Monday, June 3, 2019

Just Imagine...

Imagine that the Commonwealth controlled meat sales like they do with wine. Crazy, sure, but the State Store System of Stores doesn't make sense either. Just go with it. Along with the butchers who came in every day and cut the steaks and chops and ground the burger, there was this one guy, The Meat Master, who got to select special meats from all over that you couldn't normally find in Pennsylvania, mainly because the Meat Control Board didn't know what they were. You know, like the guy at the PLCB who picks the Chairman's Selections.

This Meat Master, he must really know his meat, right? He should be able to tell Choice from Wagyu with just one chew, have a couple of years as a certified master butcher, so he knows first hand all the different cuts of meat available: beef, pork, poultry, game, sausage and charcuterie. He's the Meat Master, you'd want to be sure he knows what he's doing so that the citizens of Pennsylvania get the absolute best meat possible.

Yeah, except the real Meat Master has only read about meat. He's eaten lots of burgers and pork chops, and even had some fine hand-cut Delmonico steaks. But he never actually had to prove his ability by being able to differentiate different cuts and grades of meat by taste. On top of that, his certification test to identify different cuts was all home study and he never actually did any work in a kitchen or butcher shop. He has the lowest possible certification as a butcher, but he's never so much as boned a chicken.

You've probably guessed; this is about wines at the the PLCB, not meat at the Meat Control Board. The new head of the Chairman's Selection, Josh Hull, is a Certified Specialist of Wine. It sounds pretty fancy, but what does it actually mean?  A CSW is the lowest certification provided by The Society Of Wine Educators (SWE), the bottom rung of one of the four main wine certification organizations. 

The CSW certification has no official class time required to sit for an exam. It is entirely an independent study program. After passing an exam, the credentials are appended to an individual’s name, which is appealing for those aiming to make themselves more marketable in the wine and spirits industry. It's...about one step above being a mail-order preacher. It is better than the in-house PLCB certification, but that ain't saying much.

If you think that this guy is the standard that the rest of the wine world is striving to achieve, that pretty much sums up what a lot of the problems are at the PLCB. Delusion seems to be at or near the top of the list. My waiter the last time I was in DC * had better credentials than the guy selecting Chairman's Selection wines. How do I know this? He had his pin on for completion of the introductory Sommeliers course.

For some of the top wine programs it takes years of study, multiple exams, hands on tasting, and having to prove your expertise. The Institute
of Masters of Wine "seeks to educate those on the leading edge of the wine world." That pretty much explains why there are none in the PLCB. We wouldn't want that for Pennsylvania would we?

The reality is that the Chairman's Selection Program often buys wine that didn't sell when faced with free market competition. Consumers - en masse - already decided that there are or were better wines available at those particular price points. 
That isn't to say they are bad wines, just not popular
What do you do when you have a product that doesn't sell?  You put it on sale, perhaps try to offer it in other places that wouldn't normally carry it like...The Dollar Store. Or Pennsylvania. If this stuff was so good, why didn't the super-duper wine selectors at the PLCB select it in the first place?

The PLCB should have hired an already highly certified and qualified person who could then train up their platoon of wine buyers and wine specialists past the "PLCB standards" to industry recognized standards, thereby improving the consumer experience. Remember us? The consumers? 

Pennsylvania is a dumping ground for wine the rest of the country didn't want. Shouldn't we at least have somebody who is the absolute best picking out the gems from the dregs?

*Bourbon Steak at the Four Seasons - highly recommended especially if somebody else is paying for it. BTW, they have 3 Sommeliers on staff, the PLCB has none.


Anonymous said...

I attended the American Sommelier Association while living in New York City and am a first-level somm. I've worked for the last six years as the retail wine specialist in the Cranberry Premium Collection store. As for the Chairman program, I would hardly call Clos du Bois Marlestone (quoted $60 priced at $24) a wine "the rest of the country didn't want". Same goes for Mondavi's Maestro, En Route Chardonnay (by Far Niente), Villa Caffagio Chianti Classico, DuVernay Rasteau (2016, a highly touted vintage) and many other 90+ rated wines. Are there also many lesser known, bargain wines in the program? Yes. Many of these are decent quaffing wines for the value seeking customer, but to paint the entire program as this is disingenuous at best.

Albert Brooks said...

It isn't that you have to take our word for it, the simple fact is that if it sold at $60 it wouldn't be offered to the PLCB at $15. I said that these aren't bad wines but the pubic thought that there were better buys for their money and so they had to be sold at below market(or what the PLCB says was market)to clear them out.

An interesting stat would be to see how many wines were offered and turned down only to show up later as Chairman's selection. Something that will never be known I suppose.

Out of curiosity, how do you feel about Hull with his take home test qualifications being the guy choosing the Chairman's selections when you are eminently better certified.

Thanks for reading.