Organic wine, factory wine, machines, 99p wine — sipped & spit

SPIT: human interaction
After many years of discussion, you can now buy wine from a vending machine in select Pennsylvania grocery stores. Added bonus is that consumers must take a breathalyzer test before making the purchase. In their lengthy Q&A, the PLCB doesn’t state whether the grocery stores–not known for giving up precious square footage without slotting fees or a profit incentive–are profiting from the sale of liquor on the premises. If so, then maybe it’s time to simply liberalize wine sales?

SIPPED: Coca-Cola wine
The French group Anivin thinks the best way forward for French wines is to offer a consistent product like Coca-Cola, brands, and emulate the New World to regain market share. Small growers fear they will have to sell to wine “factories.” The Anivin view gets an extensive write-up in The Independent.

SIPPED: pathos
President Nicolas Sarkozy has pulled the plug on the 14 juillet garden party at the Elysée palace. Last year’s fete cost €732,826, including €43,128 on wine and Champagne. The president’s office told Le Parisien they were trying to set an example because of the economic crisis. []

SPIT: organic labels
The EU said no/non/nu to a harmonization of national standards for an “organic wine” designation. According to Vitisphere, the main point of contention was reducing the level of permitted sulfites. The EU Commissioner for Agriculture, Dacian Cellos, shelved the issue indefinitely.

SHOTGUNNED?: one pound wine
The British chain 99p Stores has announced a wine for 99p a bottle. Given the excise tax on wine in the UK is now £1.69 and VAT is 17.5 20%, someone will have to explain to me how this is even possible. And while they’re at it, perhaps they can offer tasting notes of the 99p wine.

SIPPED: visits
The most visited winery in the United States is in…Napa? Sonoma? No, Asheville, NC! According to The Biltmore Winery on the 125,000-acre Biltmore estate, welcomes 600,000 visitors a year while producing 170,000 cases. They’re all there for the wine, right?

Related Posts with Thumbnails

26 Responses to “Organic wine, factory wine, machines, 99p wine — sipped & spit”

  1. Vending machine wine. Just another example of the BS associated with a monopoly. Half the PA stores I’ve been in are crap with the other half having crap service even if the selection is better. Were it not for the occasional phenomenally priced chairman’s selection the whole system could go away tomorrow and I wouldn’t miss it a bit. Such a joke and we put up with it like the lemmings we are.

  2. As a state in financial crisis, one would hope PA would abandon a draconian, puritanical approach to wine and join the rest of the country. The current state of wine selection is so abysmal that wine merchants in several of the surrounding states attribute as much as 30% of their sales to border crossers.

    The notion that PA citizens are searching for easier access to wine is misplaced. PA wine lovers don’t want wine at any hour, they want a decent selection. This can only be obtained by loosening the grip of the State Liquor Control Board.

    Once independent merchants are permitted to open stores and select a variety of wines, including wines from smaller wineries (as opposed to volume wines seen in every grocery store in the country), the citizens of PA have real acess to wine. The mere possibility keeps wine sales and important tax dollars within the state… oh, how I wish they would rcognize this.

  3. Peter and Laurie –

    Sorry to hear your frustration with the status quo at the PLCB. Do you think that the financial crisis will lead to a liberalization of wine laws?

  4. This may be something for the legislature to take up, but as one of the commenters noted, we seem to be undemanding. Find a wine and vintage you like online? Better cross your fingers the state store will carry it, because you can forget about direct shipping, though you are free to jump through hoops to special order it in bulk. That’s right, the great state which brought us the liberty bell and the declaration of independence won’t grant its citizens the freedom to direct order wine.

    I love reading your blog, but it’s become frustrating to find that the local premium store doesn’t carry *most* of the wines you write about. (Some of the stores have gotten better in terms of selection, but it’s uneven). Of course, a consumer can place an order for a case of usually another vintage, but there’s no indication identifying the middleman, and you have no idea how the wine was stored. This latest kiosk idea strikes one as somewhat bizarre and emblematic of being out of touch with consumers.

