And so, the latest attempt to put wine in New York’s grocery stores appears to be doomed, a victim of budget politics and a Legislature that sides more with the powerful liquor store lobby than with the will of most New Yorkers who would like more choice when it comes to where they buy their wine (consumers can buy wine in supermarkets in 35 states).
There’s a good discussion of the arguments from the perspectives of a Finger Lakes winery owner and a liquor store owner/ industry official on WHEC.com in Rochester. Scott Osborne of Fox Run Vineyards complains that it’s hard to get his wine into stores beyond his area, while Don Bombace, representing the State Liquor Store Association, says the decision will preserve jobs and keep alcohol “out of the hands of minors,” among other things.
As I wrote on the subject earlier this year, I don’t need the industry, by virtue of having wine sales only in liquor stores, to police my kids for me. That argument just doesn’t fly. As for losing jobs, no one, of course, wants that, and Dan Collins makes a strong argument in the Huffington Post on why that should be the overriding consideration in this economy.
But there is yet another issue that hasn’t been discussed: while there are superb wine stores in New York, there are also a fair number that are downright embarrassing when it comes to wine selection and knowledge. We’ve all been in them: inventory dominated by standard brands pushed heavily by wholesalers; limited or no insight into wine in general or what’s on their shelves; comments like “people seem to like it” or “it’s been selling very well.” Competition from grocers, I believe, would force liquor store owners to raise the bar and offer added value to their customers.
People are hungry for wine insight and expertise and are attracted to it. The industry should redouble its efforts to help its members gain a basic level of wine knowledge. If not, when New York’s grocery stores finally do win the right to sell wine, only the best of the wine and liquor stores will survive. And that, perhaps, is the way it should be.