Typically, this blog focuses on issues that directly impact the wider wine-drinking public: Important developments and news items, big-picture trends, items of interest for specific regions, tasting notes, and more. But today, I’m breaking with what we normally deal with to cover a news item that, really, only impacts those of us who live in Pennsylvania (I’m based in Philadelphia): The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board.
For those of you who don’t know, PA is one of the precious few states in the nation that maintains complete control over sales of wines and spirits within its borders. That’s right: No private enterprise like, say, Wine Chateau, could exist here. Rather, if you want to purchase wine, you have to visit one of the PLCB’s notorious so-called “state stores,” which, aside from a handful of more aesthetically pleasing outposts occasionally staffed with people who possess a modicum of wine knowledge (there are exceptions, of course), are generally rather Dickensian spaces with often uninspired selections peddled by employees whose deep-level knowledge of wine is comparable to my understanding of the elusive Higgs boson. (Check out this post, by the excellent Joe Roberts of the 1WineDude blog, regarding a PLCB employees’s insane denial of the existence of the cabernet franc grape variety...)
Anyway, so much for background. As you might have heard, last year the PLCB rolled out automated wine kiosks that would facilitate sales of wine in grocery stores, which is otherwise not permitted in our fair commonwealth. And though this may sound like a reasonable step forward in automated sales, it proved, in fact, to be a terrifying, not-even-vaguely Orwellian exercise in Big Brotherness. As this link from WGAL Channel 8 in Scranton shows, purchasing wine involves inserting your ID, having your image checked against the photo by some nameless, faceless drone on the other end, and then blowing into a breathalyzer to ensure you’re not drunk. If you pass all these tests, you’ll have the privilege of buying a (likely overpriced) bottle of uninspired wine from the state’s oh-so-esteemed selection.
Well now, after constant technical glitches and mounting customer frustration, Wegman’s, the high-end supermarket, has recently asked the PLCB to remove all such kiosks from their PA stores. As WGAL reported late last week, Wegman’s sent a letter “to the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board...The letter states that kiosk sales have been lower than expected, that the machines have not met expectations, have had a ‘high rate of operational issues and malfunctions’ and have actually been detrimental to stores.
“‘The most weighty factor in our decision, however,’” the letter continued, “‘is the significant volume of … complaints that our store management is receiving...’”
As a Pennsylvanian, as a believer in free enterprise, and as someone who loves wine, I can’t help but smile at this development: It’s yet another blow to one of the most antiquated, ridiculous government bodies in the country, and highlights yet again how absurd and out of touch its leaders are to even have gone down this crazy kiosk road. Anytime I hear of another PLCB failure, I’m reminded of a wonderful German word: Schadenfreude. It means the taking of pleasure in another’s misfortune or suffering. And having been forced to suffer at the hands of the PLCB’s crazy rules and regulations for so long, anything that highlights their ineptitude beings me enormous personal and professional pleasure.
I’ll gladly raise a glass to this latest chink in the PLCB’s armor...just not one poured from a bottle that’s been purchased at a malfunctioning kiosk.