Let us sell wine near the grapes

By Christina Minardi

Crisp apples from the Finger Lakes, finely aged cheeses from the Hudson Valley and briny oysters from the Long Island Sound.  With all the natural abundance from our great state, New York is a breadbasket in and of itself.

At Whole Foods Market, we have pioneered the local movement for supermarkets as we believe shoppers should know where their food comes from and support the farmers and culinary artisans from their own community.  “Local” has become the new “imported” and it’s changing the way all New Yorkers shop. 

In our two Lower Manhattan locations, our shoppers are asking more than ever to provide them with even more choices of food grown or produced from their backyard.  This growing demand is creating a real boon for New York farmers and economic opportunity is rippling throughout New York agriculture.  Farmers on Long Island and Upstate New York are racing to keep up with customer demand.  At Hunts Point in the Bronx, local produce that was once ignored is now devoured. 

Yet, despite growing demand for local produce and booming opportunities for New York’s agricultural sector, there is still one homegrown New York industry that’s being kept bottled up: New York wine.  Restrictive regulation is preventing New York wines from competing on level ground with other large states, and New York is suffering as a result.  While 35 other states allow the sale of wine in grocery stores, New York remains one of the few states that prohibit the practice.

New York currently ranks 46th in the nation in the number of wine outlets per capita.  Washington has surpassed New York in wine production and Oregon and even North Carolina are nipping at our heels.  As a result, New York is forfeiting millions every year, while burdening the consumer with higher prices and fewer choices and hampering the industry’s ability to grow. 

Never had a New York vintage?  New York State wines are some of the best in the world.  Wineries on Long Island and the Finger Lakes region of the state are producing award winning vintages that are quickly becoming world recognized.  In 2008, Fox Run Vineyards in the Finger Lakes region was named one of the top 100 wineries in the world by Wine & Spirits magazine.  But even with increasing customer demand for local produce and a quality product, New York wines are probably the hardest to find wines in state.     

This year, the governor has taken steps to open the market for the first time since prohibition by proposing to allow the sale of wine in grocery stores.  In the first two years alone the state will generate at least $160 million in franchise fees for schools, parks, healthcare and public safety.  Consumers will save $80 to $90 million through more competitive pricing.  And best of all, the wineries and grape growers in New York will thrive from increased demand and more opportunity to sell the fruit of their labors.

At Whole Foods Market, supporting our community by buying locally grown and produced products is a core value of ours.  Our success is rooted in listening to our shoppers and providing them the fresh products that they demand.  In the past two weeks alone, we’ve heard from thousands of our New York shoppers who want the chance to purchase wine at their grocery store.  Whole Foods Market respects our shoppers and we respect the New York farmers that supply our stores.  That’s why we encourage Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and State Senator Daniel Squadron to support this important initiative. 

At a time when New York’s economy is struggling, we cannot reject opportunities to fuel growth in our local agricultural industry and allow it to compete alongside every other major state in the nation.  New York wines are a local treasure demanded by customers who deserve lower prices and more convenience. 

Christina Minardi is the Northeast regional president of Whole Foods Market.