NAVIGATOR

Just because we Pennsylvanians can buy wine pretty much anywhere we want now—or, at least, at the supermarket—doesn’t mean that we should.

By Mike Madaio

Pennsylvania wine salesThe only thing keeping that corner of the grocery store that seemed to spring up overnight from looking totally alien is that it’s a totally common sight almost anywhere else we’ve been beyond our own borders. Yeah, we Pennsylvanians are now free to buy our wine at the grocery store like the rest of civilization. But just because we can, doesn’t mean we should. There are a few wrinkles that, for some, may outweigh the convenience.

Prepare to be hassled
Your supermarket, you may have noticed, is handling its wine (and beer) sales more like a store within the store rather than just another section. There’s a specially designated register, a separate set of hours and, in many cases, a separate entrance. There’s also this inconvenient rule: You’re restricted to buying three liters at a time. Of course, there’s nothing really barring you from depositing your purchase in your car and returning for more. And why wouldn’t you? Little about the experience is seamless anyway.

But not pay much more
The industry standard is a 30 percent wholesale discount. But Pennsylvania licensees are relegated to 10, which should translate to significantly higher pricing. Yet it hasn’t.

“It wouldn’t be convenient if our cost was higher,” says Mike Kier, who oversaw the incorporation of Wegmans’ wine and beer inventories, which match state-store pricing. “Our customers shouldn’t have to shop around for price.”

That isn’t to say, though, that prices, by and large, compare favorably to those found in neighboring states. Only that they’re relatively consistent throughout this one.

Buying WineTreasure-hunt elsewhere
Don’t expect to discover any obscure bottles at the grocery store. “Given the speed to market, retailers are operating from our standard catalog, the items we have in our warehouses,” says Elizabeth Brassell, the director of communications for the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board. “Yet, many have expressed interest in developing customized portfolios.”

In other words, it’s a vanilla, but fluid, selection.

Still, it’s progress
It’s easy to complain because it feels like a fairly straightforward process is being overcomplicated. But, to the bureaucrats’ credit, they appear to be listening. We were frustrated by the dictatorship-like rule over our drinking supply. It finally loosened, and there’s a little more give all the time.

“This is an industry in its infancy,” Brassell says. “It’s too early to predict where it’ll go. But this is an exciting time and we’re embracing these challenges as opportunities.”

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