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Sugar Hill asked to revise alcohol ordinance

SUGAR HILL -- Sugar Hill is considering revising its alcohol ordinance at the urging of a supermarket that has been in the city for about a year and a half.

Kroger's Atlanta division lobbied Gwinnett County's third-largest city at its monthly work session Monday night to allow wine tastings at its 18-month-old store on Ga. Highway 20 at Lawrenceville-Suwanee Road. Thomas Friedheim, a wine trainer for Kroger's 218-store Atlanta division, was pleased by Mayor Gary Pirkle and council members' receptiveness to the idea, despite their comments typifying the city's caution surrounding alcohol.

Friedheim said Kroger foresees holding occasional tastings in an area separated from retail space in connection with instructional promotion, not as part of the store's core operations. Initially, he envisions tastings every two or three months in a glass-enclosed room off of the sales floor, with guests sampling a half dozen wines but consuming no more than about eight ounces in 90 minutes or two hours. Kroger sales people, wine company representatives and guest speakers would help shoppers make sense of the market's dozens of wines.

"It's more of an educational experience than anything else," Friedheim told the council. "It's been very popular with our customers."

Friedheim said 12 to 18 metro Atlanta Kroger stores in about eight municipalities are being targeted for tastings, including Duluth, whose values Councilman Mike Sullivan said are similar to Sugar Hill's. City attorney Frank Hartley said Duluth and Grayson already allow tastings and was asked by the council to discover how Sugar Hill might style its ordinance similarly.

Friedheim said stores in Sandy Springs, Peachtree City, Dalton and Macon already allow tastings at Kroger stores.

"We haven't had a no vote yet," he said of municipalities' general receptiveness, though some took months to decide and Marietta declined to consider the issue. "(Wine tastings) reflect the general trend we see in Georgia. Shoppers want convenience and education associated with wine sales."

Kroger provided Sugar Hill portions of Dalton's alcohol ordinance that allows tastings and urged council members to solicit opinions from their Dalton counterparts.

Pirkle said he liked the concept of wine tasting, but urged that any ordinance should limit the volume of samples. Councilman Curtis Northrup asked whether Kroger would consider applying for tasting permits each time, instead of modifying the city's ordinance.