New York wine distributors are fighting to stop a State Senate bill that they fear would drive many out of business and force up prices for the end consumer.
Initial objections to the “At Rest” bill when it was proposed last year have now turned to outrage after it emerged that Empire Merchants, one of the few distributors large enough to benefit from this proposal, has donated more than half a million dollars over the past eight years to members of the State Senate.
Among the politicians who are understood to have received legal cash donations from Empire Merchants or its senior management within the last four years are Governor Andrew Cuomo, State Senator Jeffrey Klein, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and State Senator José Peralta, with a further donation to the Independent Democratic Conference.
The “At Rest” bill would require all wine sold in New York to spend at least 24 hours being warehoused within the state before it is distributed to local stores. Many smaller distributors currently store their wine in cheaper warehouse facilities across the border in New Jersey, but Empire Merchants operates from its own warehouses in Queens and Brooklyn.
Supporters claim that the move, which would bring New York in line with 33 other states, would create hundreds of jobs and generate additional tax revenue.
However, critics have argued that the increased cost involved would add around $7 to the retail price of a bottle of wine, putting many smaller companies out of business.
Among those who believe the “At Rest” bill would “very directly affect our business” is Shannon Coursey, New York State regional manager for Vineyard Brands, which represents more than 60 producers from around the world, including Cono Sur, Château de Beaucastel and Marqués de Cáceres.
Warning that the bill’s success “would be a very sad day for the New York food and wine industry,” Coursey highlighted the current diversity of the state’s wine market.
“People come from all over the country and the world to eat in the wonderful restaurants we have here with wine lists full of selection and varied price points,” she told the drinks business. “If ‘At Rest’ passes, the most interesting wine companies in New York State will be forced to drastically raise prices as a best case scenario or be forced out of business.”
Coursey warned of a similar situation emerging to those states whose wine distribution is dominated by a few large companies and a correspondingly limited selection of wines.
By contrast, she observed: “New York has over 24,000 [wines] and that is thanks to the many small businesses that exist here and care about wine. This will no longer be the case if ‘At Rest’ passes.”
Direct enquiries by the drinks business have yet to receive a reply, but state officials are understood to be weighing up the potential impact of the bill, with ongoing studies by the State Liquor Authority and New York’s main economic development agency, Empire State Development.