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Winebits 327: Pennsylvania, wine prices, women winemakers

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Winebits 327: Pennsylvania, wine prices, women winemakersThe wine notes that usually appear on Tuesday are posting today because tomorrow is April 1 — and that’s time for the blog’s annual April Fools’ Day post.

More screwed up than ever: Pennsylvania has been trying to reform its horribly messed up state store system — where the state owns the liquor stores — since as long as I have been writing the blog. Nothing has been done, despite widespread political and consumer support, and the latest proposal shows just how corrupt the system is. Supermarkets would be able to sell wine under the proposed law, but only four bottles per customer per visit. Nevertheless, a spirits trade group immediately denounced the plan, claiming that those four bottles would give the wine business an unfair advantage, since spirit sales would still be limited to state stores. It’s almost impossible to understand what’s going on here, other than to note that this is just another example of the many failings of the three-tier system.

Britain’s wine pricing: Jamie Goode at the Wine Anorak has an excellent account of the wine pricing controversy in Britain, where most retailers substantially discount wine. And then don’t. And then discount it again. This must seem odd to those of us in the U.S., where discounting is accepted as a normal part of doing business, and where savvy consumers are eager to buy wine when it’s on sale. But British consumer advocates see this as nefarious — “[T]hese fake promotions are bad for wine, and a bad deal for customers, and I won’t stop talking about them until supermarkets do the right thing and stop them,” writes Goode — and have spent the past couple of years fighting the biggest retailers over the practice.

You’ve come a long way, baby: Jordan Salcito at The Daily Beast has discovered that women have broken through the glass ceiling and are now important winemakers. I’ll try not to be too cranky about this, but Salcito is about a decade late with this revelation. I wrote the same story for the American Airlines in-flight magazine in 2006, quoting many of the same women she quotes in her story. She also focuses on celebrity women winemakers, and misses the more important change, that Big Wine did most of the glass ceiling work, hiring women where they had never been hired before. Barefoot’s Jennifer Wall is responsible for 13 million cases of wine a year, which may make her the most important woman winemaker in the business. And her boss is Gina Gallo, whose company makes 80 million cases a year. Also, if Salcito doesn’t mind some writing advice, never, ever use a phrase like “pushing the envelope.” I expect more from the Beast.

Winebits 316: Two-buck Chuck, Pennsylvania, Kickstarter

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Winebits 316: Two-buck Chuck, Pennsylvania, KickstarterBut what about the terroir? Ben Robinson at The Thrillist challenges a sommelier to taste Two-buck Chuck to find out “which bottles are totally palatable and even enjoyable. …” It’s an intriguing exercise, and most of the eight wines do well enough (as regular visitors here know). The annoying bit is the post’s snarkiness, because this is cheap wine and it certainly can’t be approached seriously. The most interesting? That the sommelier could only identify the varietal in four of the eight wines. If someone whose entire wine reason for being is baffled by what’s in the glass, what does that say about how indifferent the winemaker is to varietal character? And, more importalty, given Two-buck Chuck’s popularity, it demonstrates that the producer understands that varietal isn’t as important as price with consumers. Not that I’ve ever argued either of those points.

Finally, after all this wait? Pennsylvania’s state store system, in which the government owns the liquor stores, may finally come to an end. That’s the optimistic reading of this report from Morning call newspaper website: “A suitable deal has eluded lawmakers for the last three years — really for decades — as other Republican-led liquor privatization efforts have fizzled. … Republican House Majority Leader Mike Turzai said he hopes to have a liquor reform bill passed and on [the governor’s] desk before the governor’s Feb. 4 budget address.” If Pennsylvania reforms its state state system, that could be the first domino to fall in reform plans elsewhere, including grocery store wine sales in New York. Which means, as the story also notes, that it probably won’t be as easy to change the Pennsylvania laws as everyone hopes.

Another wine book: Congratulations to Alder Yarrow, the long-time wine blogger at Vinography, who raised $24,200 on Kickstarter for the publication of his new book , “The Essence of Wine.” That beat his goal by more than $6,000. Welcome to the club, Alder. The more I see this going on, the more convinced I am that self-publishing, using some sort of crowd-sourcing, is the future of the book business for those of us who aren’t Stephen King.

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