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LI Vintner weighs in on wine-sale battle

When it comes to a legislative fight, the issue of fairness doesn’t often take center stage. Usually such a battle plays out in a “right” or “wrong”  scenario.

But for Charles Massoud, the owner of Paumanok Vineyards in Aquebogue, the issue of whether to allow supermarkets, grocery stores and other food shops to sell wine comes down to an issue of fairness - or unfairness in this case. It’s unfair for Gov. David A. Paterson to propose such a plan, something he has done in his 2010-2011 budget, Massoud said. (Albany is still in the throes of its budget battle.)

The wine shops, which are opposing the governor’s plan, have spent years building up their reputations in a restrictive regulatory environment, Massoud said. Allowing food stores to sell wine would destroy that equity, he said.

“They’re giving away part of the equity the \[wine\] stores have developed,” Massoud said in an interview before the start of a news conference in Manhasset to denounce the governor’s plan. “The potential for \[wine shops\] to lose money and shut down their business is high.”

Proponents have said that opening up the sales would give consumers more choices. And the governor projects the plan will generate $250 million for cash-strapped Albany in 2010-2011 and $50 million in 2011-2012.

Massoud said he seems an unlikely ally of wine shop owners because he could benefit from the wider distribution. But he believes that adding venues won’t increase consumption. Instead, he said the same amount of sales will be spread around.
“I don’t think that \[by offering wine\] in more places, you’re going to get people to drink more,” he said.

Massoud told the news conference at Young’s Fine Wines & Spirits that the move to open up wine sales to food stores is as wrong-headed as the new MTA payroll tax on businesses, including on farmers, which he describes himself as.

“What do I have to do with the MTA?” he said. “They are so desperate that they are doing things that don’t make sense. They are doing things that will drive me to drink.”

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