Buying wine in a supermarket counts as one of those activities we do in other states, which causes us to wonder, why can’t we have that in Connecticut?

The reason is that the owners and employees of this state’s 1,250 package stores have persuaded lawmakers over the decades that we’re better off keeping wine and spirits exclusively on their shelves, not in food stores, which do sell beer. They cite jobs, variety of offerings, price, support for local commerce, family business and, you know, everything that’s good and right about America.

They might finally lose their protection in 2023.

When the state legislature opens for another year Wednesday, supermarkets will fight for the right to sell wine like never before, or at least like they haven’t in many years.  The battle of the bottle already features competing “grassroots” websites with thousands of consumers taking sides, and a lineup of lobbyists and industry groups eager to uncork their arguments at the Capitol.

As you might expect, the food stores are making the same arguments as the package stores, in reverse: Letting them purvey California cabernets, Rieslings from the Rhineland and Connecticut claret would ferment convenience for customers and raise the glass for everyone, the food sellers say.

And they say, it would end an arcane practice with roots in a different era, bringing Connecticut in line with 42 states that allow supermarkets to roll wine through the checkout line.

“What we believe is that the market will grow,” said Wayne Pesce, president of the Connecticut Food Association, which represents large supermarkets, smaller food retailers and suppliers.

“This is Connecticut, we have the most puritanical liquor laws in the United States,” Pesce added. “When you try to take this issue on, it’s like touching the third rail because you have a class of trade that’s been protected since its inception.”

This echoes arguments against the protections for auto dealers by the makers of electric vehicles.

A poll and economic report commissioned by the food association, and completed last month by several UConn departments, shows an overwhelming majority of consumers – more than 80 percent – support wine sales in supermarkets. Many say they would continue to shop at their local package stores.

“Based on our survey results, it appears that allowing wine to be sold in grocery stores could substantially improve consumer welfare with limited effects on local liquor stores,” the report said.

Nonsense, said Jean Cronin, executive director of the Connecticut Package Stores Association, who’s been plying this debate since the 1980s.  Sales of alcoholic beverages have been generally flat for years as one product or another gains, then loses, favor. The market isn’t going to grow just because supermarkets join the game, she says.

Package stores would absolutely suffer, she insists, if the product that delivers their largest profit margins and their main source of walk-in trade were to move to supermarket shelves. And shoppers would have fewer choices as supermarkets carry only a few high-selling labels.

“I don’t think that consumers understand what it would do in the marketplace,” said Cronin, of Hughes & Cronin Public Affairs Strategies, whose late husband, Carroll Hughes, fought erosion of package stores’ powers as head of the association until his death in 2021.

Under the concept now bubbling up, with no bill language yet written, grocery stores that now sell beer would be allowed to seek a permit for wine. That’s regulated by the state Department of Consumer Protection, which has a list of some 800-plus grocery beer locations. Basically, food must be their main offering.

This is a vintage battle from the ‘80s that never fully went away. It enjoyed a great year in 2012, when package stores lost the fight against Sunday sales but kept their exclusive selling rights.

It came up again in 2021 with a bill pushed by wine-makers, represented by the Connecticut Vineyard and Winery Association. The Connecticut Food Association didn’t think the time was right, with Covid still raging and a limited legislative session.

This time, they’re rolling out all the barrels – in part because of the pressures supermarkets now face. “The pandemic has had a lasting impact on the way people shop,” Pesce said, and that means they’re looking to shop in fewer stores.

They have signs in stores such as Big Y directing customers to the website, which has collected the names of 6,000 supporters so far. Their social media tagline: “Red, White and Food” – with its image of wine pairings and patriotism.

Not to be outdone, the package store association is already working the issue hard with lawmakers, countering every point the supermarkets make – and using their local muscle. The average state House district has eight package stores and the average Senate district has 33, and I promise you, few of them sit out these debates.

Members of the newly formed Indian American Package Store Association of Connecticut – many owners are from the South Asian nation – have  created a website,, with its own social media campaign and tagline: “Wine: Where and Why.”

This battle features a lot of subtle flavors and varietals, such as whether the state can, or should, require supermarkets to carry a selection of local, Connecticut-made wines; whether package stores should be allowed to sell items now in supermarkets, which they can’t now do; whether supermarkets could police sales to people under 21 (as they do for beer); and whether states that have added supermarket sales in recent years have seen deep harm to package stores.

Pesce downplays the threat. “We would probably carry a limited variety and less of the high-end wine,” he said.

Hey, maybe we’d see the controversial “Two-Buck Chuck” at Trader Joe’s.  But would supermarkets, with a full aisle of wine, carry fewer of the exotic items I want as a foodie? Pesce says that wouldn’t happen.

Sen. James Maroney, D-Milford, co-chairman of the General Law Committee, said we’ll just have to see how lawmakers lean after a hearing. “Big ideas take a few years sometimes,” he told me Tuesday.

How long can the package stores keep supermarkets out of their business? With consumers wanting the option, it feels like the inevitable sweep of history — but when? Raise a toast to the great wine debate of 2023 at a state Capitol near you.

The original article can be found at CT Insider.