Racy wine labels do the sellingBy PAULA TRACY and GARRY RAYNO
New Hampshire Union Leader
October 18. 2012 11:04PM
Following calls by Executive Councilor David Wheeler of Milford to pull the wine - whose name sounds like the spelling of a four-letter word - the commission said no as a late-item agenda issue.
'We sold 10 cases last week,' said Joseph Mollica, chairman of the State Liquor Commission, following the meeting. 'We don't want to offend anyone, but we also don't want to miss an opportunity.'
He said selling liquor is an adult business and that the 77 stores across the state are designed for adults. That said, the wine in question is being moved to the back of the stores to ameliorate concerns about offending some customers.
Councilor Wheeler said, 'We need to set a higher standard for sales and marketing.'
The store is both a welcome center and retail store.
He said he sees families visiting New Hampshire stopping to use the washrooms and going into the store to see displays and labels, some of which he said 'violate community standards.'
Mollica said that If You See Kay is made by a well-known vintner, Jayson Woodbridge, who has had excellent success and is selling the product nationwide.
He said the wine - at $19.99 - is doing well, in part due to New Hampshire media coverage over the label controversy, with bloggers and Tweeters helping bolster sales.
'We only got 240 cases,' he lamented, from the same vintner known for Layer Cake.
Mollica said some 'shock' labels are intended to sell as a laugh, or be offered as an amusing gift. And clerks said they do well, with labels such as 'Fat Bastard,' 'Her Fault,' 'Bitch' and 'Menage A Trois,' the latter being among the 10 best selling wines in New Hampshire.
Mollica said state buyers consider and reject some products based on quality, taste, price and profitability, though some do not make the cut because of labeling, he acknowledged.
Rep. John Hunt said he knows label awareness is true about beer.
And for him that creates a problem of fairness for the Liquor Commission.
As chairman of the Commerce and Consumer Affairs Committee of the New Hampshire House of Representatives, Hunt, a Republican from Rindge, said 'Bad Boy' beers are among a line of what he was shown as 'the wall of shame' at the liquor commission. These are beers not allowed for sale in the Granite State, per order of the commission. But the shelves are full of wines with equally poor-taste labels, he said.
Hunt said it is not fair that New Hampshire wines don't get that coveted front-of-the-store space.
Since the 'shock' label wines are given as gifts, something from New Hampshire, like a bottle of New Hampshire wine, should get the same prominent display, he said.
'We should be promoting local,' Hunt said.
Mollica said New Hampshire wineries have been given increasing space together in the store over the years and both the wine growers and the commission are happy with the success.
Noting that 50 percent of the $560 million in gross sales last year came from out of state buyers, with $163 million net and 1,200 employees, Mollica said the 77 stores are doing something right. They have brought in $1 million more for each of the past 15 weeks than they did last year.
To Councilor Wheeler's concern, Mollica said a liquor store 'is an adult beverage store.'
The Liquor Commission, its structure and operation, is being looked into by an oversight committee, chosen by House Speaker William O'Brien.
Mollica said good things come from that sort of analysis and he is learning along with the staff.
'It's not like we can't get better,' he said.
Meanwhile, a Department of Justice investigation is under way into the whereabouts of $100,000 worth of wine that is missing from a Portsmouth warehouse.
Attorney General Michael Delaney told the governor and council he would be providing a briefing for the council in mid-November about the investigation.
Mollica declined comment on the matter, noting it was part of an ongoing investigation.