Napa Valley is alive and well.

Napa Valley is alive and well.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

When Big Brother Is In The Wine Business

The state of Pennsylvania is famous for a number of things. It is home to Punxsutawney Phil, the Liberty Bell, Hershey Chocolate and America’s first zoo. It is where the Declaration of Independence was signed, Betsy Ross made the first American flag and where the Philly Cheesesteak Sandwich was invented. It is also where its residents were characterized by one politician as being bitter and still clinging to their guns and religion.

However, from a more captivating, wine trivia perspective, Pennsylvania is one of nineteen or so states that have the right to control and regulate the sale of wine and other alcoholic beverages. Some states license the retail aspects and take their appropriate portion. (Clean and simple.) Others manage all distribution aspects including retailing. (Not so clean and simple.) Pennsylvania is in the latter group and retains total control via its Liquor Control Board (PLCB).

PLCB outlets are the only locations where wine can be purchased, and most are not conveniently attached to food markets. However, since retail brick and mortar business is not without significant costs and operational issues, the PLCB opted for another approach to offer one-stop-shopping to its residents. They elected to have someone design and install wine dispensing (vending) machines and station them inside supermarkets. This new program was dubbed Wine Kiosks by the PLCB. What could be simpler?

However, once the machines had to comply with the PLCB’s requirements of not selling wine to intoxicated or underage persons, they then became something more than mere dispensers of nature’s nectar.

The PLCB Kiosks, while promising convenience, immediately displayed their shortcomings. Limited selections, the inability to examine the labels for information, and the complete lack of interaction with informed sales clerks were but a few. But those somewhat irritating indignities were rather minor when compared to the Orwellian twists when, after selecting wines, the customer moved rightward, from the encased bottles, to an ATM-like station and tried to finalize the transaction.

To appreciate the particulars of PLCB’s vision, you must put yourself into the shoes of the potential customer. First, to prove you are over 21 you must swipe your driver’s license or other approved identification (ACLU where ARE you?). Next, to prove you are the person on that ID, you must stand in front of a surveillance camera which transmits your image to someone—hopefully not in India or Pakistan—in the State employ that decides if you look anything like that flattering, jailhouse photo on your DMV license that was taken several years earlier.

Third, then to prove you are not in an alcohol-altered, state of mind, (.02 is the zero tolerance level in Pennsylvania) you must lean forward and breathe into a breathalyzer-sensor that looks every bit as inviting as the mouth of a 20 pound, bottom-sucking Catfish! (No telling who or what breathed into that before you.) However, once you have navigated those spirit-lifting procedures, then you have earned permission from Big Brother to purchase your wine. Hey, what could be simpler and less degrading? Of course, just about anything, even if the machine efficiently dispensed your choices—which apparently they have had a tough time doing!

Recent news releases indicate that the Wine Kiosk program has been a colossal failure. Machine failures, downtimes during key holidays, pissed off unionized workers at State outlets, and unreceptive citizens were but a few of the reasons. However, when a well-known grocery chain removed the machines because “they were a detriment to business,” that served as an early warming that the Kiosks were destined for the scrap heap of wine history. However, the last nail in the coffin, the final Kiosk calamity, the most ignominious of all possible embarrassments, is when Walmart reversed their decision to install kiosks in 23 of their Pennsylvania stores. The Walmartians—that picturesque group of otherworldly body and style types that are ridiculed in numerous emails— must be beside themselves.







1 comment:

  1. Okay, Pennsylvania is definitely off my list of possible places to retire. Breathalyzer test to buy wine? Video surveillance for approval of purchase? I don't think so! That's even worse than flying these days.

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