An important part of the success of the wine industry in the Finger Lakes region are non-governmental organizations such as the Cayuga Wine Trail, Seneca Lake Wine Trail, Finger Lakes Wine Alliance, and Finger Lakes Wine Center, loose affiliations of wineries and regional educational institutions that organize events, engage in promotion of the wine industry to visitors and locals, and disseminate information on cultivation and marketing to wine growers. These regional organizations play a key role in promoting the industry and are at the forefront of the effort to market New York wines nationally and globally (White 2011). At the same time, these entities can be considered landscape management bodies to the extent that they engage in a variety of measures to help wineries plan their landscapes for multifunctional services related to aesthetics, recreation, heritage, and biodiversity. They thus would appear to perform a critical role in mediating the interests of wine producers as competitors in a global marketplace, with their position as local stewards of a unique and valued landscape type.

The proposed paper examines the history, structure, activities, and impacts of these non-governmental entities in order to evaluate their contemporary role as planners and managers of viticulture landscapes. Using documentary sources and key informant interviews, the paper asks whether such regional organizations, in the absence of strong public policy governing planning and management of agricultural landscapes, might offer a “best practice” model with respect to integration of a global logic of market competition and a local logic of multifunctional use. The paper argues in conclusion that in societies with relatively lax planning regimes such as the United States, and given scarce public resources, these non-governmental, non-sectoral organizations will likely come to play an increasingly important role in resolving tensions between these two logics in particular locales.


Finger Lakes Wine Symposium (2012). Finger Lakes Wine Region. Accessed 18 March 2013.

Newman, J. (1986). Vines, Wines, and Regional Identity in the Finger Lakes Region. Geographical Review 76:3, 301-316.

Newman, J. (1992). Decline and Development in the Finger Lakes Wine Region. Journal of Wine Research 3:2, 79-96.

White, G. (2011). Cost of Establishment and Production of Vinifera Grapes in the Finger Lakes Region of New York, 2010. Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, Cornell University.