Wine-in-markets debate re-heats in New York

I posted a story back in mid-February on another of my blogs (one that covers New York's Capital Region beverage scene) concerning the resurrection of the debate over selling wine in grocery markets, something the state now prohibits. The quick responses, pro and con, from a batch of readers prompted me to re-post the story here to see what a broader cross-section of New York readers think. The original postings are included.

It may have failed in successive budget tries under Governor David Paterson and been ignored by Governor Andrew Cuomo who has been quoted as saying the potential benefits won't outweigh the potential costs, but the idea of allowing food markets to sell wine won't go away.

Rather than pushing Individually for such a change, the New York Wine Industry Association, New York State Wine Grape Growers Association, New York Farm Bureau, Business Council of New York State, Food Industry Alliance of New York State, New York State Restaurant Association and allied businesses are jointly calling on the governor to change his stance.

"New York Farm Bureau has long supported the sale of wine in grocery stores because of the enormous opportunities that it would provide to New York’s wineries and grape growers," said Dean Norton, bureau president.

"Studies have shown that making this common sense modification in state law would create more than 6,000 jobs in wineries and related industries and produce more than $70 million in new sales tax revenue. It’s long past time that we remove this barrier to consumer choice and job creation and become the 36th state to make this important change."

The alliance cites the marked change in the number of businesses allowed to sell wine in 1974 compared to today, as well as the marked increase in the number of wineries in the same period.

They use the 1974 benchmark because that is the year a push began to get then-Governor Hugh Carey to reformulate the state's winery license law to make it easier for farm wineries to operate more profitably. In 1976, he did so.

In 1974 there were 4,500 liquor stores in the state through which the then-existing 19 wineries could sell their farm product to consumers. Now, there are fewer than 2,500 liquor stores through which more than 378 New York wineries can sell their farm product to consumers. Thus, the alliance contends, wineries no longer have enough retail outlets to reach consumers.

Opponents continue to insist that mom and pop liquor stores would be severely harmed if other businesses are allowed to sell New York and other wines.

FIRST COMMENTS FROM READERS (feel free to add your own):

Skipjack: Since our Governor has such a great record for getting things done, its time for him to step up and get the law changed to allow wine to be sold in grocery stores like the vast majority of New Yorkers want.

Bill Dowd: Ed (# 15): Thanks for the two links to help people compare two vastly differing points of view. It is interesting, as you say.

What also is “interesting” is that you complain that the New York Wine Industry Association has only one agenda. The same can be said of the group you appear to support. It has as its sole agenda item blocking sales of wine in supermarkets.

Ed: I find it interesting that someone who is usually as knowledgeable as Dowd would cite the “New York Wine Industry Association.” A simple check of their website (http://nywia.com/web/) reveals that they are a group with 1 agenda item – putting wine in grocery stores. The true New York wine industry is solidly behind New York’s wine stores (for a list of wineries please see http://www.lastmainstreetstore.com/go.cfm?do=Page.Show&pid=4). Interesting.

Ann: It’s ridiculous that this state doesn’t allow the sale of wine in grocery stores. It would help out the local wineries tremendously.

Skipjack: I don’t understand why liquor stores get this kind of protectionism. It’s like telling Price Chopper that they can’t sell flowers because it hurts florists, or they can’t sell artisan bread or cakes because it hurts bakeries. The majority of citizens in NY want the ability to buy wine in grocery stores, but the liquor lobby don’t like it because they fear it will drive prices down (which it may). That’s why this issue has been coming up for the past ten years (at LEAST).

I also disagree that grocery stores will only sell crap wine. I travel to CA frequently and the selection there in grocery stores is BETTER than most liquor stores in NY (and the prices are WAY better). I agree that wine should be sold in grocery stores, but some of the restrictions placed on liquor stores should be lifted. Liquor stores should be able to have more than one location and they should be allowed to buy beer. When shopping for a party, I hate having to get spirits and wine in one store, and then go to a beverage or grocery store for beer. What’s up with that? And why can’t I pick up salt, limes, ice and NA margarita mix at a liquor store?

