kelly magyarics

washington, d.c.-based wine, spirits & lifestyle writer / wine educator

703.203.9463

PA Liquor Control Board gets a new chairman--but what does this mean for wine lovers?

I read on Friday that the PA liquor control board's chairman, Jonathan Newman, has resigned due to differences with Gov. Rendell. Newman, a wine afficionado, had been a big champion for wine sold in PA. The popular "Chairman's Selections" program offers wine lovers the chance to purchase premium wines at vastly discounted prices, and "premium" stores offered wine lovers lots of selection.

The new chairman, P.J. Stapleton, admitted that while he does enjoy a glass of wine from time to time, he does not share Newman's passion for wine. This has wine distributors a bit nervous, and they wonder how doing business in PA will change.

I am a Pennsylvania native, and I lived there for 22 years. It's no secret that the state run and controlled liquor and wine business is so limiting. In PA, you need to go to a "state store" to buy liquor and wine, and these stores are not open on Sundays. And, until the "premium" state stores starting popping up around the state, the selection of wine was unbelievably small. Now, at least, some stores exist that have much larger wine sections, including temperature controlled reserve and high-end wines. (Beer is a whole separate problem--you can only buy six packs in bars and six pack shops, with most beer being sold by the case at "beer distributors.")

I check the PA Wine and Spirits website from time to time, and I am blown away by the value of the Chairman's Selections--some of the bottles are discounted 50% or more. Critics of this program see it as a way for Napa and other locations to "dump" wine that is not selling, but I personally think a lot of great values can be had.

PA has made lots of strides, wine-wise, in the past ten years. (Although, arguably, things would be a LOT easier if you could just buy wine in grocery stores...and on Sundays.) Let's hope that the new chairman keeps focus on the grape, for the sake of wine lovers everywhere.