NY wine-in-markets debate flares anew

Speculation is one of New York State’s major industries. Speculation about one of its other major industries takes things to a different level.

With the arrival of Andrew Cuomo as governor, and his appointment of people to various key advisory and regulatory positions, the matter of wine sales in supermarkets quickly has come up once again. Given that it got a lengthy walk in the spotlight from the State Legislature last summer before once again disappearing under an avalanche of hysteria, you can expect the matter to be kept at the top of the agenda for many people.

Tim Morral
How the pro-market forces will fare under Cuomo is an unknown at this point. Even people on the same side of the issue already are disagreeing. For example, the respected blogger Tim Morral writes on his blog NY Wine Guy, “Is Cuomo New York wine’s knight in shining armor? … Although he may find it difficult to match Governor Paterson’s entertainment value, Andrew Cuomo is making a lot of noise about rebuilding the state’s economy. If he succeeds that could be good news for the New York wine industry.”

Among the “signs” he cites:

• The election of ex-Rochester mayor and police chief Bob Duffy as lieutenant governor. He has long been exposed to the business power and potential of the ever-growing Finger Lakes wine community.
• The appointment of Danny Wegman, of the Wegmans grocery store empire, to an Upstate Business Council that Cuomo has promised to create. His stores in other states already sell wines.
• The fact that the governor’s girlfriend, Sandra Lee of Food Network fame, is a big wine fan and would seem to have the ear of the man in charge.

Carlo DeVito
However, Carlo DeVito doesn’t buy that. DeVito, a New York City publishing executive and owner with wife Dominique of Hudson-Chatham Winery in Columbia County, writes on his own blog, “Where my fellow blogger is wrong is that he thinks “it would mean a significant revenue boost for New York wineries. A greater emphasis on the wine industry in Albany would be nice, but selling wine in grocery stores is a start.” I am sorry, but that’s bullshit.

“An emphasis on growing the wineries is a great idea. Where’s some tourism dollars? Where’s the funding that wineries in Maryland and Virginia, and other states are getting to promote their wine industries and tourism? Now, I’ve played many games on the playground, and I know the old rubric ‘Money talks, bullshit walks,’ but this is too much. Name which wineries will actually score big. I can tell you who: The five largest wineries in the state, one of which will be Canadaigua. Then it will be California, Australia, Chile, and Argentina.

“I used to live next to a Wegmans. They sold four or five NY state wines, and then the rest were everything else — from Cakebread and rare French Bordeaux’s and Burgundies to Yellow Tail and Franzia. I’ve had someone tell me from one of these larger wineries that with my own winery I could probably sell a couple of delis that I couldn’t get in before. Gee, thanks! Where’s the revenue boost? Wegmans will get a sweetheart deal on taxes and pay into the coffers, and a number of smaller, ill equipped wine stores will bite the dust. When the small stores falter, the small wineries will falter as well. It’s only the big store chains that will make something happen.

“The reason the wineries haven’t helped make this deal happen yet is pure and simple. In the main, it won’t help the NY wineries, or they would already have gotten it done. Out of the more than 300 wineries in NY State, Wegmans has only ever carried five or six. What happens to the other 294? … I say to Duffy and Cuomo, let’s have a meeting. Let’s have a discussion. Ask a few dozen winery owners to the state capital. Let’s see what they say. I say to the wineries, better get off your hands, or someone will chop them off for you.”

And so, Let the debate go on from here.

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