TRENDSETTER? Alex and Ani founder Carolyn Rafaelian is looking for a focused change in the state’s liquor laws that would allow her to sell wine from her recently acquired Sakonnet Vineyard at her expanding Teas and Javas chain.
Add Carolyn Rafaelian, president of Alex and Ani Inc. and new winery owner, to the list of businesspeople taking aim at Rhode Island’s strict and often arcane liquor laws.
Rafaelian, who added wine-making to her growing lifestyle-brand empire with the purchase of Sakonnet Vineyard in Little Compton last July, this year has pushed legislation that would allow her to sell wine at her Teas and Javas café chain.
It’s one of a number of bills this session that have attempted to loosen controls on the Ocean State alcohol industry to allow things like direct out-of-state sales, hard-liquor tastings, wine tastings outside liquor stores and retail sales of product at wineries and breweries.
“Part of the problem is too much of the current law having to do with alcoholic beverages is antiquated,” said Rep. Brian Patrick Kennedy, D-Hopkinton, chairman of the House Corporations Committee and longtime advocate for liquor-law liberalization. “While other states, including our neighbors, have moved on, we seem to be stuck in the 1930s on alcoholic-beverage issues.”
As with other bids to loosen the laws, the Alex and Ani bill has faced strong opposition from established liquor-store owners accustomed to the system and unhappy about potential special treatment for an industry newcomer.
After it drew fire at a Corporations Committee hearing in April, Alex and Ani revised the bill to relieve concerns.
“My committee was extremely sympathetic to Alex and Ani and the problems they are dealing with,” Kennedy said. Terms of the bill were still being negotiated in the flurry of end-of-session legislating last week and Kennedy said he didn’t know if a compromise was likely.
When Rafaelian purchased Sakonnet Vineyards for $8.45 million, part of the allure was the opportunity to sell the winery’s product at Teas and Javas, which she hopes to expand across the state in the coming years.
But after closing on Sakonnet, Rafaelian realized Rhode Island’s three-tiered alcohol-sales system – which requires separation between the producers, distributors and retail sellers of alcoholic drinks – would not allow her to sell Sakonnet wines in Teas and Javas as long as she owned it.