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Lindley Estes is a business writer for The Free Lance-Star and This blog is on Fredericksburg-area business. Send an e-mail to Lindley Estes.

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McLane Beverage also applied for alcohol distribution license in Florida

McLane Co. doesn’t have any immediate plans to import and wholesale wine in Virginia, company general counsel Len Mewhinney told me today. He said the huge supply chain company, which distributes items to about 36,000 U.S. retail grocery locations, applied for the license from the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control to import and wholesale wine in the state solely as a first step that would allow the firm to act quickly “should opportunities come up.” He said no deals are in place to purchase wholesalers or start importing wine. He said the company is always looking for opportunities but he didn’t classify the search as an “active” one. The application with the Virginia ABC is pending.

The Texas-based company’s McLane Mid-Atlantic distribution center is one of the largest employers in the Fredericksburg region.

Virginia isn’t the only state in which McLane Beverage Distribution Inc. has applied for a license to distribute alcohol. On Oct. 6 the company was granted a temporary distributor license from Florida’s Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco. I had heard that McLane had plans to apply for licenses in every state, but Mewhinney said that wasn’t the case. He said McLane has applied for licenses in a couple of other states but didn’t name them (I found the Florida one on my own). He declined to say why the company picked Florida and Virginia.

McLane has been assisted in its applications by the law firm GrayRobinson, which on its Web site says it “provides clients with the expertise and experience to effectively and efficiently navigate the regulatory maze in the manufacture, distribution, sale and consumption of licensed alcoholic beverages at the state and the national level.”

Mewhinney said the license application represents a “boring story,” but U.S. alcohol distributors haven’t agreed. My blog post from Tuesday was the lead story in a daily liquor newsletter that went out today. McLane’s possible plans in Virginia are currently the lead story on the Web site Wine & Spirits Daily.

The immense interest stems in part from the fact that McLane is owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, which made waves in the liquor business with its March purchase of Kahn Ventures Inc., a wholesale distributor of distilled spirits, wine and beer in Georgia and North Carolina. Buffett said at the time that the acquisition will “provide us with a solid platform for potentially acquiring other similar high quality wholesale distributors.” Click here for a good article about Berkshire’s investment.

Berkshire has deep pockets — about $28 billion in cash as of June 30 (and perhaps another $5.5 billion coming in soon from Goldman Sachs). Buffett is known for making big investments in the industries he enters for Berkshire. He favors long-standing, slow-changing industries, and the liquor business fits the bill. Many have noted the synergies of McLane’s existing trucking and distribution network adding alcohol to its product line. Unlike Berkshire, which is publicly traded, nearly all alcohol distributors in the U.S. are privately owned with roots that date back to Prohibition.

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