It might be common practice in other states for wine brokers to supply wine for sampling to restaurant owners, but in Utah it's against the law in nearly every situation.
The Utah Alcohol Beverage Control Commission doled out a less-than-the-maximum punishment to one wine broker and his company Friday because both he and company representatives admitted they did wrong.The commission voted 4-1 to suspend the licenses of Phoenix Wine & Spirits and its vice president, Patrick Delaney, for 20 days. It also imposed a $2,000 fine on the company as well as $160 in costs.
The maximum penalty could have been a 30-day suspension for both the individual and the firm, as well as a $3,000 corporate fine.
The Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control's action Friday was an administrative effort to address the situation.
In a separate court action in Summit County, Delaney and two brokers from other companies, Geoffrey Andrews and David Engen, were charged with illegally delivering wine to a party hosted by a Park City restaurateur last year.
All three pleaded no contest in March to unlawfully giving away alcoholic products and furnishing alcoholic products to a retailer.
Wine brokers in Utah can offer samples of their products but only if they comply with strict regulations, and usually they must hold taste testing sessions at DABC headquarters.
Peter Rognlie, attorney for Delaney and Phoenix Wine & Spirits, said his clients were the first to step up and admit responsibility before the commission.
He also said they cooperated with the investigative process, have no prior history of violating the law, did not initiate the party, and contrary to some information being circulated, Delaney did not leave any wine behind at the party.
Rognlie said Delaney has paid a $750 forfeiture (in the court case, which is separate from the administrative process handled by the DABC). Rognlie also said Delaney is sorry for what happened. "He is remorseful and willing to abide by the current system," Rognlie said.
Commissioner Vickie McCall cast the one dissenting vote, saying she was troubled by discussion at Friday's meeting of imposing the maximum punishment when other, more flagrant law violations are brought before the commission and get the maximum in their cases.
However, commission chairman Nicholas Hales said that in the world of wine brokers, this is a serious offense. "There are lots of brokers out there who have abided by the rules. If we allow one to step over the line in a competitive industry, that creates an unfair advantage."
Still, Hales indicated he was impressed by the fact that Delaney and Phoenix officials were the first to admit they were wrong.
After the meeting, Rognlie said his clients are pleased to have this behind them and are looking forward to resuming business in 20 days.
The other two brokers, Andrews and Engen, are still involved in the administrative process regarding administrative complaints issued for them, according to Earl Dorius, licensing and compliance manager for DABC.
"They are in the process of discovery - exchanging documents with our Attorney General's Office representative. At the conclusion of that, between the parties there will be a decision about whether this needs to be referred for a hearing or whether a settlement agreement will be entered into," Dorius said.