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Public policy / government

A win for the little guy in battle over alcohol laws

Nashoba Valley Winery’s Rich Pelletier took on the power of the state — and got it to back down.

Richard Pelletier, owner of Nashoba Valley Winery walks through his grapevines. Kieran Kesner for The Boston Globe.
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Nashoba Valley Winery owner Rich Pelletier sued the state Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission.

Rich Pelletier didn’t set out to become the poster child for overregulation. But when the state Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission said last summer that Pelletier’s picturesque Nashoba Valley Winery in Bolton could no longer simultaneously produce alcohol and serve it at an on-site restaurant, he wasn’t about to roll over.

“I’m a kid that grew up playing hockey in Fitchburg,” Pelletier says. “Quitting is just not something that’s allowed.”

Pelletier sued the ABCC — which said its hands were tied by complex licensing rules — and went to the media, saying he would have to close and fire dozens of workers. His plight resonated, winning Nashoba broad support. Even Governor Charlie Baker weighed in, arguing the ABCC’s decision sent “a bad message” to small businesses.

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Relief came in August, when Baker signed a stopgap law allowing “farmer-wineries” like Nashoba to hold both production and pouring licenses. But the flap also put a spotlight on the state’s convoluted alcohol rules. In its wake, Treasurer Deborah Goldberg, whose office oversees the ABCC, convened a task force to streamline decades-old liquor laws.

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“I’m very gratified that this started a process which could help other businesses,” Pelletier says.

Pelletier still wonders why he was targeted. But a year later, with his business growing, he jokes that he would have fended off a law enforcement raid with potato guns and salvos of apples from his orchard. His office is even decorated with photos depicting the end of Prohibition, gifts from his staff.

“Without the sideshow, life is good,” Pelletier says.

Dan Adams is a Globe staff writer. Send comments to magazine@globe.com. Follow us on Twitter @BostonGlobeMag.