Push to Sell Wine in Grocery Stores Comes Out Fighting

This past week, a group of business, winery and farm groups asked Gov. Andrew Cuomo to re-evaluate his stance on legalizing the sale of wine in grocery stores, saying it could “bring the New York wine industry to life.” This recent push is significant because 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.

Proponents say it could create an economic boom for New York wineries and grape growers, while opponents say it would destroy mom-and-pop liquor stores that rely on wine sales to stay afloat.

“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,” Dean Norton, president of New York Farm Bureau, said in a statement. “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 thirty-sixth state to make this important change.”

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.

“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.

The alliance argues that 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.

Will there be power in numbers? The push to sell wine in grocery stores is certainly gaining political traction in other states. Tennessee and even Massachusetts (with some of the toughest liquor laws in the country) are taking this issue to the polls. The Massachusetts Food Association is taking another shot at getting beer and wine into grocery stores, filing two ballot questions Wednesday, one which would allow food stores to sell wine and a second to allow grocery stores and supermarkets to sell beer and wine, under local control. The group filed two questions hoping that at least one would be certified by Attorney General Martha Coakley’s office and give them an opportunity to advance it the 2012 ballot, backers said.

While Thirty-three states allow grocery stores to sell wine, no state has been added to the list in about 25 years. One may think that is not the time to push this, with the current presidential rhetoric against big box retailers and bemoaning the death of small businesses. The Liquor store trade group has wisely seized on this sentiment by naming one of their websites “Last Store on Main Street”. Despite all the noble talk of populism however, our New York foodie culture is more sophisticated than ever and the ability to choose wine pairings at the supermarket while planning their meal is something consumers want. When Clients consult me about opening a wine store instead of a liquor store because there will be less opposition, I always warn them to reconsider and to keep their options open. Sometimes the legislature in Albany works in mysterious ways.

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