Courtesy of Cornell University Allison Usavage

Pending legislation would grant CALS the right to manufacture alcohol.

September 13, 2023

N.Y. State Bill Allowing CALS to Manufacture Alcohol Heads to Hochul’s Desk

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Sen. Lea Webb (D-N.Y.) introduced legislation on May 23 that would allow the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences to manufacture wine, beer, spirits and cider. As of June 6, the bill is currently headed to the office of Gov. Kathy Hochul for approval.

Senate Bill S7085 authorizes the manufacture of beer, spirits, cider, wine and mead at the University through the CALS at Cornell and CALS’s New York State Agricultural Experiment Station, which operates out of Geneva, New York. The bill also allots the same rights to Broome Community College in Binghamton.

The legislation would expand the abilities of the Cornell Craft Beverage Institute to include alcohol production and distillation. 

Chris Gerling, extension associate at CCBI, specified that the Institute’s main focus is to provide opportunities for hands-on learning, emphasizing that the ability to partake in the production process would greatly benefit students in the Viticulture and Enology major. 

“We want to make sure that students have the opportunity to do hands-on learning, to actually produce products when they’re doing their labs or their assignments,” Gerling said.

Gerling also stressed that passing the legislation would not drastically change the curriculum of those students already pursuing degrees in the subject area, but rather would allow them to move from a theoretical approach to a more practical and pragmatic form of learning.

“This isn’t going to bring about any kind of seismic change that we’re doing now. It’s just going to allow us to make sure that everything we are doing is both hands-on and in compliance with all regulations,” Gerling explained.

However, Gerling said the term manufacturing is used very loosely and explained that there will not be a commercial use for the public or mass production of alcoholic beverages. Instead, he said there will most likely be small demonstrations produced for small-scale quality control. Gerling explained that CCBI also engages in grape breeding efforts to help local wineries in the region improve their cultivation methods and select grapes better suited for the climate. 

“We have an experimental license, so we’re not this is not for any kind of commercial thing,” Gerling said. “This is all research [and] teaching.”

Webb, the bill’s sponsor, said she hopes the legislation will further the mission of land-grant colleges like Cornell to contribute to research and development in the agricultural industry of the state and the region. 

“This legislation would ensure that Cornell CALS in Ithaca, the NYS Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, along with SUNY Broome, have the same protection that other higher educational institutions have received through the State Liquor Authority to enable these institutions to continue their research,” Webb wrote in a statement to The Sun. “[This] is an important service to the farm-based beverage community, as well as educating the next generation of brewers, distillers and vintners through culinary arts training.”

The legislation is now headed to Hochul’s desk where, if signed by the governor, it will become law. Julie Suarez, associate dean for Land Grant Affairs at CALS, told The Sun CALS has asked Hochul to sign the legislation. 

“Cornell CALS and Cornell AgriTech have a long history of providing research, teaching and extension expertise to the craft beverage community and farmers growing for craft beverage markets,” Suarez wrote in a statement to The Sun. “This new licensure category will help increase our abilities to provide students with hands-on access to the art and science of craft beverage production in Ithaca and Geneva. Cornell CALS and AgriTech value the support that Gov. Hochul has provided to the craft beverage community and have asked that she sign this legislation into law.”

Gerling emphasized the importance of the legislation in advancing students’ professional development and knowledge of their desired fields of study. 

“We want them to be able to use the equipment, we want them to be able to analyze their own products, we want them to be able to see the outcomes of their choices,” Gerling said. “We want them to be able to really experience these processes that are being taught.”