Thursday, February 3, 2011

Amazing: PLCB apologist is a well-known supporter of the PLCB's wine "program." PWF is a frequent commenter on Philly bulletin boards, where he supports the Chairman's Selections, the Premiere Collection stores, and the PLCB's website; he even has a list of "Philly Wine Rules" to lay out his manifesto (mind you, I'm assuming PWF is a "he," because that's how most wine types in the area refer to him). They are both expected -- Buy Chairman's Selection Wine, Shop at Premium Collection Stores, Use the PLCB Web Site...I mean, duh -- and jaw-dropping: Pay Attention to Temperature and Light in Storage and Serving (translation: the PLCB is dumb enough to keep wine in hot storage and sunlight), Don't Expect the State Store Employees to be Robert Parker and Jancis Robinson (no problem, I don't), and then this bombshell: Cultivate Friends and Family in Other States, which is to say, drink good wines when you're in New Jersey and, what the hell, break the law and bring them home to Pennsylvania. I do it, sure, but I don't really expect to hear that kind of advice from someone who says
We dare you to follow these tips and strategies and see if you don't stop shaking your fists with rage at the PLCB and instead become a convert and frequent shopper of the Wine and Spirits Stores of PA!
Okay, I will, since I don't apparently have to actually buy things there to be a 'convert!' Honestly, these are the kinds of contortions you have to go through to find something good to say about the PLCB's State Store System. It's like finding something good to say about the case law: um...less light damage?

Odd strategies aside, that's not what I wanted to talk about today. No, instead it's about the opening paragraph on that Philly Wine Rules page.
There's one thing that almost all booze swilling Philadelphians (because if you hate the PLCB, you must be a booze swiller) seem to agree on: they all hate the archaic liquor laws and monopolistic system of alcohol distribution administered by the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB). (Yup. He's got that part right.)  Articles, editorials, blogs (Ah. That one would be me), forum posts, and more have nothing but curses and condemnation for the vile agency and its hated rules and retail monopoly. (Actually, that's not true. I have Reasons, and I have said good things about the PLCB. I like the online product catalog, for instance.) Hatred runs so deep that even when the agency tries to do something right (like remodeling the stores or improving customer service) they get slammed (I said nothing about remodeling the stores, and I said the way they went about improving customer service was ethically questionable; as it turned out, the State Auditor General agreed with me). Anyone who tries to defend the PLCB gets called a shill, because, so the thinking goes, no rational person could defend such a dreadfully awful regime without having some kind of vested interest at stake. (Given that most people who do defend the PLCB are either current or retired members of the system, or Wendell W. Young IV, the president of the union that represents the State Store System clerks...I'd say they mostly are shills.)
Well. Someone has a problem. First, I do not think PWF is a shill. He has said on many occasions that he is not related to the PLCB in any way, and I choose to believe him. I'm actually somewhat refreshed to see someone arguing for the PLCB that isn't a shill. That said, PWF's arguments almost all revolve around the Chairman's Selection program and the 'find anything anywhere in the state' website...and when pressed, he simply replies that people can always go across the border.

I can't discuss the Chairman's Selection program; I'll admit that I don't know enough about wine. I've been told by wine lovers that it's gone downhill since Jonathan Newman left, and that it is a dumping ground for old wines and wines that didn't sell elsewhere. I do not know if that is true. I do buy some CS wines myself, and have not generally been disappointed.

(I also buy some of the lowball wines the PLCB has, like the Rex Goliath Cab...then when I tried to buy it at my local store -- good old 0909 -- I couldn't find it, and the clerk I asked about it just shrugged, said, 'I guess we don't have any,' and started talking to another customer without offering to check backstock or telling me there was none. Hard to believe, right? Well...I DID find four bottles in Verona, PA, and the clerk there was great. On the register; I found it myself.)

But the website? Please. It's only possible because it's a statewide monopoly. It's like the case law "protecting" beer; if that's the best you can offer me, I'll take my chances with all the other benefits of privatization!

And running across the border? Break the monopoly, and the State Store System will be a money loser, I guarantee. Because more stores open on the border all the time -- a huge Roger Wilco just opened at the far side of the Burlington Bristol bridge -- and if people aren't worried about getting caught, they'll stream over there. The fact is, it's against the law. You can't argue in favor of a legal monopoly by saying you just skirt it whenever it becomes inconvenient; what about the poor bastards in Scranton, or State College?

