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Wine Communism: U.S. State’s Non-Compliance to Wine Shipping Laws

Vinted on January 23, 2008 binned in best of, pennsylvania, PLCB, wine shipping


Here’s a little quiz for all of you out there in wine-land. What do you call a government that:

  1. Limits the choices of products available to its citizens by offering them only via government-run monopoly that has no incentive to provide competitive prices, good customer service, or expanded selection;
  2. Charges its citizens a premium for the “privilege” of the products limited choices & poor service, including taxation on goods already controlled by the government;
  3. Refuses to change archaic legislation that was enacted over 50 years ago, in order to protect its monopoly position & profits;
  4. Does nothing to alter its stance or comply with changing federal law, nearly three years after its current legislation has been deemed unconstitutional at both the federal and regional levels?

In most circles, the first two points could be considered Communism.

Technically, the later two points aren’t Communism, but I’d like to think that most people would at least consider them reprehensible…

Unfortunately, what I’ve described above is more-or-less what the state of Pennsylvania is doing in its wine trade, which is controlled by the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, right here in the good ol’ U.S. of A.

Bucking the Law Means Big $$$ for States
Actually, now that I consider it, I haven’t been entirely honest with you so far. Since the Federal government ruled that PA’s liquor laws banning interstate trade were unconstitutional in 2005, the PLCB has done something. It’s made money. Approximately $3 billion dollars in sales (that’s Billion, with a “B“), in fact. That is roughly twice the GDP of the country of Liberia.

That’s big, big money. In the case of the PLCB, it’s record-setting sales money, all achieved while operating what has been determined an unconstitutional system.

This is not just impacting PA wine lovers (& wineries) – similar situations are playing out in other states. The ones who benefit are the middle-men (distributors and state governments). The ones who get the short end of the stick? That’s you & me, baby (and the people making our favorite beverages!).

Distributors are – not surprisingly – paying big money to protect this windfall. What is surprising is that those same groups are claiming that money is not the motivator in their efforts to protect the “three tier system” of wine shipping. $3 billion in 2 years, seemingly operating unconstitutionally, and it’s not about the money?!?? I don’t know how they can even say that with a straight face…

Whether You Know it or Not, You’re Being Taken for a Ride
If you live in one of the States that prohibits (or seriously discourages) direct shipping of wine, and you buy wine, then you’re getting screwed. Your wine choices are probably limited. You might have little (if any) recourse to purchase the wines that you want. And likely, you’re paying too much for the wines that you are able to get.

What You Can Do About It
Big money issues like this one will not go away on their own. They require that wine consumers who want a fair deal – people like you (and me) – fight back:

  1. Visit the Shipment Compliant blog to find out where your state stands, and to catch the latest news in the fight for fair wine shipping for your state.
  2. If you have a blog or website, read Tom Wark’s posts on fighting back and link to support Wine Without Borders.
  3. Visit (and support) FreeTheGrapes.org.
  4. Write to your state legislators and let ‘em know how you feel! I have (many times) – and trust me, some of them will respond!

Give us free! – Part II

Vinted on November 23, 2007 binned in pennsylvania


Some of you out there may recall my previous posting on efforts in the wine world to provide more equitable wine sales to consumers throughout the U.S. For the uninitiated, or those that are clever and/or fortunate enough to live in States that do not restrict wine sales: I live in PA, which houses one of the largest and most anachronistic 3-tier wine sales systems in the country; the end result being that to obtain a wine I really want, I either

  1. have to buy it from a state-run liquor store (assuming the carry it, since they limit choice to what they can buy most cheaply) or
  2. if not available directly in the store, special-order it so that it is shipped to the store (and not to me), paying an upcharge to the PLCB for the “privilege” or
  3. drive to DE and buy from their more-competitively-priced, larger, and all-around supieror selection (technically this is a crime, and is also my preferred method).

In fairness, I should point out that it’s not in all cases that the PLCB has the highest prices for wines. It’s only in most cases, due mostly to the added taxes. And, as fellow PA blogger David McWherter pointed out when he did some comparison shopping on PLCB v. non-PLCB wine prices, price is not the only obstacle to PA wine-lovers created by the PLCB:

  • Only in one case did the PLCB have the best price available. In about half the wines, the PLCB was competitive — within 10% of the best price available, but the other half, the prices were significantly higher. If you have to buy your wine, buy it when you’re not in Pennsylvania. You’ll get a better selection and (if you look for it) a better price. Of course, almost NONE of the wines listed above could actually be purchased at a PLCB store near me, even though I could buy those wines online if I lived in Ohio.
    Full article here.

I’ve recently been checking out another gem of a web resource in the fight against all of this monopolistic madness – the Wine Without Borders Blog. Check it out – and, if you suffer in a state with Communist practices like mine, consider donating to their cause!

FCR Tasting OR 2 Over-educated Wine Guys visit Elverson, PA

Vinted on October 21, 2007 binned in pennsylvania

I had a pleasant visit at the award-winning French Creek Ridge Vineyards yesterday, checking out their annual sparkling wine tasting event. While there, I had a nice conversation with Janet Maki, co-owner and the winemaker at their J. Maki winery, discussing the most recent harvest (which by PA standards was just about perfect – warm weather, almost no hail or frost, short rains, and abundant sunshine). Their 2007′s should be interesting wines and could end up becoming their most balanced ever.

As for their more recent offerings, I thought they hit a homerun with their elegant Viognier, which has beautiful and fragrant nose. Their latest Gew├╝rztraminer was also quite nice. If you had told me either of these wines had hailed from WA state, and not PA, I would have believed you.

The sparklers were a bit on the ‘leesy’ side for my taste, but opened up a bit given a few hours of air. (As for the Chardonnay – let’s just say they should have been paying me to sample it.)

Give us free!

Vinted on June 3, 2007 binned in commentary, pennsylvania, PLCB, wine shipping

Any of you that have ever purchased wine in one state and tried to ship it to another will surely appreciate the efforts of Free The Grapes, a grassroots coalition of wine producers, retailers, and consumers that are fighting the sometimes arcane and always anachronistic state laws that prohibit the direct-to-consumer wine sales.

What I’ve always found especially troubling (and I have it worse than most, as I live in PA where the laws are really prohibitive and the state has a powerful monopoly on all almost wine buying) is that the wine wholesaler industry is so woefully behind the times. Anyone who has ever shopped on Amazon.com should appreciate the power of direct-to-consumer sales. It’s not the wave of the future, it’s the status quo of the present.

And yet, the state-run and wholesaler industries refuse to adapt their business models, in an effort to protect their profits. I’m not necessarily against protecting a company bottom line, but not when the trade-off is reduced service and choice for the average Joe wine consumer. It’s like we’re being held hostage – and in PA, they not only restrict the choices of what wine you can buy, they charge you a premium for the inconvenience!

If, like me, you live in a state that trends towards Communism in its wine buying options, you should check out Free the Grapes and use their website to contact your state legislators to let them know how you feel.

Finally – if you are lucky enough to live in one of the more enlightened states that does allow you to purchase wine from wherever you like, I recommend checking out NY Chateau Frank‘s Celebre Rose (a nice and fun bubbly), as well as the stellar Napa 1999 Pine Ridge Cab Sav (excellent balance overall and a magic dried prune fruit profile).

Cheers!

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