Well, with all the hoopla going on lately regarding the wine kiosks, I couldn’t resist going to check them out. Due to my ID being a worn out non-functional mess, I couldn’t actually try it out myself but I stuck around for about 20 minutes or so to watch other people try it out and gauge reactions.
But first, a little background information. Due to Pennsylvania’s absolutely draconian, antiquated liquor laws we can’t just go grab a bottle of wine from a grocery store shelf and head to the checkout counter. To get around this little conundrum and give people the access to hooch that they deserve the PA Liquor Control Board put out a bid request from companies to develop the kiosk with the catch being that they couldn’t charge the PLCB with operating costs for the first 5 years of operation. The contract was won by Simple Brands LLC from Conshohocken, PA who, unsurprisingly, have close ties to the outgoing Guv. In I believe June the first two test systems were installed in Harrisburg. I wanted to go out there to check them out but any trips out that way ended up being cancelled for one reason or another.
Well last Thursday they installed the first one in the valley at the Allentown Wegmans so I stopped by to take a look. It’s right in the front of the store and being the first day open garnered a lot of attention from people wanting to try it out and casual passersby. I watched a few people stare curiously at the machine and a few opted to try it out. For the first full day open there was two PLCB employees on-hand to oversee the operation and help new users out. The process is simple in theory. You browse through the wines on a touch screen, where you can select one or read more about it. At this moment on full cabinet was unavailable due to some sort of malfunction, so any sort of magnum or sparkling wine was out of the question. You select what you want, how many bottles of it you want, and then scan your ID. A PLCB employee in Harrisburg then verifies that the person on the ID is actually you via camera. This follows by a blow in a breathalyzer, where if your BAC is over .02 you’re going home wineless. Finally your selection is prepared and the door unlocks, revealing your available wine with a light over it to show you exactly where it’s at.
Sounds simple enough, right? It should be, however each process I watched took about 5 minutes. In the few minutes I was watching I saw two people walk away in disgust at having to pay a $1 convenience fee to use the kiosk. A few people left because they couldn’t buy the wine they wanted to due to the third cabinet being out of service. Overall though it was kind of an OK process, although a bit cumbersome. Soon, 100 of these kiosks will dot the supermarket landscape of Pennsylvania. So what to think of all of this?
Well, it’s quite ridiculous. As Tom Wark, god of all that is wine blogging, points out that PLCB reps (and the wine kiosk company itself) equate it to using an ATM. Funny, to use an ATM I only have to swipe my debit card, not my ID, have someone inside the bank verify my identity, and blow into a breathalyzer (YOU CAN’T WITHDRAW MONEY WHILE UNDER THE INFLUENCE! [This would save me hundreds, if not thousands of dollars]). It really is insanity, especially when I can walk to the other side of Wegmans, pick up a few high-ABV beers, and get really plastered all without having to have someone in Harrisburg look at me and blow into a breathalyzer. The PLCB offers a few arguments for this machine…that it stops people from dunk driving and that it prevents minors from having access to the alcohol. Well I’ve got news for them…I can buy SEVEN bottles of wine from the kiosk and go out to my car and rip them, then go merrily on my way crashing into things and killing people. Would the LCB be responsible for overserving me and get shut down? And keeping it out of the hands of kids? Seriously? I bet you a Benjamin I could shave my face (thus rendering me looking like a high schooler) and get someone on the street to go buy me booze from a kiosk.
This is all supposed to be about “convenience”. That’s why they charge you the extra dollar on top of your $7 bottle of wine. Not only do you have to pay the outrageous taxes on your crappy Sutter Home White Zinfandel, but another 1/8th of your purchase price is for the ability to buy wine in a grocery store, just like the rest of the country. What would be more convenient was if I could just go grab a bottle off the shelf and check out without the grandiose Big Brother act. And the selection of the kiosk? Deplorable. Mostly catering to the lowest common denominator, there’s not many worthy wines in there. It ranges from $6-$20 and don’t get me wrong, there’s good wines in that price range, but most of them are shit. I saw a decent Malbec. The only wine topping the $20 mark was Moet and Chandon Nectar Imperial, a particularly sweet but tasty Champagne for $40.
Do yourself a favor and skip the machines. Go to the LCB store and get it there. Save yourself $1, violation of your rights, and a few minutes. If you’re really feeling gutsy take the $1 and buy a stamp. Then take the few minutes saved and write a letter to your state senator and representatives to tell them just what you think of the bullshit laws. Then drive yourself over to Phillipsburg, NJ and buy your wine on a grocery shelf like a real American.