DLC Officials Acknowledge Champagne, Sparkling Wine Shortage Before New Year’s Eve

The county department that distributes alcohol to local restaurants and beer and wine stores was scheduled to receive additional shipments Thursday


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Wine and liquor products stacked inside the Department of Liquor Control's Gaithersburg warehouse

Andrew Metcalf

Officials from the county’s Department of Liquor Control (DLC) acknowledged Thursday that the department had limited amounts of some champagnes and sparkling wines at its warehouse, but that many of them were being restocked this week.

In an email chain that included Bethesda Beat, Edgar Gonzalez, the DLC’s deputy director, wrote that the department had received or was scheduled to receive Thursday a number of popular products, such as La Marca Prosecco, Andre champagnes and Cupcake Prosecco, after having few or no cases in stock.

However, the county was out of other products, such as Moet & Chandon Imperial and Martini & Rossi Asti champagnes, after Gonzalez said suppliers shorted the department. The warehouse also didn’t have any Veuve Clicquot Brut after the champagne’s supplier allocated more than 1,000 bottles to the county’s 26 liquor stores, Gonzalez wrote. He did note that restaurants, and beer and wine stores can pick up bottles at wholesale prices from the DLC stores.

Gonzalez wrote the email in response to Arash Tafakor, the owner of Downtown Crown Wine and Beer, who in an email to the DLC called out employees by name for their inability to keep the products in stock at the warehouse. The department handles the wholesale distribution of alcohol and retail sale of liquor in the county—an alcohol monopoly unique in the country.

“This is unacceptable and people should be held responsible,” Tafakor wrote. “There is no accountability in that building.”

John Zeltner, the DLC’s chief of wholesale operations, said Thursday in an interview that the department is often dependent on suppliers that sometimes have capacity issues or breakdowns in their supply chains.

 Tafakor said in an interview many of the products with shortages “aren’t items that are hard to get, that’s what frustrates people.” He added that he believed the DLC re-stocked the items after he started complaining Tuesday. He said some of the items had been out of stock at the warehouse since last week and he had to go to DLC stores to pick them up, if they had any in stock.

Justin McInerny, the owner of Capital Beer & Wine in Bethesda, said he too was frustrated that many popular items weren’t in stock at the DLC warehouse.

“Those stock items should be easily available and they’re not available,” McInerny said Thursday. “People come in and they want the name brands and we can’t get them delivered. This should be taken care of on the 15th of the month, not on the 29th of month.” He said it’s “kind of a pain” to have to go to DLC stores to pick up items he expects to be delivered to his business.

In an email to Tafakor, Gonzalez wrote “You do have some legitimate complaints and we appreciate you letting us know so we can look into them and come out with permanent solutions. But it is unnecessary and unfair to insult people and make false accusations.”

Tafakor responded in an email that customers had informed the DLC that the warehouse was low on these popular New Year’s Eve items but the department failed to order enough and now it’s “scrambling asking for suppliers to transfer in more LAST MINUTE.”

“We order our wine on Monday and as of Monday all these items were out of stock,” Tafakor wrote.

Restaurant owners Johnny Natoli of Tapp’d and Brian Vasile of Brickside Food & Drink in Bethesda said they ordered their champagne and other items for New Year’s Eve at the beginning of December to prevent having to deal with any DLC issues that could arise just before the holidays.

Last year, restaurant and beer and wine shop owners described problems after the department failed to make a number of scheduled alcohol deliveries just before Christmas, leaving the businesses with product shortages during the busy holiday season. After the incident happened, the department apologized in a letter sent to its customers on Dec. 30.

Less than a month later, the department’s director, George Griffin, resigned and Fariba Kassiri replaced him as acting director.

Earlier this month, County Executive Ike Leggett appointed longtime restaurant industry executive Robert Dorfman as the department’s director. Dorfman is scheduled to take the helm of the department at the end of January.

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