Equal and opposite: Frustrated in Philly finds wine choice in Florida

Here’s the action: Philly area wine lover flies his family to the Florida Keys for vacation. Once checked in, he makes a provisions run to the local Publix supermarket where, rounding the fruit section, he finds a floor-to-ceiling aisle dedicated to wine. California, France, Washington State, New Zealand, Australia.

The selection only expands from there. Within steps, there’s another grocery store and a family run wine and spirits shop. At the Winn-Dixie, he spies a Hogue premium label. Hell, he can’t even find that on the shelf back home, from the “largest purchaser of wine and spirits in the United States.” The thickly stocked Florida showing brings that pang to his gut.

The reaction: Holy flippin’ fermentation (insert preferred expletives).

Balmy air, palms and a white from Publix

I understand this is just one more beef in the litany but the reaction emerges often when I travel. Whether I’m in Florida, California, New York or elsewhere, I’m reminded of the irksome shortcomings of the Pennsylvania system. This time around, while the home team guarded its lock on the wine and spirits trade like a harassed hornet does her hive, my resort was to repair to the heart of the Conch Republic to attain libatious liberty.

The Florida model is the way it should be: Conveniently buy staple wines (the weeknight Frenchie, workhorse red, warm weather white, etc.) at the supermarket or way-homer and pull finer wines from a specialty shop in a major city or a local retailer who can order for you. In a best-of-all-worlds scenario, you also can receive bottles via direct shipment from wineries.

Then there are the wine bars. I found no fewer than three (fully dedicated to wine, no side liquor action) in and around Duval Street in Key West, which PA legislators would likely rename “Key Wild West” due to the unrestricted alcohol laws. The selection and nonchalance of it all is very freeing and a temporary shock for someone accustomed to Johnstown Flood-era policies.

Of course, nothing is perfect. The Keys’ beauty is baked in a pan of concessions. In exchange for the blue-green waters and the breezy, easy eves, there are warts. Very few waterside drinking establishments escape the geographically imprecise, yet emphatically thatched “tiki bar” makeover; the iguanas occasionally crap in the pool from their palm perches; and the stretch of paved isles feels like a runway into Vegas – or, in this case, Key West. But they get their freedoms right, as well as their wine.


Will true change ever come to the PLCB, rendering a sympathetic landscape for wine and spirits consumers? Will Corbett and legislators deliver privatization? More likely, the political will is not in place and those were flashy and temporary considerations to curry favor with the electorate. Which means no holiday in the sun for Pennsylvania wine lovers.

What would you change to get the ball rolling in favor of consumers?