Tourism and the Wine Business, with Scott Osborn

Episode 169:

To Scott Osborn, Rochester native, the acquisition of Fox Run Vineyards was the natural culmination of his passion for wine and commitment to the industry.

The son of two professors, Osborn’s first interest was international politics. Attending the Friends World College, a unique university with campuses all over the globe, he studied in Kenya, India, Thailand, Japan, and England.

He went into real estate development in 1974, later opening an office in Lake County California, a well-known viticulture area. The move there proved to be fortuitous; living so close to the vines Osborn became interested in wine. In 1980 he took his first job at Konocti Winery labeling bottles. He then went on to work at Firestone Vineyards, Zaca Mesa, and Byron Winery in Santa Barbara. In 1984 during his time at Byron, he came back to visit family in the Finger Lakes Region. During a wine tasting trip around Seneca Lake, he tasted a Wagner Vineyards 1982 Barrel-aged Chardonnay and experience for the first time a brilliant cool climate wine. It was then he realized that this was where he wanted to make wines and ultimately own his own vineyard and winery.

In 1985, there were not a lot of winemaking jobs available so he began working for a wine distributor and then went on to be General Manager of Pindar Vineyards on Long Island. In 1993, Fox Run became available and in partnership with Andy Hale, he purchased it.

Since the purchase of the winery in 1994, he has resided in the beautifully renovated farmhouse originally built on the property in 1870. Initially assuming the responsibilities of winemaking, along with the myriad tasks of management, speaking engagements, and travel, he chose to hire a full-time winemaker. His selection of Peter Bell in June of 1995 satisfied his desire to engage the most gifted winemaker in the Finger Lakes region. Their shared vision for quality wine production has freed Osborn to the task of managing the winery and planning for its future. He regularly participates in wine judgings, panel discussions, and symposiums dealing with the many challenges of an increasingly sophisticated appellation.

On Christmas day of 1998 three days after turning 50, Scott married long time sweetheart Ruth Worden. In 2012, Ruth’s sister Kathy and her husband Albert became partners and now Fox Run is a family-owned winery.

The highly successful working relationship between Scott, Peter, and Vineyard manager John Kaiser has resulted in spectacular grapes, wines, and successful introductions of state-of-the-art vineyard practices, keeping Fox Run Vineyards on the cutting edge of grape growing and winemaking.

Scott is constantly working to improve their environmental impact and has received the Lake Friendly Farm designation from Yates County Soil and Water Conservation. This award is given to farms whose farming practices do not negatively impact the water quality of Seneca Lake. He also installed a 151-Kilowatt solar system which provides 100% of the electrical needs for the winery, tasting room, and café. They have reduced their herbicide and pesticide use and are replacing them with organic and biological sprays that are less impactful on the environment.

He has been President of the Seneca Lake Wine Trail two times and a founding member and past President of Finger Lakes Wine Alliance. He is also a founding member of the New York Wine Industry Association, which was founded in 2009 to represent the Wine Industry to educate legislators in Albany on issues that will impact our wineries and vineyards in New York State. He was elected by his peers in the wine industry and is now the New York representative on the Board of Wine America, which is the national advocacy organization for the American Wine Industry in Washington DC.

In this episode of Destination on the Left, Scott Osborn, owner of Fox Run Vineyards, joins us to talk about tourism from the perspective of a business owner. He discusses the new challenges and opportunities presented to wineries in the Finger Lakes, and he explains how tourism has impacted the wine business.

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • Scott’s perspective on tourism as a business owner
  • How tourism has affected the wine business in the Finger Lakes region
  • How Scott helped create an allure for Finger Lakes wine
  • How Scott uses travel patterns to attract visitors in the highly competitive Seneca Lake area
  • What Scott has done to make Fox Run Vineyards stand out from the crowd
  • How collaboration has played a major role in growing the Finger Lakes wine industry
  • How Scott has been able to garner attention from Europeans

Tourism in the Wine Business

Scott Osborn is the owner of Fox Run Vineyards, a family-owned winery on Seneca Lake in the Finger Lakes region of New York State. As a business owner in a hot destination, Scott has to operate his winery with the big picture in mind. For instance, in his market, the average wine tasting visitor makes five stops. So, Scott and his team crafted Fox Run’s experiences around this pattern and other trends that travelers follow. But these patterns are constantly changing, which presents new opportunities and new challenges. In the this episode of Destination on the Left Scott joins us to discuss the impact of tourism on his industry and he talks about tourism from a business owner’s perspective.

New Trends, New Challenges

With some of the world’s most renowned vineyards located in California, many people develop a preconceived notion about what wine should taste like. But every region has a different style and the cool-climate wines of New York provide an entirely different experience. The Seneca Lake winemakers had to work together, and still do,  to get the word out about their region and their label. But now there are breweries, cideries, and distilleries competing for traveler time and dollars as well. Getting tourists to come to the Finger Lakes and make wine tasting a priority is a much larger challenge than ever before. When Scott Osborn started Fox Run Vineyards, there were about twenty wineries on Seneca Lake. Now, there are over one hundred producing quality and consistency that is appreciated by connoisseurs around the world. It has made it challening to stand out from the crowd and differentiate Fox Run from other wineries in the region.

It’s All About the Experience

In the episode with Paul Soseman, we discussed the concept of experiential marketing in tourism. But it doesn’t always have to be labeled as such. Scott Osborn recognized the opportunity to strike an emotional reaction in his audience; not by forcing a clever campaign on them, but by inviting them to experience a different universe. He built the largest sculpture on Seneca Lake in the form of a massive gate. It draws attention from the main road into town, and when they cross the entrance, they are teleported into a new realm.

Episode Transcript

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