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Could a new law "kneecap" NYS boutique wines?

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Bottles of wine and spirits made in New York would have to sit in a New York state warehouse for up to 48 hours before they could be sold, under a new law being considered in Albany.

It sounds like a small thing, but for many wineries and distilleries, it's big.
In a letter this week, the Doolittles, of Frontenac Point Vineyard in Trumansburg, write the "at rest" legislation would make it prohibitively expensive for small operations to deliver wine to downstate accounts. They're part of a larger movement to defeat the bill.

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Reported by

Ryan Delaney
Reporter, The Innovation Trail

Christopher Missick and his wife got into the wine business three years ago when they bought a winery along the west side of Seneca Lake. Last year Missick decided to break his Villa Bellangelo wines into the lucrative New York City market.

"We don't have access to the huge distribution houses down there and we work with, for the most part, really high quality, but small family distributors."

Missick's distributor and other small operations working in New York City have their warehouse across the river in New Jersey, where real estate is cheaper.

This year, lawmakers in New York are considering the implementation of what's called an "at rest" law, which proponents say will "level the playing field" between New York and other states (like New Jersey) that already have "at rest" laws; make it easier to collect excise taxes from out-of-state alcohol; and could grow business through construction and operation of warehousing facilities (see the Assembly version of the law here.)

Opponents say the legislation would add up to $2 a bottle in passed-on expenses. Missick says that could be a deal breaker, when his wine is already more expensive than competitors. "It just seems like one of those initiatives that I have to say is really thought out, or not thought out. It's one or the other. It's only going to hurt a burgeoning industry."

Dina Opici is the president of Opici Wholesalers. They have a warehouse in East Syracuse as well as in New Jersey, which already has "at rest" laws. She says the laws in both states will mean duplicating their operations and "kneecap" their efforts to sell boutique wines: "Many of the over 180 wholesalers in the state of New York who warehouse in New Jersey will not be able to stay in business as a result of this legislation."

Opici and other small distributors have teamed up to launch a campaign against the bill. The Stop the Cork Tax alliance points the finger at big distributors like Empire North for wanting the law. They say the larger operations are trying to drive them out of business. Empire North, declined to comment.

Wineries already selling through big distributors with warehouses in the city are generally okay with the law.

Brooklyn Assemblyman Joe Lentol is a co-sponsor of the bill. But a spokesperson says the assemblyman has become sensitive to the other side's concerns. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has asked Empire State Development to look into the economic impact of an "at rest" law, but the study hasn't been released yet.

Reporting by the Innovation Trail is supported by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Visit innovationtrail.org

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