“Sod the wine, I want to suck on the writing. This man White is an instinctive writer, bloody rare to find one who actually pulls it off, as in still gets a meaning across with concision. Sharp arbitrage of speed and risk, closest thing I can think of to Cicero’s ‘motus continuum animi.’

Probably takes a drink or two to connect like that: he literally paints his senses on the page.”

DBC Pierre (Vernon God Little, Ludmila’s Broken English, Lights Out In Wonderland ... Winner: Booker prize; Whitbread prize; Bollinger Wodehouse Everyman prize; James Joyce Award from the Literary & Historical Society of University College Dublin)





02 January 2009



India Pulls Its Cork


As India gradually discovers wine, its lawmakers seem keen to deregulate restrictive laws and get on with it.

One major step is the move to permit department stores to sell wine.

“We are working towards easing regulation on wine production and consumption in the country. Availability of wine would be the first step in this direction. The government is willing to spread wine culture among people and promote vineyards in the country,” an official in the ministry of food processing, who wished not to be named, told the Economic Times of India on New Year’s Eve.”

“Some states, like Delhi, Maharastra, Karnataka and Punjab have already allowed department stores to sell beer provided they get a liquor licence”, ETI reported. “The ministry of food processing along with the department of commerce are of the view that wine should also be treated like beer, which is different from hard liquor such as whiskey and rum. The Delhi government, too, is likely to allow the sale of wine in local stores soon.

“The two arms of the central government are working on a policy to encourage wine making and its consumption in the country. They are also in favour of having a uniform excise duty regime across the state for wine sector. Excise duty on wines is a state subject and varies from state to state.

“To give impetus to wine production and its promotion, the food processing ministry has also set up a National Wine Board to develop standards and promote domestic wine industry, so that they may stand stiff competition thrown by Australian and French wines. Competition from foreign wines is expected to intensify with the recent reduction in customs duties on wines and spirits.

“The ministry argues that promotion of wine culture will lead to agricultural diversification and employment generation in rural India. With the growing popularity, wine farmers in Maharashtra are shifting from plantation of table grapes to wine grapes, said the official. India’s wine market, which is 1.2 million cases, has been growing at 40% this year compared with 2007.”

Meanwhile, in the USA, where many states already enjoy this privilege (to varying degrees – the laws are arcane), a few recalcitrants are still kicking and screaming.

The New Jersey legislature is considering changing its 47-year-old law designed to prevent monopolization, price-fixing and mob influence of liquor stores and introducing similarly liberal legislation. Liquor store owners are up in arms, saying this will lead to supermarket chains gaining control of the retail liquor business.

Fred Leighton, president of the New Jersey Liquor Store Alliance and owner of Bayway World of Liquor in Elizabeth, argued the legislation would hurt struggling business districts, raise the risk of minors illegally obtaining liquor at busy supermarkets, and lead to price hikes.

The director of the state Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control said the proposal is unnecessary and would make it more difficult to enforce the drinking age.

"When I see a 15-year-old walk into a liquor store, I assume there is a problem," Jerry Fischer, state ABC director, told the committee. "When I see a 15-year-old walk into a supermarket, I can't assume anything. I have very valid concerns."

The bill would change the existing system that limits any corporation or individual to only two retail liquor licenses statewide. It is being pushed by the New Jersey Food Council, the lobbying arm for such supermarket chains as Acme, Stop & Shop, Pathmark, Whole Foods and Quick Chek.

"The existing law is anti-competitive, unfair and riddled with loopholes," said Deana Lykins, a consultant retained by the N.J. Food Council. "It is a protectionist measure for one part of the liquor industry."

In Albany, upstate New York, opponents to a similar liberalisation of liquor laws also say the proposal by Gov. David Paterson to allow the sale of wine in grocery and convenience stores sounds “as ominous as a death knell”.

"It'll put most of us out of business," Michael Scanlan, co-owner of Niskayuna Wines and Liquors, told The Albany Times Union. "They can sell it for cheaper than we can buy it."

The ATU reported that Scanlan co-owns the cozy Nott Street shop with his brother, Peter Scanlan. Their father opened the store nearly four decades ago. Over those years, he claimed, “proposals for expanded wine sales came and went like tides but never came to fruition”.

Many liquor store owners see the move as inevitable, the report continued, partly because the state deficit is so large and the Paterson administration believes it can raise a quick $105 million in franchise fees from stores and pharmacies that now sell beer and are eager to sell wine.

35 states already allow the sale of wine in food stores. Capital Region stores like Price Chopper and Stewart's sell wine in Vermont locations, for example. Proponents say the proposal is a matter of convenience: while there are only 1,700 licensed liquor stores in New York, there are 18,171 outlets that sell beer; why not let those stores sell wine to make the product more widely available?

Many suggest that huge chains like Whole Foods and Trader Joe's avoid the Capital Region and other upstate areas because of this wine sale limitation.

Yet, directly reflecting the Australian situation, liquor store owners say there's no way they can compete with the big chains’ bulk purchasing power, and consequent discounting, comparing themselves “to the hardware stores that tried, and mostly failed, to conquer big-box competition”. And they say the governor's plan is inherently unfair: under state liquor rules, for example, they are allowed just one location while grocery and convenience stores face no such restriction.

Store owners predicted a small number of liquor stores will survive, mostly those that sell expensive niche wines. But many others, they said, will be imperiled if the Paterson proposal passes.

"In Vermont, you can buy wine anywhere," Rutland said. "But try to find a liquor store."

The NewYork Times meanwhile reported “The retail grocers of New York and Brooklyn feel bitter towards the dry goods department stores that have introduced groceries, wines and liquors ... and charge that the department stores are placing before their women customers ‘an unusual temptation to indulge in alcoholic stimulants’ ...

“W. H. Moss, grocer, Washington and Vesey Streets, said “selling wine and liquors in dry goods stores has a demoralising tendency on women. It offers them temptations to buy whiskey which otherwise they would not be likely to encounter. I would not be surprised to learn that dry goods stores were selling coffins.”

But that was the The New York Times of 17 November, 1894. Nothing changes. Maybe I’d move straight to India.

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