Friday Rant: One Thing I Won’t Miss…

As many of you know by now, I will be moving to Houston (as in Texas) at some point this summer. That means leaving our beloved City of Brotherly Love behind (it is more accurate to call it the City of More Than Mild Discontent, but that is another story). There is plenty about our city that we will hate to leave: the vibrant food scene, living in a very walkable part of town, the historical significance of Philadelphia, and all the friends we have made over the years.

My kids play baseball right downtown.

My kids play baseball right downtown.

There are also several aspects of living here that we will decidedly not grieve: living in a 125 year old house that always seems to have a leak somewhere, parking in our neighborhood is just short of a complete nightmare, and right now it is 23°F (-5°C) outside.

Will miss the Art Museum (background), and even the Rocky statue, but won't miss the snow.

We will miss the Art Museum (background), and even the Rocky statue, but not the snow.

By far, however, the aspect of living in Philadelphia that I will be elated to see in my rearview mirror is the PLCB.

"In The Public Interest" what a joke.

“In The Public Interest” what a joke.

For those of you that do not live in the wonderful Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, you might be shocked to learn that the residents of this fair state are not allowed to buy wine in grocery stores. We are not allowed to buy wine in independent wine shops. Nor are we allowed to buy wine at Cosco, Target, or any other large retailer that also sells wine. We are not allowed to buy wine across the bridge in New Jersey (about 5 miles away) or down I-95 in Delaware (about 20 miles). Getting wine shipped either direct from a producer or through an online retailer is strictly verboten (although there are ways around it).

Nope, the only way to legally purchase wine in the Commonwealth is through one of the stores owned and operated by the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB).

When you walk in the store, you see the efforts made to showcase products.

When you walk in a store, you see the efforts made to showcase products.

There are numerous aspects about the PLCB that are enervating: choice is severely limited, regular prices are at least 10-20% higher than in neighboring states, and the staff is largely unhelpful (some actually approach customers with contempt) with few having any wine knowledge whatsoever (they do not receive any discount on merchandise, which I believe is an impediment to attracting employees who are interested in wine).

There is one aspect of the PLCB, however, that is actually positive (or, rather, slightly less negative): the Chairman’s Selection Program. Started a dozen years ago by the former Chairman of the PLCB, the state uses its incredible buying power (it is the second largest purchaser of wine and spirits in the world–behind the Province of Ontario, of all places) to get some significant deals on certain wines.

It is not all butterflies and unicorns, however, as most of the wines come from either off vintages or they are wines that the wineries could not move for whatever reason (like, say, it got a 84 from the Wine Spectator). Still, I have certainly benefitted from a few of the deals (when I first moved here, there was a ton of 1989 Pommery Cuvée Louise Champagne for $39, for example), but by far the multitude of negatives concerning the PLCB outweigh any positives associated with the Chairman’s Selections.

The PLCB was established in 1933 upon the repeal of Prohibition to “discourage the purchase of alcoholic beverages by making it as inconvenient and expensive as possible.” And I would argue that it still succeeds in achieving that initial goal.

So why does it still exist?

rantAs one may expect, there are many reasons, most of them either political (like many states and the federal government, Pennsylvania is mired in gridlock and incompetence) or financial (the state receives a ton of money from the PLCB–I argue that they would bring in even more through opening up the market, but no one listens to me). There is also a surprising apathy from the wine buying public here in Pennsylvania. Many residents seem to have adopted a perverted case of Stockholm Syndrome and are worried that their “precious” Chairman’s Selection program would go away if the system were privatized (ignoring the fact that all wines would be cheaper and there would be far more choice in an open system).

I have not bought wine from the PLCB for some time now since I already have too much wine and there are a few people out there that seem to want to send me wine to review on this blog. Having said that, I still do peruse those wines that are available through the Chairman’s Selection and I have to admit that there are more than a few that I would like to try.

Motivated by a conversation I had with my boys’ doctor yesterday, I have updated my “PLCB Wines” page in the menu above to include those wines currently in the system that I have either already tried (I still buy a few wines every month from the PLCB for my monthly Spinning and Wine Tasting classes), or I would certainly consider buying if I somehow accidentally ended up in one of the PLCB stores.

I almost just wrote that I might actually miss the PLCB a little when I move off to Texas. But then I slapped myself hard in the face and read that link to the Stockholm Syndrome five times.

I won’t miss the PLCB.

I won’t miss the PLCB.

I won’t miss the PLCB.

I won’t miss the PLCB.

I won’t miss the PLCB.




About the drunken cyclist

I have been an occasional cycling tour guide in Europe for the past 20 years, visiting most of the wine regions of France. Through this "job" I developed a love for wine and the stories that often accompany the pulling of a cork. I live in Houston with my lovely wife and two wonderful sons.
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26 Responses to Friday Rant: One Thing I Won’t Miss…

  1. Beth says:

    I am glad I’ve never lived in a state that has such a lockdown on alcohol. The closest I’ve ever experienced was buying liquor in an ABC Store in NC and VA. However, wine and beer have always been available to me in a variety of stores. When I first moved to CA, I was shocked you could buy liquor in a grocery store, though! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. PatCallahanPhotography says:

    Good Luck on your move! Our son lives in Philly, and we can relate to your descriptions. Looking forward to the blog on the part of “The City of More than Mild Discontent”…Ha!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. They should have put you in charge of the Chairman’s Selection Program. A keep your friends close, enemies closer kind of move.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. okiewinegirl2015 says:

    I will no longer complain about Oklahoma. I will no longer complain about Oklahoma. I will no longer complain about Oklahoma. I will not longer comp…..

    Liked by 1 person

  5. YOU WILL NOT MISS THE PLCB! 😛 iGods I can’t even believe you contemplated that. It does snow in Houston on occasion, albeit rarely. Be prepared for gridlock and mayhem if it does. Do NOT leave the house. Drink your wine.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Relocations are often about trade-offs. I’ve been through many. I hear you clearly about PA’s liquor control laws. They are akin to NJ’s Blue Laws. However… I still believe that Philly has much more to offer than Houston. I hope you and your family find and enjoy experiences counter to the lens through which I see both. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Duff's Wines says:

    My sympathies on the monopoly. We, in Ontario, despite the biggest purchaser of wine and spirits (which when you figure there’s only 16M of us says we drinks a bit), suffer as well. Our suffering is mostly financial. The LCBO marks up all wine 72.5% over and above any excise tax. And then there’s federal and provincial booze taxes on top of that. However, there is an excellent bi-weekly program of special wines and an on-line shopping function for more expensive or rare wines. Staff really quite good, if you ask the right one. Wine just now moving to supermarket sales. So we shall see how that works. I envy those that can wander into a local wine shop, chat up the salesperson, and get what you want. Good luck in Texas!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. chef mimi says:

    Oklahoma is the same way. It’s really tough to own a liquor store here. Years ago when I first moved to Texas, there were dead zones where liquor couldn’t be sold at all, and blue laws where stores weren’t open on Sunday. It has definitely improved. When I was visiting my kids in Fort Worth last year, my daughter would say, “I’ll run in to Walgreen’s for some wine.” It never fails to make me laugh. And you’ll have Trader Joe’s, too. Although I still don’t get that place…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, I do not get the obsession that some have with Trader Joe’s. Seems to be only a hlaf step above generic food…


      • chef mimi says:

        I was actually at a trader joe’s a few weeks ago, and decided to spend time to really shop. I left with 5 things. It’s all pre-fab food. I guess for people who really don’t have time to cook, all of the candied almonds and simmering sauces come in handy, but why buy a Thai curry sauce that requires coconut milk, when you can use a tablespoon of Thai curry paste and coconut milk? It’s like 1/100th of the price!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah. It all seems like meals that take five minutes or less….


  9. Houstonian says:

    Welcome to Houston! Your wine purchasing prospects are considerably better here. There is a wine shop downtown that has tens of thousands of bottles of wine on hand (Spec’s), some boutique shops like Houston Wine Merchant and a warehouse local (yes, next day delivery). Wineries can also direct ship to the state with the only issue being weather. You’ll get a 4 month weather window for shipments. All that said, its 70 deg at the moment with clear skis. A great night for a glass of wine!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. chef mimi says:

    Spring, summer, and fall. Sorry, but that’s the truth.

    Liked by 1 person

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