WineDude-ism Vs. Yet Another Control State (NH Wine Week, 2014)

Vinted on January 23, 2014 binned in wine industry events, wine news

I keep getting asked what I think about (paraphrasing) “that guy in Philly who got arrested for selling wine.” I happen to live in Chester County, where Arthur Goldman allegedly sold legitimate rare wines from his home, wines that the PA Liquor Control Board don’t offer in their state-run stores.

To the tape:

“More than 2,420 bottles of fine wines valued at $150,000 were seized last week from the home of a Chester County attorney who allegedly ran an underground mail order wine network, authorities said. Arthur Goldman, 49, allegedly has sold rare wines – all unavailable from the state-owned liquor monopoly -from his home in Malvern without a liquor license, according to the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, and is also accused of procuring the wine from a source other than a Pennsylvania liquor store.”

My first reaction was the same as it is to nearly any news involving the prosecution of almost any crimes against the PA liquor code, that it was a bizarre over-reaction by law enforcement. I mean, $150K of material that technically isn’t contraband and isn’t harming anyone is a complete and total waste of a sting operation.

Halfway through the news report, it occurred to me that my gnashing-of-teeth hatred of the PLCB is somewhat old hat and uninformed, given that I buy all of my beer from Wegman’s supermarket (which can sell it because it’s acting as a restaurant under PA law) and haven’t spent a penny at a PLCB store in years, since I now get 99.99% of my wine for free. I am no longer a PLCB customer, so my views are skewed.

But then I got to this disturbing bit, which doesn’t take a well-heeled shopper to appreciate: Goldman was charged with “purchasing ‘liquor or alcohol from another source other than a Pennsylvania liquor store.’”

In the Communist-wealth of Pennsylvania, it’s a crime to shop for the wine that you want, if the PLCB doesn’t offer it

Sorry, but I am waaaaay too Libertarian in my leanings for that to sit comfortably with me. It should scare anyone who lives in a liquor control state in the U.S. And the fact that this guy had a clientele is, I think, at least some indication that the PLCB is getting it wrong when it comes to freedom of choice, a sentiment expressed here on these virtual pages before (only, like, 4,637 times or so).

Interestingly, this news comes at the heels of my accepting an invitation to attend an event by another control state: New Hampshire Wine Week, taking place January 27 to February 2, 2014.

Yes, seriously, I am going.

I am going because my hatred of control states in general is just as outdated and potentially ill-informed as my opinion on the PLCB. Note that I am not saying my opinion is wrong, just that I’ve only seen what’s arguably the ugliest side of it by living in PA. NH actually has a consumer-oriented event, is bringing in interesting wine personalities, and is proud enough of its selection and profitability that it’s willing to put it in display and invite someone like me to check it out (which I think we can all agree is brim-filled with risk for those guys). NH has an interesting model, in which they are incredibly open regarding the sale of wine and beer, and tightly controlled with respect to liqueurs and spirits; so much so that the The American Wine Consumer Coalition gave NH a grade of “A+” in their 2013 state-by-state report. Spirits lovers might not be so generous in their NH praise, however. FWIW, PA unsurprisingly received an “F” rating in that report, presumably because there was no “F-” on their scale.

Is this NH visit likely to change my opinion on state-run monopolies? No, but it can’t hurt to hear another side of the story. And the worst-case scenario is that I taste with and interview a bunch of winemakers with whom I’d want to catch up anyway, and I will be chilling out at the [ boondoggle alert… the place looks pretty sweet… ] Bedford Village Inn for a few days [ okay, yes, in the dead of Winter so not a total boondoggle ]. I consider it all forward progress for WineDude-ism.

Time to see how the other half of the liquor control equation operates. More to come in a couple of weeks, after the jaunt to NH…






  • pawineguy

    As much as I share contempt for the PLCB, what Attorney Goldman was doing is illegal in every state in the country. If he was doing the same thing from his home in NJ, same result.

    And wait, PA is now Communist?? A couple of weeks ago it was too Conservative for you… you need to get back on your meds!

    • 1WineDude

      PAWineGuy – The PLCB is Communist(ish). I've been making that tongue in cheek joke for about 5 years here. Also, I don't see how overly-conservative principals cannot co-exist with Communist-like monopoly principals, since that happens every day in places like N. Korea. I agree that Goldman's actions are illegal almost anywhere, the ponit is about the fact that they took place in PA, where there was apparently a market for it, one of the plausible explanations being that market was more robust here because of the antiquated liquor code.

  • Steven P Cullinan Sr

    Goldman could never do this in NJ because there is no need for it. There are wine specialty liquor store all over the state where one could purchase what he was offering.

    • 1WineDude

      Steven – yeah, I suspect that in states where there is far, far, FAR more freedom to purchase what you want as a wine consumer (NH, NJ…), the market for what the guy was doing just wouldn't be there, at least not enough to justify the risk he was taking.

      • pawineguy

        Steven and Joe,

        This is non-sensical – he lives 30 minutes from both NJ and DE. I understand you are trying to make a point about PA, but you're choosing a very poor example. He went to great trouble to import and sell wines illegally. If it was only about access, a 30 minute drive and $10 worth of gas would suffice. It was about running an illegal business. And, as is the case with most illegal businesses, there is no way to properly to report the income, so I'm sure he's also laundered money, failed to pay taxes, or both.

