The Aldaskeller Wine Company owner said he plans to appeal the New York State Liquor Board’s unanimous decision to deny his liquor license application.
Aldaskellar operated as a pop-up retailer, setting up temporary stores in trendy restaurants such as Swan Dive. But business owner Brandon Opalich has taken steps to open an 825-square-foot storefront at the corner of Gregory Street and South Avenue. Its plan, which CITY reported on in February, is to offer about 75 different varieties of natural and spontaneously fermented wine.
“Should NYC bureaucrats decide which businesses succeed and which businesses fail in our community?” said Opalitch. “Or can Rochester decide that?”
ALC’s three-member board of directors rejected the license at its February 16 meeting. Members argued that Rochester lacked a natural wine market that could support the store. They also cited Aldaskellar’s proximity to Time for Wine and Spirits on South Avenue, whose owner spoke out against Aldaskellar’s liquor license application. Opalich has already set up its storefront to serve as a wine shop.
“I object to this request on the basis that the location proposed by the requester is 350 feet from my front door,” said Thomas Williams, owner of Time for Wine and Spirits.
Williams also argued that his sales of natural wines show there is no interest in Rochester for a shop dedicated to spontaneously fermenting bottles. In the past year, he said he sold $4,100 worth of organic wines, of which he sells about 15 brands. He also expressed concern about Aldaskeller’s proximity to his store.
In making the case for his candidacy, Opalich pointed to the success of his pop-ups as proof that there is a thirst for the products he sells.
“A lot of Rochesterians coming in are really excited about these types of wines and are looking for a place to go, try these types of wines and enjoy them,” Opalich told board members.
Under the license requested by Opalich, he should have complied with the condition that the store sell exclusively natural wine. But ALC commissioners have questioned the financial viability of this model.
“This is what happens, on a regular basis, when people come here and say that they will only serve natural and organic wines: they understand quite quickly that it is not economically feasible, then they come back and want to be a liqueur at full-fledged store,” President Vincent Bradley said. “And at that point, I have to shut them down.”
Opalich, in a Thursday morning phone interview, took issue with that argument, calling Aldaskeller a “passion project” and the insinuation that he would turn to selling alcohol “offensive.” He also questioned the availability of natural wines at Time for Wine and Spirits, of which he is a customer, saying their selection is mostly made up of a few bottles of low-end organic wines.
In the world of wine, “organic” and “natural” do not necessarily mean the same thing.
“My goal is that when we go to this call, bring a room full of supporters,” Opalich said. “To show them that you don’t decide what’s good for the people of the city, we decide.”
In response to the denial, Opalich’s wife, Erin Francisco, started a Change.org petition for the State Liquor Authority to reconsider its decision. In less than 24 hours, the petition collected nearly 2,000 signatures.
Opalich is also collecting letters of support to give to the SLA. He plans to formally file an appeal once he officially receives his denial letter from ALC.
“Now I have to spend money that was going to go into my wine inventory on this,” Opalich said. “But I will fight them, and if I have to go after them, I will go after them.”