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 Philly.com 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…