The Perils of Purchasing in Pennsylvania

Sunday, July 5, 2009

For those that don't know, Pennsylvania is what is referred to as a "control" state, and in that, all alcohol purchases go through the state.  Said more aptly, the state is nothing more than a mafia getting its cut off of every bottle that comes in.  Why, they even still are charging a tax to rebuild the town of Johnstown after the historic flood that devastated it in 1936!  The tax rate is 18%, all of which goes to a general discretionary fund for use by lawmakers.  Couple that with the fact that the person responsible for bringing in good wine to Pennsylvania through the Chairman's Select program (not all good for what it was) is no longer there, and the fact that what is carried in which stores is now decided in Harrisburg, the state capital, and not the individual stores, and you have a huge conundrum.

As I have been seriously involved with work and other projects lately, I have been remiss in not writing any articles lately, but I am back on the buzz and back in the biz, and a couple different topics are swirling around in my head.  And this title hit me yesterday.

It was the result of me driving out of the range of three state stores all situated no more than one mile from my house, to essentially crossing the city border just to pick up one bottle of wine.  Now, this was no special bottle of wine mind you; just a Shoofly Buzz Cut from Australia that retails for about ten dollars a bottle.  However, it's actually not a bad bottle of juice.  

Now, I live in a section of West Philadelphia called University City; aptly named for the number of colleges and universities situated here.  But it's still basically West Philly, and though there have been some interesting gentrification efforts here, most of the surrounding area is predominantly African American with lower class and lower middle class incomes.  That is not to say that there aren't a substantial number of middle class and upper class incomes, nor numbers of white, Latino and Asian residents, but for the most part, you can easily look at the neighborhood block by block, and properly estimate racial and economic composition easily. And with the changes in population composition over the past two decades, there is more of a demand for wine, if not better wines that were typically carried by the three local stores.

But if you want good wine in Pennsylvania, you have to go to certain state stores where they have "premium wine" selections, and for me that means that I have to drive either to one of four stores in Center City [which really isn't far away] or one of two stores right outside the city.  

And then there is another little interesting tidbit, and that is that many times our great state will purchase the remains of a vintage from a wine producer, to which we will never be able to get that wine again.  They are like a drug dealer that hooks you on a nice concoction, and then keeps selling you everything else with the false promise that it will give you the same high.

In the past few week, I had been to both the big store down at 12th & Chestnut Streets as well as the smaller neighborhood store at Preston & Market Streets, and had found nothing that really stood out for me.  At the larger one I could find the Chook Raffle, as well as the Syrah, also by Shoofly, but neither was what I wanted.  But I did remember the time that I went with Kinshasa to the store at 119 West City Avenue (City Line Avenue for all of you true Philadelphians) several months ago, and I spied that Buzz Cut.  So, I took a chance and drove up.

While there, I got into a long conversation with a gentleman named Richard who was there with his wife, and was looking for a bottle of Canvas Cabernet Sauvignon [or was it Zinfandel], which they had in Napa and also found up in either Connecticut or Massachusetts.  Well, I explained to him good luck with getting it here, and started mentioning some alternatives which could be had through our system since I knew the distributor (Clockspring Zinfandel by Mountain View Vintners and also Lapis Luna's Romanza).  

As we started discussing good wines, and the ugly truths behind the Chairman's Selection program, he pointed out the fact of them buying up many end of vintage wines.  Well, this was interesting because as I was mentioning some other varietals to try, and we also we talking about wines from down under, I mentioned the Kim Crawford 2007 Marlborough Pinot Gris, which I can't find anywhere anymore, whether in Philly or Jersey.  Oh, they have the 2008 East Coast Pinot Grigio, which is totally off-putting, but not that 2007.  (For those that don't know, Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris is the same grape).

Then there is the fact that many wineries won't deal with Pennsylvania for all of the bureaucratic hassles that they will put you through in order to get your wine on the shelves, let alone listed.  And if you can order it special order, well, you'll just have to fork up enough for purchasing anywhere from several bottles to a whole case.

All in all, Pennsylvania, though a host to several quality wineries and great winemakers, is constantly stifling its wine consuming residents, as well as its restaurants (they don't get any special discounts on wine either).  If you live near a border, I don't need to mention the joys of a quick jaunt to an adjacent state for both better price and selection.  And for those considering relocation, take a second look at Delaware, it's close and there are no sales taxes.

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Our Mission: The Black Winer strives to expose African Americans [and others] to wines, without the flair, stuffiness, and airs of elitism and snobbery that you get from sommeliers and high level wine enthusiasts. We believe in finding something that you like the taste of, outside of the basic brands that you have been force-fed over the years through a combination of ethnically targeted advertising, and what people in your family have historically been drinking.

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