I don’t know about you, but I cringed when I recently read about Pennsylvania’s experimental sale of wine in vending machines in supermarkets. Yes, the machines do expand the sale of wine beyond Pennsylvania’s state-run liquor stores. You present your driver’s license or other state-issued ID card and pay by credit or debit card, including a $1 fee to the company that provides the machines, but then there is this: you also have to pass a breathalyzer test, which will be analyzed by a state employee who will ultimately approve your sale if everything checks out – or not. The whole thing is monitored by a video link. This is all about control, control, and more control. I think about the ease of buying wine in supermarkets in California, Washington, Vermont, Virginia or any number of states, and I wonder what it is about Pennsylvania and its citizens, in the view of the state, that makes such drastic control measures necessary.
Forgive the rant here, but it’s hard for me to imagine most people suffering through the humility of blowing into a breathalyzer in view of others in such a communal setting as a grocery store. We’ll see how far the experiment goes, but I, for one, am not optimistic about this latest twist on Big Brother in the wine business. Aside from the control aspect, the idea does nothing to educate consumers about wine. There is no day-to-day substitute, I have found over many years of learning about and enjoying wine, for a knowledgeable and trustworthy sales person to guide you through the process of buying just the right bottle. On that score, a vending machine just doesn’t cut it. For more details, you can read USA Today’s account of Pennsylvania’s vending machine venture.