        • 1WineDude

          pawineguy – You're probably right, but I'm not holding this up s the penultimate example of why the PA liquor laws suck. It's yet another piece of kindling to throw on that fire, though. And you're not entirely correct, in that PA residents who wanted those wines technically are criminals if they purchase them in DE or NJ, even if the purchases in those states are legal.

  • gabe

    As a regular defender of the three-tiered distribution system, I am sad to hear about the sorry state of affairs in PA.

    • 1WineDude

      Gabe, I’m ok with the tier provided out allows for competition from two, one and zero tiers…

      • gabe

        I'm not exactly sure if I understand how things work in PA. Is the state an exclusive retailer buying from various wholesalers? Or does the state work as the wholesaler to every retail outlet? Or do they monopolize both?

        • 1WineDude

          Gabe – they do it all; buy it and sell it. It's a crime for me to buy wine directly from you without going through them.

  • @mjgraves

    I'm a Canadian and former resident of Ontario, where all alcohol is sold through the provincial outlets.It pains me to see how little selection if offered to residents of say, Sault Ste Marie…even thought major cities like Toronto have some very nicely "Vintages" stores that cater to the wine-buying crowd. I think it offensive that enterprising individuals are not allowed to understand their local market and setup stores that cater to their specific tastes. I wonder how Ontario would fare in that study?

    Of course, for the past decade I've lived in Texas. Here, while the tiered distribution model is enforced, at least I can order direct from an out of state winery or reseller if needed in order to get what I'm seeking.

    Even so, it's depressing how often wines that supposedly have distribution in TX simply are not available. For example, In December I ordered some Silkwood Alicante Bouschet from the winery. This wine was the top red wine of the 2013 Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo International Wine Competition. Yet there was none available in state.

  • Solomon Mengeu

    While its always wrong to break the law wherever you are in the world as there are unfortunate repercussions generally fines, arrest, jail, etc I don't think this was a crime of grave proportions.

    This all goes back to Prohibition which was a great failure both economically & socially in that a basic need of humans happiness & well-being was denied to people. With this law being passed criminals went from being local trouble makers to international career criminals building global empires that are still around today and always will be.

    I know I am being pretty blunt but its true; it lead to all kinds of problems. The strange thing is 80,90 years later it's legacy still lives on. I hope US states can repel & roll back these silly & outdated laws so that consumers have more choices and you can buy wine anywhere in the States from anywhere in the States as you can in most countries in the world.



    • 1WineDude

      Solomon, in this case (PA) it lives on because it lines too many coffers…

  • Jerry

    Would love to catch up with you during your visit to NH. I'm a wine imported who lives and works in NH, and must deal with the state Government monopoly on a regular basis. It can be good, but mostly NOT! Government should exist to serve the people with basic needs. Selling us beer and wine is not one if them. The Alcohol industry is much better served by free market conditions, in the hands of the privet sector. I would love to sell my wines in PA liquor stores, but I keep getting turned down.
    It all comes down to money here in NH. No income or sales tax, leave people in this state to think if the system changes, those broad based taxes will arrive on their door steps like a winter snow storm. Plus, they love cheap booze. ( Honestly, who doesn't??) Find me that the big tasting on the 30th. I'm the debauchoius one.

    • 1WineDude

      Jerry, can you elaborate? I'm curious what issues you run into in NH for wine. Certainly from the consumer perspective, that state seems miles ahead of PA.

      • Jerry

        If your a big guy, like KJ or Gallo , NH is great. But if your a small guy like me, trying to build brands is very difficult. The state wants instant success in their stores. If you don't perform to their levels of success in 8 weeks or so, out the door you go. So selection suffers, however pricing is what the consumer loves about the state, as well as availability. Unlike PA, in NH you can find wine in grocery stores, connivence stores and wine shops. However, they all must buy from the state.

        • 1WineDude

          Jerry, can consumers buy directly from you?

          • Jerry

            No, they cannot –

            • 1WineDude

              Hmmm. In starting to doubt that A+ grade now!

              • Todd - VT Wine Media

                This is precisely why I questioned Tom Wark about the criteria and methodology of the AWCC grading system. Vermont Scored a C based on those criteria. Yet I know darned well that folks from NH come across the border to purchase from our much broader selection here in VT. Flipside is that folks from VT cross to NH to buy products made by the big brands, because the sheer sales volume for those wines, brings the average price down…we don't go there for the selection.

              • 1WineDude

                Todd, interesting, will grill them about it this week…

  • Samantha

    PA laws drive me nuts! Seems to be a hindrance for both the consumer and the supplier–well at least the smaller guys like us. It is not impossible to get wine to people that want it, but it requires more money and more time–it's as if there is an unnecessary middle man that wants a piece of the pie.

    • 1WineDude

      Samantha – after coming back from NH, I can say that some of the differences between them and PA are startling; driven almost entirely, I think, by the competition engendered by their neighboring states.

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