ALTADENA — Even before Stig Erlander finished his presentation to the Town Council on Tuesday night, it was clear that he had taken the wrong approach in his fight to sell organic wine at his natural products store here.
Hoping to persuade community leaders to reconsider their opposition to his application for a license to sell wine, Erlander argued that wine was a misunderstood potation, more a whole food than an alcoholic beverage.
He talked of Christ's miracle of turning water into wine, of ancient warriors who had taken the beverage into battle and of how he conquered Montezuma's revenge during a visit to Mexico by consuming a bottle of dry red wine.
The Town Council, Sheriff's Department officials and several residents were buying none of it.
"My fear is, if it's considered healthful, little Johnny will think it's right to drink it. And it's not right for Johnny to drink it," said Beverly Hurt, a Town Council member. "Whether it's under the name of health wine, wine is wine."
Erlander's presentation ended abruptly with the Town Council refusing to rescind its 8-4 vote last month opposing the application in a letter to the state's Alcoholic Beverage Control department. The Sheriff's Department also reiterated its opposition, citing a high crime rate in the area, a concentration of liquor establishments and a health food store down the block that already sells organic wine.
Erlander, 58, a molecular biologist who runs Erlander's Natural Products store at 2279 N. Lake Ave. with his wife, Leatrice, conceded that he may have taken the wrong tack.
"It's very difficult to convince people who are not familiar with scientific literature about the benefits of wine," said Erlander, who opened the natural fiber, clothing and health food store three years ago. "I probably did the wrong thing in approaching it that way."
Residents in Altadena, a cautious unincorporated community north of Pasadena, have long supported a moratorium on the awarding of liquor licenses. Many community leaders attribute high rates of crime and unemployment partly to a proliferation of liquor stores in impoverished areas of west Altadena.
The Town Council recently called on the county Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors to change the Altadena General Plan to require applicants to demonstrate a "community benefit" before they can be awarded a liquor license. The current plan prohibits the awarding of liquor licenses that would prove detrimental to the community.
Erlander and others argue that the proposed restriction amounts to a ban on new liquor licenses.
"There's a mood of prohibition in Altadena," he said. "I think the politicians have succumbed to that pressure."
Town Council President Frank Bridal acknowledged that prospective liquor establishments would have a difficult time satisfying the proposed requirement.