Sunday, March 30, 2008

PLCB provides kiosk solution

I just noticed on the Pennsylvania State Liquor Control Board's website that the PLCB is soliciting bids for a vendor to supply automated kiosks to supply wine to the public in places the state monopoly is not. The stated reason for the PLCB in the first place is to prevent wine from getting into the hands of minors. A human can't open a store and adults can't get wine shipped to their homes but a machine, apparently, can tell the difference between a minor and an adult. Oh, this is good.

If I didn't live in PA and with this wine nightmare, I would think this RFP is complete fiction. The simplest of solutions would be to license stores to actual humans (although I think liquor licenses are controlled locally in PA so this might be their way around this). Let the human decide what kind of wine to sell, order it thought the state, I guess, and let the human provide answers to questions. I am not a fan of the current system, but I'm pretty sure the machines will not answer questions about wine better than the current set of employees. On second thought...

The most entertaining part of this RFP starts on page 49.

Am I completely off base on this? In these economic hard times, wouldn't one way to stimulate the economy be to open up another market?

I'll take your response off-air.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Nat Decants...and pours

I just finished Natalie MacLean's book "Red, White and Drunk All Over". Ms. MacLean, a Canadian from Ottawa, has a web site full of useful information for beginner oenophiles. The book distills all of this knowledge and experience into 274 pages and its a good read. Much of the book feels familiar, but Natalie takes you on a tour of the wine world with a palpable excitement. I could feel myself talking with her on several occasions, and as she is a certified Sommelier, this is a great experience.

The feeling, in my early wine experience is that I felt I could talk to her seriously about the subject. She gallops (no other word to use here) from vineyard to vineyard, through grapes, styles and regions, writing, glassware, wine stores, and other wine fans. I really enjoyed the exposure to Seghesio winery as it happens be one of my favorite Zins. And then there is the controversy of Pavie; Robert Parker, Jr. and Jancis Robinson's feud about scoring and taste. There is no right and wrong here, only the luxury of influencing millions of wine enthusiasts. While there seemed to be a slight tilt toward Ms. Robinson's perspective the two sides of the argument seemed well represented. The whole question of scoring always comes up when Parker's name is mentioned, and it's mentioned frequently in this book, but there is no one on the planet that has done more to provide wine with an accessible route to picking up the evening vino. Walking into a wine store and seeing hundreds of bottles of Cabernet or Bordeaux, his scoring provides a immediate shortcut. Make no mistake, I've read that he wants you to discover your tastes and read the tasting notes, but because the system rang familiar with the American audience this 100 point scale became a quick hit. Mr. Parker's scoring provides many (maybe, too many) people with a short hand for discovering wine.

Ms. MacLean is a descriptive and enthusiastic writer with the pop and fizz of a soda. Almost like reading a description from the kid entering the candy store, finally; excited and fascinated all at once. She gives you good information on various subjects enticing you can dig into these areas, but you need to be careful not to miss them.

For the beginner this is a definite read, for those who are not quite beginners, it feels familiar, but definitely enjoyable. Experienced folk will like it because there will be a match in experience or because they can appreciate that Ms. MacLean has opened up new territory for a new class of wine drinkers. Enjoy this book like the first glass that opened your eyes to a world beyond a label.


Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Comment from the Employees

Well I received this reply from an employee at one of the state stores. While I'm not sure I can agree with everything this person says I can sympathize with his (her?) situation. State employees are limited in what they can do while working. They are limited by the state and by the union. Wine knowledge is probably very low on the priority list for the day's tasks.

I'm not blaming the employees. These are honest, hard working folks who are doing a job. They sometimes get reprimanded when they are not stocking and shelves and are, in fact, helping customers (I've seen this happen). If the boss isn't around then you may have a better chance at a conversation.

The simple fact is that the state has no business selling any kind of liquor. They claim that this is to prevent under aged drinking yet they allow citizens to own liquor licenses to sell alcohol to the public through restaurants, beer distributors (another rant!) and other qualifying establishments. I don't see that going away any time soon.

A simple answer would be to licenses the state stores to independent folks just like they do restaurants, and to enforce the liquor laws. Then the stores could stock inventory that made sense for that market and stock more variety. Heaven forbid restaurants have wine lists they want instead of what they can get in through the state store system. Customers patronizing stores based service and selection and not hand cuffed by some bureaucrat in Harrisburg.

Wait, I can hear it now: but we hired a wine expert to help us!! Yes ONE wine expert for the entire state. I not sure but it may be possible there are different markets in the state. Markets better served by locally owned stores and independent merchants. I've seen stocks on the website of fine wine that sit for months in a store in north central PA and I can't get it because the stores can't (won't??) ship between stores.

As for my friend who responded - I'm up to 4 very friendly wine savvy employees who risk getting reprimanded every time they stop and talk to a customer. Best of luck, pal.

Cheers -d

Wine Reviewed in PA