    Looked for a store near the state capitol (just today!), thinking it might be great. Well, found one about 3 blocks away. One glance at the exterior, and I just kept on driving. There has to be some creative solution out there. For wine lovers, this present situation just isn’t satisfactory.

  5. I served as Chairman of the Pa. Liquor Control Board until Jan. 2007, and I would like to express my sense of outrage regarding the kiosk concept. I hope that Pennsylvania citizens will request their legislators question the circumstances of how this contract was awarded (the number of bidders) and how Simple Brands is going to be compensated by the PLCB . Pa’s state store system has come under fire recently and privitization initiatives (while a historical long shot) seem to be finally resonating with the Citizens. There are many concerns I have with this bizarre kiosk concept that will certainly come to light. Wine drinkers should be outraged that it smacks of big brother. Consumers have to blow into a breathalyzer, your video image is taken, you must put your driver’s license into the machine and there is a PLCB employee video monitoring the transaction. It would be more efficient and progressive to allow a grocery store in Pa. to sell wine and employees at the cash register should have zero tolerance for selling to minors.

  6. At least the PA kiosks will be good blog fodder for many of us… 😉

  7. Unless someone can prove otherwise my understanding is that Simple Brands was awarded the bid through the state mandated bidding process. I suppose one could argue that it’s a stupid idea that was only pursued because of their connections and contributions and that’s why they were the only bidders but stupid is not illegal.

    That being said, it’s stupid. Unless you’re the state. The state will never give up a monopoly that makes it so much money. They’ll just keep doing things that allow them to pretend they’re doing them for the consumer. Big brother lives.

  8. By the way, as long as I’m pontificating. Jonathan, I love WTSO. Been pleasantly surprised by so many of deals there…great QPR. Thank you. HOWEVER, I do think it’s misleading to offer your scores and reviews without clearly revealing any financial interest you have in the venture — if you do. If you don’t you should say so because many folks seem to assume you do and it knocks down the credibility of your ratings. Either way, clearly identifying the relationship helps.

  9. The Biltmore numbers are for total visitors to the Biltmore Estate, not just for the winery. People visit the Biltmore Estate to visit “America’s Largest Home.” The winery is an important attraction, but it is hardly the only attraction for visitors to the Estate.

  10. I’m a North Carolina native, and have lived here most of my life, and I’ve never been to the Biltmore Estate to taste wine, but I HAVE been to California, expressly to taste wine. I’m not sure what that says about Biltmore wines. 🙂

  11. Dave and Kimberly – aha!

    Jonathan – thanks for stopping by. Has the ACLU said anything about the kiosks?

  12. I don’t believe the financial crisis will lead to the liberalization of PA’s wine laws, but it may be a contributing factor to the inevitable.

    The kiosks are a shockingly poor response to a discussion that has been ongoing. Grocery stores like Wegman’s and Fresh Market are already circumventing some of the state liquor laws by selling beer (and I think wine), in their cafes. As I understand it, Wegman’s is preparing a lawsuit in order to sell wine from the shelf.

    But that still leaves Pennsylvanians with a wine selection that is no better than they currently have. Big volume producers and mostly mediocre wine.

    Until the entrenched PLCB loosens it’s grip on the sale of wine and permits smaller independent wine store owners with a passion for the wines they sell, the selection will remain pedestrian.

    I have no problem with grocery stores selling wine as well (I believe their customers are a different market), I have no problem with the state stores continuing to sell wine and control hard liquor. I just look forward to the day that independent wine store merchants are granted licenses.

  13. Why in the world does the kiosk care if the customer is drunk? Seriously? Now you can’t drink and buy? What is this world coming to?

  14. I used the kiosk at giant and LOVED it. You wine snobs are all wrong.Everyone at the supermarket loved it . I think someone is bitter their not the chairman anymore .

  15. Jonathan, I see today another glowing score for a WTSO offering. I know this is a bit off topic but since you saw fit to criticize the ethics of the PLCB — with which I have no affiliation — I’m particularly disappointed in your failure to respond so far to questions about your financial interest in WTSO. Again, I’ve enjoyed many of the wines bought through there. However, never do I rely on your ratings because my understanding is that you do have a financial interest in the company. Is this true or am I being unfair? If it’s true why don’t you acknowledge this fact on the site? Failure to do that is at the least misleading.

