We’ve been tossing around the good/bad aspects of the powerful PLCB system, and this story in the Inquirer sparked new thoughts. It’s about the difficult days that wine managers have, dealing with state stores.
Lynne Britton — a member of the P-N “By The Glass” wine panel and one of the instructors for HACC’s Intro to Wine course — offers this overview:
“It’s unfortunate that sommeliers get such poor compensation for what they do; we almost always confer with the sommelier when we dine out, even if we already think we know what we want. There have only been a few times that I thought a sommelier was trying to steer me to a more expensive choice; they generally are very enthusiastic and helpful and enjoy talking to customers who show a little knowledge and a lot of interest.
“Ten years ago I would have totally condemned the PLCB system on all fronts; wine selections were extremely poor, prices were high, and questions asked of state store employees usually provoked a response of “never heard of it.” Now of course, with Johnathan Newman and knowledgeable buyers like Liza Gallia, the selections rival offerings anywhere in the country, and the Chairman’s special selection program truly does offer the lowest prices in the world.
“There are still drawbacks to having a monopoly, of course; the chairman’s selections are usually large production (though high quality items) and we rarely get the reserves or single vineyard items that have production runs of 1000 cases or fewer. I agree that it is inconvenient for restaurant wine buyers to have to get their supplies at the state stores. I believe there are ways that restaurants can deal directly with importers, however; I don’t really know much about the legal aspects of it.
“I think the ideal situation for PA wine lovers may be to keep the PLCB system as it currently operates but allow direct shipment to consumers from out of state and international wineries. That way we will still have the benefit of the chairman’s selections and easy access to popular high production wines, but will be able to order the small production wines we can’t get here. I hope the legislature will not close the window on direct shipping, although confidentially I have been ordering wine directly for years, as long as the winery is willing to do it!”