PA liquor laws: The good and the bad
The big debate has been going on for decades: Should Pennsylvania privatize the sale of alcohol? Most people believe our liquor laws are stuck in the 1930s. When it comes to wine, I certainly have my list of complaints, but I also have a list of things I really appreciate as a consumer that the state does well.
— Pennsylvania is the single largest buyer of wine in the United States. This buying power often results in better pricing, especially with the Chairman's Select Program. The Chairman's Select is specific to Pennsylvania and allows the state to negotiate better prices for select fine wines. Consumers can find those discounted wines in local wine stores, marked Chairman's Select. Some critics say wines that are a part of the program aren't always good, but I have found many great wines through the program. If you find a bottle you like, purchase a case because that year will probably sell out quickly. Recently, I found Chateau Carignan Cotes de Bordeaux 2009 vintage for $14.99 a bottle, and it is a great Bordeaux. The same bottle at Total Wine in Virginia is $34.99. I tried it, loved it and purchased two cases. It was a 2009 vintage from France, which was considered one of the best years of production in France, and it received 88 points from Wine Enthusiast.
— The education that the state provides at each store and the Responsible Alcohol Management Program for licensees is a great benefit. Premium Fine Wine and Good Spirits have some great resources to help you find the right wine. Petra Meckly is the lady I speak with at the store on East Market Street in York. She will even put you on an email list for wine tastings. The store has great signage and helpful tips on wines.
— Our state receives a substantial amount of revenue from the sale of liquor. In 2013, $512 million went into the treasury. Every year, $42.7 million is spent for rent of stores, and the state employs many, which helps local economies.
— The Supreme Court has ruled it is unconstitutional to have laws discriminating between the shipping of wine between out-of-state and in-state wineries. Pennsylvania has yet to change laws that allow for shipping from out of state to your home. This means that when I was tasting wines in California, I wasn't able to directly ship my favorites home. It is illegal to bring even one bottle of wine across the state line, unless you pay the appropriate 18 percent tax to the state.
— There is not a liquor license that allows grocery stores to sell beer and wine in the state of Pennsylvania. Grocery stores are purchasing licenses meant for restaurants. So now grocery stores that sell two six packs of beer are driving up the cost of liquor licenses overall. The market in York County demands $200,000-plus for a restaurant liquor license. Create a license for grocery stores, drug stores, etc., to sell beer and wine. The economies of our cities are not benefitting because new restaurants aren't opening in our downtowns all across Pennsylvania because of the huge cost of a restaurant liquor license.
— If you own a wine bar or restaurant, you cannot sell a patron a bottle of wine to take home. The state allows take-home sales of beer, but not wine. This is pure discrimination. In presenting a wine tasting at a wine bar, our state government is making it very difficult for consumers to obtain this wine through current channels. Consumers would have to special order the wine at their local store. This is not only cumbersome, but it requires consumers to make yet another trip when this convenience could be provided efficiently for consumers.