A flap between the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board and some Pennsylvania wineries may be easing.
An Action 16 Investigation in December found some wineries, lawmakers, and the Commonwealth Foundation of Pennsylvania critical of the agency, as all claimed the LCB made it hard for these local businesses to get their product on the shelves of their state stores.
State Liquor Control Board Executive Director Joe Conti said the agency was stepping up efforts to get more Pennsylvania wines in LCB outlets.
Thursday night, the LCB announced a major step towards that goal.
At an arena at the State Fair Complex in Harrisburg, celebrities like ex-NFL fullback Jon Ritchie competed in a grape stomping contest. The event was billed as a celebration of wine making in Pennsylvania, and provided the backdrop for the LCB's announcement.
"It is offering consumers more choice, when they go to their local PA Wine and Spirits store," announced Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board member Robert Marcus in detailing the agency's partnership with Pennsylvania Wineries helping wine makers.
Marcus believes the partnership will help area wineries have a better chance at getting space on local LCB store shelves.
"It`s a win-win for Pennsylvania," said Marcus. "When you have production here, you have jobs in tourism, and you have jobs in agriculture."
The move follows criticism from wine makers, and some lawmakers, who targeted the LCB's branded "Tableleaf" wine. The LCB spent hundreds of thousands of dollars patenting and marketing Tableleaf.
Our hidden cameras found California-made Tableleaf prominently displayed in LCB stores, while the few wines from Pennsylvania that even got shelf space were near the backs of the stores. The local wines could only be found in a section labelled "Penn-NY Wines," with the local product side-by-side with those from New York`s Finger Lakes area.
The owners of some of the small wineries said they see opportunity in the partnership, but they`re not completely sold.
"The issue is to keep the execution process less onerous, and easier for us to get through as a small winery," said Paul DiFuccia, the CEO of Courtyard Wineries near Erie, PA.
Owners of small, local wineries complain the LCB`s rules that set pricing, make it hard to profit if their product is sold at state stores.
Marcus said the LCB will make marketing Pennsylvania wines an agency priority.
"It`s not going to jump overnight," cautioned Marcus. "But the better they (Pennsyvlania wineries) get, the more we`ll sell."
The partnership is set to ramp up this summer, and only then will we see if the move puts more locally made wine on state LCB store shelves.