  16. Nevermind Jonathan, you don’t need to come forth and answer an honest question. A few quick Google searches shows you refuse to answer similar inquiries on numerous sites so I suppose I’m not surprised. Those same searches show that you’re in the business as a distributor with a large number of stores in your network. One of your sites,, lists your many accomplishments including serving as past Chairman of the Disciplinary Board of Pa. lawyers. Funny how the brief bio on the WTSO leaves out the distributor role. I guess there just wasn’t enough room.

    I applaud your business success and contributions to the community which makes it all more puzzling to me why you would continue to perpetrate such an unethical practice as not revealing your financial interests in the wines you rate on WTSO and in WTSO itself– if in fact you do have such an interest. Since you’re not denying it I can only assume it’s true. Maybe that’s not fair to assume. What do you think?

    Again, I’ve no affiliation with PLCB and am no fan of a state controlled monopoly but it seems a bit irresponsible to me that you show up, slander the organization and its motives, and then disappear while not answering any questions about your own practices. Kind of a “hit and run” I suppose.

    This apparent conflict of interest is a shame really as you’ve done so much to improve accessibility to wine at decent prices.

    Since you’re a lawyer maybe you can help us lay people understand, if your financial interest exists…is this fraud? Does it constitute grounds for being sanctioned by the same disciplinary board you chaired? I’m just curious.

    Again, let me be clear. If you’re not benefiting in any way from WTSO or the wines they sell and you rate, I apologize for raising the issue of lack of transparency and extend my appreciation for your efforts.

  17. Bravo on ‘spitting’ the kiosk! By the way, it takes 10 steps, over 2 mins., and samples of your credit card, diver’s license, and breath to complete ONE purchase on those things…

  18. Seems like Mr. Newman doesn’t have much more to say.

  19. Peter

    I was one of the people questioning Jonathan Newman and WTSO. It is hopeless and dishonest. Jonathan is a wholesaler, selling wines to WTSO. He reviews them for WTSO, with BIG, FAT scores. The people buying have no idea of the conflict of interest.

    On topic, I love the kiosk idea. Why hate on it? I would prefer the wines to be on the grocery store shelves, but in lieu of that, this is brilliant.


    By law in New York, a drunk person cannot be served alcohol, whether in a bar or in a store. This came about when they invented these things called automobiles. When drunk people started driving them, innocent people were killed.

  20. Thanks Daniel. I kind of figured as much but the only thing that angers me more than hypocrisy is arrogant hypocrisy and Mr. Newman seems to be setting new standards. I thought it was fairly on topic since he felt it okay to throw mud then run away like the scared little boy he clearly is. I really think a broad based effort across multiple blogs and sites is needed to call him out. He is committing fraud in my opinion and should be brought up for disciplinary reasons in front of the same group he chaired. He’s everything that’s wrong about business. It’s a shame.

  21. Editorial in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer:
    Party like it’s 1929
    The spectacle of an old man trying to look young inspires pity and revulsion. The same could be said of Pennsylvania’s obsolete Liquor Control Board, which is engaged in the bureaucratic equivalent of a comb-over.
    Two recent episodes have exposed the awkwardness of the LCB’s efforts to seem as if it belongs anywhere within a century of 2010.

    The first is the board’s ill-conceived attempt to pretend it’s part of – rather than an impediment to – Philadelphia’s thriving restaurant scene.

    The agency opened its first “wine boutique” this year inside Garces Trading Co., a Center City restaurant-market owned by celebrity chef Jose Garces. The odd public-private partnership allows Garces to operate a BYOB – saving the expense of a liquor license and the requisite insurance – while enjoying the extraordinary benefit of having the bottles in the same building. Patrons can buy wine at regular State Store prices and walk it into the café, which can even swap warm bottles for chilled ones.

    A group of Center City restaurateurs – including owners of both BYOBs and liquor-licensed establishments – has responded with a richly deserved lawsuit against the Liquor Control Board, arguing that the deal gives Garces an unfair advantage. It’s hard to see how a reasonable judge could find otherwise.

