Sour grapes for state wines

Columnist : Albert Paschall

I don’t know much about wines. The closest I probably get to appreciating a good wine is when I buy a bottle with a cork in it instead of a plastic cap. But I was planning to have some people over and I didn’t want to risk poisoning them with my usual libation so I did a little research.

About thirty years ago, when the jobs began to leave the state is when the grapes really began to grow. Today there are more than 70 wineries in the state making Pennsylvania the eighth biggest wine producer in the country. Seven winery regions from Philadelphia to Erie host more than 14,000 acres of grapes according to the Pennsylvania Wine Association.

So why not serve my guests Pennsylvania wines? There’s enough variety to go around. Vintners in the Commonwealth have received awards for their Cabernet Sauvignon, Catawba and Pinot Noir and our home grown varieties including central Pennsylvania fruit wines and Northeastern winter wines are recognized all over the world. Legend holds that the rich winter wines were actually invented in the Lehigh Valley.

You can find out all about Pennsylvania wines on the Internet. When I was surfing the World Wide Web to research the best available wineries I had dozens of choices, even finding that the state’s wineries have banded together and created 7 wine trails. All over the state you can buy one regional ticket and visit a dozen or more wineries, kind of like making the Lehigh Valley an east coast Napa. Pennsylvania wines have become so popular that even Public Television is watching. PBS is making a documentary on the state’s wineries that should be airing in November.

The research showed it should be easy to find good Pennsylvania wines. The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, the state monopoly and cash cow that controls all wine and liquor sales in the state, has created a new web site. According to PLCB chairman Jonathon Newman the site,, “enables consumers all over the state to take advantage of products not readily available.” The idea apparently is that wines not normally stocked by the state stores can be ordered and picked up at your local store.

I figured my work was done. I clicked and pointed. Just to see what was out there I searched California wines. The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board offered me 11 selections. When I tried New York the state was able to ship 7 vintages to serve my guests. If you want real choices from a state bureaucracy trying to be a retailer search Washington State wines on Pennsylvania’s website and you’ll get to choose from 21 fine wines.

But I wanted to serve my guests Pennsylvania’s best. So I typed in Pennsylvania product and description between $10 and $100 at and all I got was sour grapes. There were no results, no Pennsylvania wines offered by our own bureaucracy.

Tax increases are the spirited topic in Harrisburg now. It looks like were facing increased personal income taxes and new taxes on businesses to pay for public education. If the state’s liquor control board system were sold off in franchises for private sector ownership it is easily worth $2 billion. That’ll buy a lot of textbooks. If we sell it off we’ll get better service with competition bringing better prices and the state will still get the sales taxes that it gets now with revenue from the franchising fees. Who knows? Someday we might even be able to sell Pennsylvania wines.

Albert Paschall
Senior Commentator
The Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research, Inc.
[email protected]