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Supermarket option would bolster state growers

I am a grape farmer in Chautauqua County, and because of New York's arcane laws, wines that use New York-grown grapes can't sell their products in New York's grocery stores. This prevents more than 270 wineries from maximizing their market potential within our own state. This action results in fewer wine sales, and local growers like myself suffer.

For me and more than 1,200 grape growers in New York State, selling wine in grocery stores makes sense, not just for our bottom line, but for consumers as well. We know that if wine were sold in grocery stores, more than just grape growers would prosper. When wine was introduced to grocery stores in Washington state in 1969, sales increased by 26 percent. And when wine was introduced to grocery stores in Iowa in 1985, annual sales increased by nearly 80 percent.

An estimated 40,000 tons of wine-making grapes are produced in New York, mainly in Chautauqua County. Three major New York wineries purchase the majority of these grapes, and have processing facilities right here in New York. The smaller "boutique" wineries in New York grow, purchase and process New York-grown grapes and also have their place in this market. They, too, have the potential to benefit from increased marketing opportunities this law would create.

There is concern that these small New York wineries could not compete in this newly proposed market. That same concern was around when New York opened the market to allow interstate shipment of wines. We heard over and over again that New York can't compete against a flood of imports from California. Guess what? New York wines did compete, and in fact our numbers are still growing. All the grape growers and the farm wineries are seeking is to have additional shelf space available to continue the competition.

This result would be in market expansion right here, right now. More business will create more jobs, from the vineyards all the way to both liquor and grocery stores. New York grape growers and wineries would have greater choices, as would the consumer, when making decisions over where to sell, or conversely where to buy, wine.

Thirty-five states have wine sales at grocery stores; and they also still have liquor stores. A family-owned liquor store will always be the best place to purchase wine, for the knowledge, the tasting and the variety of products.

The real problem is that the current law has created a monopoly that has curtailed business development and marketing within our own state. It restricts consumers and hurts local farmers and wineries. It's outdated, anti-competitive and wrong.

The new proposed legislation is a win-win for New York. Small businesses like my farm, liquor stores, grocery stores and consumers all have a place here, and New York consumers should have more chances to buy New York's wonderful wines.

James Joy is a grape grower in Chautauqua County.

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