The system is archaic and monopolistic. That's why we want to do away with it. And if I'm just cursing and condemning...what's this, PWF's latest tweet?
"cheap way to bash : pick obscure and whine that PLCB doesn't have it when in fact very few states offer it anyway."
A cheap shot, but proof he's rattled. Anyway, fella...I don't need to do that. The PLCB's all target, all the time! The wine kiosks: HA! Even when they work, they're ridiculous. The courtesy contract: ethically challenged and exposed the basic problems with the state-owned retail system. The bottle charge increase: it's on! It's off! It's on! The beer registration raids: enforcement left looking like idiots because the PLCB's registration list was stuffed full of errors. Jonathan Newman, the best thing that happened to the PLCB in years: driven off by the political hackery that has always dominated the PLCB. Joe "CEO" Conti: a patronage plum offered to a politician who wasn't savvy enough to dodge the right way on the pay increase. And on, and on, and on.

Are there good wines for sale at the State Store System? Of course there are; there are so many wines it would be hard to miss. Would a private system offer more choice? Absolutely, because it would offer me the choice to go somewhere else.


Jeff Frane said...

Although Oregon does have a State monopoly on spirits, I've never heard of troopers hiding at the border to catch California shoppers with their trunks full of hooch. Maybe the PA liquor cops are part of those 3,000 jobs.

Albert Brooks said...

Now that is what I'm talking about. I've gone head to head with PWF and all he does is say how good the current system is for people in Philly. Can't find it in PA - go across the river to Jersey. Get the best of both worlds even if you break the law. He's just a one trick pony.

1winedude said...

Dude... don't even bother sending that guy's site any web traffic.

phillywinefinder said...

Thanks for trying to be fair to my views, which I know you disagree with. I noticed that you said you liked the Chairman's Selection wines that you've had in the past. I encourage you to try more and compare the prices and quality to other states with an open mind. You may be surprised!

Although I feel confident finding good wine deals in PA, I am less sure how to find good beer. Do you have any "PA Beer Rules" that would help a person buy beer in PA?

Lew Bryson said...

Well, PWF, what I actually said was "I do buy some CS wines myself, and have not generally been disappointed." Not quite the same thing...and I do compare with stores in other states -- NJ, NY, DE -- and I'm not generally surprised, either. Sometimes, but not generally. I almost always get better service in other states, and the whisky selection is always better, except when I stop in a drugstore in Maryland to pick up a bottle of Pikesville Rye -- much less selection in a drugstore, to be sure...but then, I can't get Pikesville AT ALL in PA, so which is the lesser selection?

PA Beer Rules? Pennsylvania's beer laws have warped the market just like the State Stores, but since it's not a monopoly, you've got the happy chaos of any free market system. You might find good beer anywhere; I found it out in the sticks, well north of Scranton this summer. The laws have given us a good draft beer 'culture,' and our draft scene is great. Bottles? For takehome? That's where things get ugly. You either have to buy a whole case -- which is what I usually do -- or get sixers or singles at a bottleshop, which is almost always more expensive than in surrounding states (despite PA having some of the very lowest beer taxes in the world), because the state's laws do give bars a de facto monopoly on sixer sales...or did, until the grocery stores started buying deli licenses and selling beer. That's shaking things up in a good way for the consumer. But "rules," no, not as such. Sample first, because with draft, sampling's easy and relatively cheap. Then either get a case -- which is probably too much -- or get a sixpack -- which i$ probably too much al$o. You can also get growlers some places: takehome jugs of draft. That's fun. But again...the state's inconsistent and inconsistently enforced laws on growler labeling make most bars shy away from selling them, even though it's legal.

phillywinefinder said...

By the way, Rex Goliath is mega-plonk and not at all characteristic of Chairman's Selection wines. We recently bought a Three Rivers Meritage--only 650 cases were made, 91 points Wine Spectator

Lew Bryson said...

I'll leave arguing over the relative value and worth of the CS to winevolk, PWF; I drink Rex Goliath, so I clearly don't know nothin'.

Anonymous said...

I think PWF's arguments generally run along the lines of "the PLCB isn't the absolute worst possible imaginable system, so we should just live with it"—which is, in my opinion, the problem anti-monopoly people face generally. Which is sort of the problem: most people say, "why make a big deal out of it? at least they LET YOU buy beer/wine/spirits..."

Which of course misses the whole point. It's not that the system isn't the worst possible, and that it happens to be "good enough" for 90% of people, it's that the state store system, along with the beer distributor monopoly, are still a whole lot worse than they need, or in a free society ought, to be.