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February 28. 2014 8:03PM

Wine buying trip to Italy seen as conflict

CONCORD — Having a trade organization pay for a wine buying trip to Italy for one of the Liquor Commission's wine buyers presents a potential conflict of interest, said one Executive Councilor on Friday.

District 2 Councilor Colin Van Ostern, D-Concord, said he did not object to the commission sending one of its wine buyers to the trade show in Verona, Italy, but said he had concerns when the agency was accepting thousands of dollars to pay for the trip from the trade group.

The council eventually voted 3-1 to accept $2,450 from the Italian Trade Commission to attend the 2014 WInItaly Wine Exhibition, but Van Ostern said he did not like the idea of accepting money from a group that wants to sell the commission wine.

"I have full faith in the integrity of the Liquor Commission's buyer," Van Ostern, but "is the buying decision based on the best product or the best price for the consumers of the state?"

He suggested the commission find the money for the trip in its own budget.

Liquor Commission chair Joseph Mollica said the commission's buyers have attended the trade show for several years, but they did not start going until the trade council offered to pay for the buyers to attend.

He said the commission represents the 17,000 wineries in Italy, many of which the commission would never know of unless someone attended the exhibition.

Through attending the exhibition, wine purchases have helped increase the sale of Italian wine by 26 percent, resulting in additional sales of $4 million and profits of $1.5 million.

Without attending the exhibition, the commission would not have the opportunity to see, sample or buy many of the wines that contributed to the increased sales, Mollica said.

Commission buyers also attend trade shows for California wines and another in Pennsylvania, but the agency pays for those trips, Mollia told the council.

He said Italian wines are the second biggest seller for the commission behind California wines.

Van Ostern was the only councilor to vote against accepting the money for the trip.

grayno@unionleader.com


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