I also disagree that allowing wine sold in grocery stores will close down mom and pop. Yes, some will close if they can’t offer better service/selection/price than grocery stores. Sometimes a business deserves to fail. Would you frequent a restaurant with high prices and bad food just because they are independently owned? Most people wouldn’t.
I will no doubt continue to spend the bulk of my wine dollars at Empire Wine because of their great selection and prices, but it would be great to pick up a bottle of wine on occasion at BJ’s or Price Chopper. Time for NY to move into the 21st Century.

Rhianna: IF wine is to be allowed in NY grocery and chains are going to move into the state, THEN the state needs to allow *DUAL LICENSING* in independent retail, i.e. off-premise (retail) stores with on-premise authorization. Independent retailers will need the competitive ability to compete with big grocery by allowing to sell wines by-the-glass, i.e. a wine bar with retail store under one roof; a retail store with a wine/beer bar capability.

If insurance is a problem, allow a dual license to include only beer & wine for on-premise consumption if retail is attached (not liquor) – though liquor should still be allowed to be sold in retail side (under same roof). Look to Florida state for guidance. FL allows dual licensing for beer & wine (on and off premise under one roof) for only a few hundred dollars. It is also allowed with the addition of liquor, but liquor add-on license is several hundred thousand dollars and there are only x amount delegated per district.

Lee: The laws in NY are about protecting different lobbying groups and have nothing to do with protecting New Yorkers. It is just another type of “prohibition” based upon who has the money to get their will done in Albany.

Dostoevsky: There are real reasons why states should want to impose limits and controls on the sale of alcoholic beverages. You might not agree with them but you should at least know what they are. Here is an unbiased, third party report that discusses those reasons: “2012 ISSUE BRIEFS FOR STATES – Brief Explanations of Common Alcohol Regulatory Issues Facing State and Local Communities.” It can be downloaded from http://goo.gl/NSNig.

Anthony: Here is the smell test -- None of the proposals that have been offered give the liquor stores the the ability to offset the massive losses with other items. Cheese and crackers are not going to keep these stores in business. If we are going to allow wine to be sold everywhere that beer is sold, then we should allow beer to be sold everywhere wine is sold. But the grocery stores want exclusivity on the Holy Grail of beverages and won’t give that up. Thats why it doesn’t pass the smell test.

MIkeD: I hope NY can learn from Tennessee’s mistakes. All the Associations in the world won’t get it done. The people must be heard, not the heads of industry.


Mike: We all know the supermarkets will only carry Gallo, Yellowtail, Cavit and all the other mass produced wines. So where is the benefit to the New York state wine producers? The only beneficiaries will be large out of state businesses.

fiorot at westchesterwinemakers: Harry makes me laugh. Preserving a business? Protect a business from whom? Me thinks Harry is not a Capitalist who believes in free markets. Maybe we shouldn’t allow French wines in the country since we have California Wine. As consumers and taxpayers we do not have any interest in shielding one set of businesses from others at our expense and with the loss of healthy competition. Monopolistic practices must end. Free the Wine!

Whiner: Sorry, Harry, but your idea is in violation of the US Constitution.

Eric Orange: But as soon as you do that, Harry, it becomes an issue of protectionism and interstate commerce.

mabel: I like Harry’s idea. I hate seeing mom and pop stores (which describes most liquor stores) being bulldozed by big-box stores (which describes most supermarkets), but I think we need to support our state’s amazing wineries as well. And like Sarah, I’d love to be able to pick up a nice table wine when I’m buying my other groceries. :)

Harry Cook: I would support the concept of allowing grocery stores, eyc. to sell only NYS grown and bottled wines. That would tend to preserve the liquor/wine specialty businesses while encouraging the further development of the NY wine industry through expanded retail outlets.

Sarah Hinman Ryan: I lived in Seattle for almost seven years and every supermarket sold wine but there were still liquor stores all over the place. It was really nice to be able to pick up a bottle of something decent while buying the makings of dinner.

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