Friday, March 8, 2013

Breaking The Law: the tale of the tape

Yesterday I went Out Of Control. I broke the law by driving to New Jersey and — deliberately and with intent — bought twelve bottles of table wine, mostly Italian and California reds, with a few whites, at Joe Canal's in Lawrenceville. They were not mass market wines; nor were they “fine wines.” I picked the bottles out on my own, based on price, reviews, and “shelf talkers” written by individual clerks whose tastes I’ve learned to trust. The bottles were also mostly offered on special through Canal's Bottle Club: a free membership, like a shopper's card. I had no shopping list going in, just looking for wine for dinners over the next month or so.

In all honesty, I was just buying wine; I had no ulterior motive, no agenda. We were out of table wine, and I was close to Jersey, so I went. But last night, after everyone else went to bed, I got curious about just what the price differences were. So I scanned the bottles with the PLCB's -- admittedly -- fairly nifty Android barcode app, and here’s what I got. The Canal’s price is first…followed by the posted price from the PLCB’s database, where available.

2010 Zenato Valpolicella Superiore — $10.96 — $13.99
2011 Rancho Zabaco Dancing Bull Zinfandel — $7.34 — $9.99 (“sale price”)
2012 Frenzy Sauvignon Blanc — $8.29 — $10.29
2012 Box O 'Birds Sauvignon Blanc — $10.96 — $18.39*
2011 Feudi del Duca Montepulciano d'Abruzzo — $8.66 — NA
2010 Varner Wine Foxglove Chardonnay — $13.49 — NA
2010 Ravenswood Winery Vintners Blend Cabernet Sauvignon — $9.44 — $11.99
2012 Sileni Estate Cellar Selection Sauvignon Blanc — $9.99 — $13.39
2011 Ravenswood Winery Vintners Blend Old Vine Zinfandel — $8.01 — NA
2010 Penfolds Koonunga Hill Shiraz - Cabernet Sauvignon — $9.99 — $9.99 (“sale price”)
2011 Poggio Anima Samael Montepulciano d'Abruzzo — $11.99 — $15.79
2011 Di Majo Norante Sangiovese Terre degli Osci IGT — $7.96 — NA

In summation: PLCB did not list four of the wines. Of the eight wines that were available in the PLCB system AND at Joe Canal’s in Lawrenceville, NJ, all but one was more expensive at the PLCB, at an average of a little over $2.50 per bottle. ONE wine was the same price at both Canal’s and in the PLCB system. And of course, none of the wines were cheaper in PA.

Adding up what I saved (and throwing the PLCB a bone by using the Canal's price for the four wines they didn't carry), and figuring in the PA sales tax (6%) vs. the NJ sales tax (7%)...I saved a total of $27.35. Add in the $2.34 I saved by filling my tank in NJ on the way back, and subtract the cost of fuel for the 40 mile round trip (just a hair over $5), and I saved a nifty $24.61 on the trip. Cha-Ching! I'd have saved money even if I had to pay the $2 toll across the Burlington Bristol bridge! (I used the free crossing on I-95; it's closer.) As it was, this more than covered breakfast for Nora and I; hell, I could have bought a second bottle of Dancing Bull and STILL been ahead.

What's this prove? Nothing, really, because as I've always said, privatization is NOT about the price. But it does show up the bullshit that the PLCB and "Windy" Wendell Young and their ilk spread about the PLCB have "on average" lower prices than New Jersey: out of 8 identical wines, the PLCB didn't beat Canal's price ONCE. So much for that vaunted "buying power." It also shows that the PLCB's claims about their "huge" selection...are crap, when out of a randomly selected dozen wines (they were, but I realize you don't have to trust me), at a store about ten miles from the PA border, the PLCB only lists (which is not, as we all know, the same as "stocks") eight.

Lies, lies, lies. We cannot let them control the terms or the facts of this debate. Just because we know the lies they tell, doesn't mean everyone else does. For instance, PLCB partisans have recently been claiming "$2 billion in revenue" for the stores in website comments and letters to the editor. Well, sure...gross revenue. But after it's gone through their amazing overhead, it comes out to the puny profit we all know about. We need to make them tell the truth. When you see bullshit, call bullshit.

And if you can, screw 'em: buy out of state. There are obviously good reasons to.

Oh, and if the BLCE is reading this? Just kidding. I didn't really buy these wines, I just went and window-shopped. I love the police-enforced monopoly and would never do anything to undermine it. I love you. As far as you know.

*This is actually the price for the 2011 vintage, the 2012 was not available. But the 2011, 2010, and 2009 vintages were all listed, and all at this same I feel fairly honest putting it up there.

1 comment:

james said...

The most egregious example of this overpricing is on Old Overholt rye, which sells for $13.99 at Total Wine in Cherry Hill, and is $21.99 at PLCB, which is a 57% difference in price. I'm not sure why that one is so much -- with most other whiskeys it's only a couple dollars difference. But I notice that every time I'm forced by circumstance to go into a state store.