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Jones McKee said on one Fourth of July, she and Carey had just arrived home from a weekend out of town and decided to put a sign out saying they were open. Business boomed.
“People were so happy to be able to come in and buy a bottle of wine to be able to take to the picnic because the state stores were closed, but we had the ability to be open,” she said.
The official trade group representing Pennsylvania wineries hasn’t said whether it supports Corbett’s privatization proposa. Jennfier Eckinger, executive of the Pennsylvania Winery Association, said the group is reviewing the proposal.
But, as the debate to privatize ramps up in Harrisburg, PLCB and PWA recently announced a new distribution plan for select wineries. It applies to those who are designated “PA Preferred” by the Department of Agriculture. Right now, that’s about 75 wineries, and they will be able to place up to 10 of their wine varieties in up to 10 stores.
Eckinger said many wineries don’t necessarily have the stock to be able to get into the state stores. The PA Preferred program is a way they can reach out to new audiences, she said.
“This is an opportunity for some of the smaller wineries that may not be large enough to be able to have products placed regionally let alone across the state,” she said.
The program also will allow for direct store delivery, which could pare down shipping costs.
The program comes at a time when the wine industry is growing in Pennsylvania and across much of the East Coast.
In 2000, Jones McKee and Carey wrote a book about the state’s industry and visited each of the 52 wineries that existed at the time. Now there are more than 150.
Jones McKee said the new preferred program is a very different approach to how Pennsylvania wineries can operate with the PLCB. It could allow for more direct relationships, for example, if a winery wanted to set up an in-store tasting to promote the new products.
“We’re hopeful, if we can build relationships with stores that want to sell our wine, that we can overcome this bureaucratic red tape that gets in the way,” Jones McKee said.
Carey is an advocate for privatization, as he’s sold wine in many other states that have private systems. The new placement program is a step in the right direction, he said.
“If they do privatize it, in my view, that would be just fine,” he said. “If they don’t privatize it, at least now we have a more realistic possibility of being able to get our product in the system.”
Cary Greene is the chief operating officer for Wine America, a wine industry trade group representing 48 states. Greene said that wineries face 50 different sets of rules for selling their products — one for every state.
“Control or private, it’s still complex,” he said.