    The Garces store is unique statewide, and the LCB is vague about plans for other such boutiques. Moreover, even if the agency opened five or 10 more in-café State Stores, they would still amount to a government-granted advantage for arbitrarily chosen businesses. That’s the trouble with state control of a trade that so clearly belongs in the private sector.

    The LCB revealed another botched cosmetic surgery recently when it test-launched new wine vending machines in two central Pennsylvania supermarkets.

    The machines, which could be deployed more broadly later this summer, allow prospective connoisseurs to select bottles using an ATM-style touch screen. Buyers must then swipe a driver’s license to prove they are of age, exhale into a Breathalyzer to prove they are not (yet) drunk, and pay with a debit or credit card. All of this is monitored remotely by an LCB employee, who peers at a video camera feed to make sure every oenophile matches his ID.

    Make it through this Rube Goldberg process and – voilà! – you have just completed a transaction that, under normal circumstances, would require nothing but a few more supermarket shelves.

    Only a hopelessly archaic bureaucracy could produce such a reinvention of the wheel – or, in this case, of supermarket Aisle 3. Maybe the futurists at the liquor agency will even figure out how to let us buy wine on this Internet thing we’ve been hearing about!

    The current age of austerity has already had the accidental benefit of ending some of our most egregious government excesses. State after state, for example, has decided it can no longer afford to lock people up for a little marijuana. How long before Pennsylvania realizes it’s run out of money and reasons to lock up all the booze?

  22. Hello, Newman . The only reason you were chairman was because of mommy.I’ve used the kiosk and love it so do the other people. Why are you such a hater.Wah! Wah! I’m not the chairman anymore.Get an identity !

  23. Mr. Newman, your credibility is a joke. By showing up, hurling accusations, then reappearing just to copy and paste an editorial supportive of your opinion without answering any of the very legitimate questions asked of you makes it clear you cannot be taken seriously.

    You continue to make me happy that my tax dollars are not helping pay your salary any longer.

    One more time:

    1) What is your business relationship with WTSO?

    2) Do you represent as a wholesaler or in any other capacity the wines that you rate on WTSO?

    3) Do you financially benefit from sales of wines that you rate on WTSO?

    4) In your professional opinion, if you have financial interests, are you committing fraud by not revealing these interests when providing ratings on WTSO and should you be sanctioned by the appropriate PA and/or NJ legal disciplinary body as a result?

    Until you can answer these and related questions you’ll remain a joke to many.

  24. Jonathan,does the word tool mean anything to you . Kick em in the grapes Peter.

  25. I’m just trying to get some honest answers. I had no idea who Mr. Newman was until I started seeing his ratings on WTSO. Then I learned he was behind some of the improvements at PLCB so I thought “okay” seems like he tries to do the right thing. Then I learned a bit more about his business and am now just trying to understand what his ratings really mean. As for PLCB, overall I’m no fan. The kiosks are an insult as is the entire state controlled monopoly. Then again, so are Mr. Newman’s ratings apparently.

  26. […] wine and wine vending machines just got supersized: 500 and one-thousand liter kegs have landed in French […]


Wine Maps

Recent Comments

Recent Posts

See my op-eds in the NYT
"Drink Outside the Box"
"Red, White, and Green"


Monthly Archives


Blog posts via email



Wine industry jobs


One of the “fresh voices taking wine journalism in new and important directions.” -World of Fine Wine

“His reporting over the past six months has had seismic consequences, which is a hell of an accomplishment for a blog.”

"News of such activities, reported last month on a wine blog called Dr. Vino, have captivated wine enthusiasts and triggered a fierce online debate…" The Wall Street Journal

"...well-written, well-researched, calm and, dare we use the word, sober." -Dorothy Gaiter & John Brecher, WSJ

jbf07James Beard Foundation awards

Saveur, best drinks blog, finalist 2012.

Winner, Best Wine Blog

One of the "seven best wine blogs." Food & Wine,

One of the three best wine blogs, Fast Company

See more media...


Wine books on Amazon: