The Silence of the Wine Consumer

MouthclosedThe Pennsylvania Tribune Review on Saturday published an editorial on the issue of wine regulations that continues a tradition that is on its way to becoming and institution: Discussing the impact of wine regulations without taking account of the issue form the perspective of the consumer.

In "Data Disproves Argument Against Liquor Privatization", writers Antony Davis and James Harrigan, two economists from academia make the straightforward case that privatizing Pennsylvania's alcohol marketplace by taking out of the hands of the state would not lead to the kind of devastation that so many predict. Among their findings are:

-Privatization in PA would not create more outlets for obtaining alcohol
-Privatization in PA would be unlikely to increase drunk driving or underage drinking
-State Control is not a money-maker for Pennsylvania

Davis and Harrigan ask good questions about the privatization push in Pennsylvania and conclude with this:

"Every argument in favor of state stores fails. State liquor control will not make us more sober, safer or richer. Preserving jobs isn’t even a viable argument since private vendors would need to hire experienced workers, and who better than the former state store workers?"

Unfortunately, Davis and Harrigan fail to address the most important question and one that is so rarely addressed in any discussion of alcohol regulations anywhere: How do current regulations or proposed changed impact the consumer?

When it comes to wine and wine consumers one issue is paramount: Do state regulations concerning wine sales and distribution provide consumers with greater or lesser access to and choices of wine? This is the sine qua non where consumers and wine laws are concerned.

What's absolutely clear is that consumers would be best served by REAL privatization in Pennsylvania whereby wine vendors are allowed to procure the products they want unfettered by mandatory purchasing from wholesalers and consumers are allowed to access the entire universe of wine products via direct shipping. These are the two conditions that best serve wine consumers in any state, not merely Pennsylvania.

Currently, Pennsylvania wine lovers live in the worst of all worlds. Despite serious efforts this year to privatize the states wine sales, no success was had in the legislative arena. Additionally, attempts to pass direct shipping laws also failed. Pennsylvanians are forced to live with terrible choice and terrible access to wine or cross state lines to bring back what they want illegally.

Pennsylvania, as well as writers Davis and Harrigan are not unusual in ignoring the issue of wine laws and regulations from the perspective of the consumer. In fact, when lawmakers and regulators consider changes to wine laws, they rarely ever consider the interests of consumers and consumers are almost never consulted on changes in the law. Rather, wineries, wholesalers, retailers, regulators, lobbyists and other lawmakers appear to be the primary constituent that must be appeased. Not consumers. There's a reason for this: Consumers are not represented and have no voice and therefore they rarely see their most important interests addressed.



4 Responses

  1. JohnLopresti - July 31, 2012

    There is a community of shared interests in the ag and winemaking segments of the grape industry which extends along the part of the northwest edge of Pennsylvania where it reaches Lake Erie. There’s a shared AVA in that region of NY,PA, and OH along that fingerlake.
    However, as a former east-coaster, folks back there think more about viticulture for jelly or tangy American labrusca foxy grape juice, than wine.
    Of the 40,000 acres of vineyards in the AVA, 450 are planted to wine varieties of some sort, including European vinifera, and French hybrids, as well as other ‘native’ materials.
    There are some good schools helping the industry grow there, too.
    The heat summation in St. Helena is better suited than on the rim of Lake Erie, for vinifera; St. Helena is warmer. Yet, evidently there is a thriving effort involving northern European vinification styles and varities.
    The laws of commerce for a region like PA are paramount for access; and PA has a unique mix of voting interests. It seems like a place with many urbane environs that could help grow the wine sales and marketing sides of the industry, as well.
    Though, I have to admit, as a young person looking earnestly for work, and touring the hayfarms of eastern PA, and almost landing a job driving combine, just beyond PA’s boundary into NJ, clearly there are going to be historical barriers to liberalization of access rules and regs.
    Time for assistance from some of the very smart lawyers in a few of those urban centers! This seems like a state ready for a new approach to tablewine sales.

  2. Tom Wark - August 1, 2012

    I have not looked at the demographic breakdown of PA by geography, but I’d suspect that reform of wine sales laws might run more positive toward the more urban areas. That said, the problem in PA is govt. unions.

  3. James McCann - August 1, 2012

    Actually, the urban areas fear an influx of small, neighborhood stores selling pints and half pints of hard liquor. And, as they are represented entirely by Democratic representatives, all votes in the legislature out of the urban areas are against privatization.

  4. JohnLopresti - August 1, 2012

    Something about the shift to acceptance of wine as a social beverage seems to fit well with the sort of educated people demographic one might be likely to find in quite a few unionized departments of government.
    Still, PA is quite close to the ancient world of laborers and beer or perhaps lawyers and their favored spirits. It’s probably fair to say that all of my PA views here are mostly imagistic and probably too much of a caricature compared to what modern PA really is like as a place to live and work.
    Also, the commenter observing existence of ageold polities in PA is equally insightful. And there is a full range of citizens’ perspectives within each of the political parties. It’s a state that has attempted not to be too polarized, and has tried to reach well considered understandings among its people, though some enclaves are admittedly entrenched and have vested interests in status quo. Nevertheless, PA has moved along, largely, and stayed modern without collapsing into rustbelt malaise.
    PA has lots of ag, coal, steel foundries, chocolate factories, but also a great deal of tourism.
    In a sports comparison, Pittsburgh PA reputedly is claimed as the birthplace of many quarterbacks.
    In summary, lots of the classical aspects of PA seem to be quite unlike a milieu that had much wine on its social menus; but that is changing as American viticulture and enology have improved immensely in the past 20+ years.
    However, PA has some neighbors which likely make significant changes in PA law more complex because of interstate regional politics.

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