Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Days of Whine and Poses

Crain's carried an interesting piece on the battle over selling wine in supermarkets last week in their on line edition. It appears that the liquor stores, upset over the potential loss of their monopoly, have resorted to strong arm tactics-threatening wineries that support the measure with a blacklist.

As Crains reports: "Scott Osborn, the proprietor of Fox Run Vineyards in the Finger Lakes region, is shocked at the vitriol that has been hurled against him and his staff since he testified two weeks ago in favor of legislation that would allow grocery stores to sell wine in New York.
Sure, it was a bold move to go up against his liquor store vendors. They are a powerful lobby that has held sway over Albany lawmakers on the issue of expanding the sale of wine to outlets like Whole Foods or 7-Eleven. He just didn't expect the phone calls and e-mails from liquor store owners threatening to remove his wine from their shelves and destroy his business. “I'm shocked at how vicious they were,” says Mr. Osborn."

Now, if the accusation is true, it would mean that a group of unrelated retailers were acting in concert to restrain trade-a clear violation, it seems to us, of the federal anti-trust laws. And AG Cuomo has been asked to investigate: "The fight has become personal. Mr. Osborn recalls one especially nasty e-mail: “Thanks for trying to put me out of business,” it said. “I used to like pushing your wines but now just looking at them makes me want to puke. I'll never sell any of your wines ever again!” Another winemaker, Doug Miles of Miles Wine Cellars in the Finger Lakes region, was told that his products would be “blacklisted.” Both vineyards are suffering. Mr. Miles says his sales to liquor stores have declined 70% this month after a gain in January. Similarly, Fox Run's sales are declining in February. Now, the office of state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is reviewing the issue, a spokesman says."

Nice! Not satisfied with a state sponsored monopoly, these liquor stores have formed a bizarrely named, "The Last Store on Main St.," coalition to combat the evils of competition: "It has been a long-simmering issue in New York, one of only 15 states that prohibit wine sales in supermarkets. But grocery stores have never managed to get the matter into the governor's budget, though it is still early in the legislative process."

All of this simmering controversy will undoubtedly come to a head next week in Albany-when dueling pressers are held and throngs of folks on both sides will invade the capitol to make their case. Count on the Alliance and its allies to be there in support of the real main street coalition; and not the manufactured, one industry, version set up to scare and mislead.