In the fifth century BCE, famous Greek tragedian Euripides supposedly said, “where this no wine there is no love.” This certainly holds true in present day Pennsylvania, which has one of the nation’s strictest alcohol regulatory regimes. And according to Tom Wark, executive director for the American Wine Consumer Coalition, Pennsylvania is “the worst state to live in if you're a wine lover." In Philadelphia, one man surely isn’t feeling the brotherly love after police raided his home and seized 2,426 bottles of rare wine—with an estimated value of more than $125,000—that the police reportedly plan to “destroy.”
Arthur Goldman, a 50-year-old lawyer, alleged ran afoul of Pennsylvania’s archaic wine laws by purchasing and selling through unapproved channels. In Pennsylvania, one of ten states that doesn’t allow direct shipping of wine to consumers, the only place one can purchase wine is through state-owned liquor stores. For wine connoisseurs looking for a bottle unavailable for purchase in state stores, the only other option is to order their wine through one of the sanctioned “direct wine shippers” and have it sent to a state store. Of course, this adds a certain cost to the purchase (shipping charge, plus $4.50 handling, the state's 18 percent Johnstown Flood tax, 6 percent sales tax, and an addition 2 percent Philadelphia tax). With an average shipping rate of $7 per bottle or $22 per case, this means that a typical $50 bottle of wine would end up costing $74. A case of that wine, which would have cost $600 could cost around $832 after jumping through the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board’s hoops. Of course, Goldman was likely purchasing much rarer and more expensive wines—the tax and shipping costs, assuming the approved direct shipping companies had the wines he wanted—could have been astronomical.
Cops paint a picture of a sophisticated racket meant to make Goldman a lot of money, but his lawyer asserts it was more like a group of 15-20 wine connoisseurs for whom Goldman would procure bottles unavailable in the state, only charging them for his costs.
"It was more 15 to 20 people who liked wine like Art, who he would get the wine for."
His lawyer said it was similar to “making a liquor run over state lines and charging friends for gas.” Of course, that too would be illegal, even though virtually every Pennsylvania alcohol drinker near the state's border has done.
And one must wonder what purpose such restrictions serve? Are they worried Goldman and the 20 people he allegedly kept apprised of his offering were corrupting youth and endangering the lives of other Pennsylvanians? Of course, it all comes down to money. And Pennsylvanians have had it with the politically motivated and anticompetitive alcohol market in their state.
Because it is my home state and I like to drink alcohol (okay, I’m a beer connoisseur), I have written a lot about the PLCB, which is unprofitable, outdated, and rife with corruption. It is unsurprising that most residents of the state want to abolish the PLCB or, at least, get the state out of the business of selling alcohol. Restrictive markets, such as the wine market in PA, turn the otherwise law abiding citizen into a criminal. It will be a hard pill to swallow if the authorities decide to destroy Goldman’s collection, instead of selling it off and giving the proceeds to charity as he suggested. One can only hope that this tragedy will reawaken the thirst among Pennsylvanians for a freer alcohol market.
Thanks to David Scott for the heads up and keeping a watchful eye on the PLCB.