Wine company denied liquor license, does NYS have the right to determine if it’s viable?

[anvplayer video=”5090762″ station=”998131″]

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — Does New York State have a right to determine whether your business is viable? That’s the question after a Rochester entrepreneur, hoping to open a natural wine shop, was denied his liquor license this week.

The NYS Liquor Authority told him, there’s already a liquor store nearby that stocks a small organic section and it doesn’t think there’s enough demand in Rochester for his products.

Brandon Opalich spent years working in vineyards across the Finger Lakes.

“I always knew I wanted to own my own business,” he tells News10NBC.

As a sommelier at a number of local restaurants, he started noticing a trend.

“There was all these natural wines popping up at all these restaurants but no one was I guess willing to take a risk in buying a bottle because they didn’t quite know what it tasted like so I thought wow what a great concept,” he recalled.

He and his wife invested their savings to remodel a small shop in the South Wedge section of Rochester and open Aldaskeller Wine Company. There is a wine and liquor store on the same block as Opalich’s storefront but he says his concept is completely different and he intends only to offer natural and organic wine products, “focusing on bio-dynamic agriculture, low intervention wine-making techniques, vegan wines, sulfite-free wines.”

He applied for his liquor license 9 months ago and finally got his hearing in front of the SLA on Wednesday, it didn’t go as he was hoping.

After briefly explaining his vision, the following exchange took place:

Vincent Bradley, SLA Chairman – Let’s say you sell $150,000. He can’t run a store on $150,000 of natural wine?

Opalich’s Attorney – Maybe not but I believe respectfully, that’s for the applicant to endeavor.

Chairman Bradley – That is, but here’s what happens regularly when people come in here and tell me they’re going to only serve organic and natural wines they figure out pretty quickly that it’s not economically feasible and then they come back and they want to be a full-blown liquor store and at that point I got a shut them down.

When Opalich and his attorney tried to explain the local market research they’ve done, Chairman Bradley responded saying, “We are familiar with the natural wine world, it’s been in New York City much more expansively than it has been in Rochester for probably long before I ever sat here.”

Then, Opalich says, Bradley insulted him further about how he was financing his business saying, “all the money appears to be coming from your wife, is that correct?”—Opalich and his wife are partners in the business.

In the end, all three SLA board members voted to deny the application.

“I was very disappointed in the New York State Liquor Authority’s demeanor I felt that they had made up their decision on my application before I even got there, I felt disrespected,” Opalich said.

He also wondered about his right to a free market.

“The state does not get to decide what a community wants, the community gets to decide that,” Opalich said.

In a statement, a spokesman for the SLA tells News10NBC, “Determinations for liquor and wine store applications are based on the legal standard of whether public convenience and advantage will be served by adding an additional store, including an assessment of whether the community is adequately served by existing stores. While the Board had no concerns with this store’s concept, the application was unanimously disapproved based on the proximity of existing liquor stores to the applicant’s chosen location, including one approximately 300 feet away, which presented issues under this legal standard that applies to all applications for new wine and liquor stores.”

Opalich says he already paid nearly $2,000 just to apply for a license and the Aldaskeller Wine Company is his dream so he plans to file a request for a reconsideration as soon as he can.

Since the hearing earlier this week, more than 2600 people have signed this petition saying they would support a natural wine shop in the South Wedge neighborhood.