We hate to be the bearers of bad news, but there’s a vino-tragedy unfolding in Pennsylvania as we speak. Bloomberg reports that 2,447 bottles of fine wine — as in cult Napa cabs and other hard to find bottles — are set to be poured down the drain by the state government. Some context is necessary: Pennsylvania has some of the strictest liquor laws in the nation. All wine sold in the state is sold by the state government. If you want to buy a wine that the state liquor stores don’t stock, well, you’re out of luck. One wine-loving lawyer decided to take things into his own hands, bringing those hard-to-find wines into the state and offering them up for sale to other collectors. And that’s where our tragedy begins:
Pennsylvania plans to destroy 2,447 bottles seized from Arthur Goldman, a Philadelphia-area lawyer who was charged this year with illegally reselling wine. While he has agreed to penalties, he’s fighting the jettisoning of his collection, which encompasses small-batch California producers such as Turley Wine Cellars, Martinelli Winery and Kistler Vineyards.
State police officers said that Goldman, 50, sold wine out of his home in Malvern, about 25 miles (40 kilometers) west of Philadelphia, court documents show. He sent an undercover agent a 97-page e-mail of wines available for purchase, most of which weren’t available in the state. Goldman at one point showed two officers his basement, where they saw 90 boxes of wine, according to court papers.
Goldman was charged in January with buying alcohol outside the state system and selling liquor without a license, and in August agreed to accept the penalties under a first-time offender program, said Michael Noone, Chester County First Assistant District Attorney.
There’s no question whatsoever that Goldman broke Pennsylvania law — but one would think a passionate collector trying to aid other wine lovers, who has fully cooperated with the state government, might be treated with a light touch. Alas, we’re talking about Pennsylvania. Earlier this year when the question of privatization of the state monopoly came up, the state’s airwave were flooded with commercials promising dead children. Seriously. The exact quote was: “It only takes a little bit of greed to kill a child.”
On that colorful note, let’s return to Goldman’s 2,447 wines. Their fate would appear to be sealed, as Pennsylvania’s primary concern seems to be protecting its highly lucrative liquor monopoly — and making it clear to all those who would opposite the state that their challenges will be defeated, without mercy:
Goldman and his wife “spent hundreds upon hundreds of hours selecting these individual bottles, one at a time, over a more than 10-year period while their marital home and wine cellar was in New Jersey,” Kratsa said in an e-mail. “The inventory reflects a highly personalized collection of a passionate collector comprised almost entirely of single bottles of specific wines reflecting their personal taste, and clearly not a commercial enterprise.”
Much of Goldman’s collection reflects “small artisan producers” that only make limited varieties, said Tom Wark, executive director for the American Wine Consumer Coalition, a Napa-based lobbying group.
Wark, who said he has 25 years of experience in the wine industry, called a 2011 Kosta Browne Keefer Ranch wine listed “one of the most sought-after Pinot Noirs made in California.” Online prices for the wine start at $175, and it is only being offered by collectors.
“I’m salivating over here,” he said after listening to some of the inventory recorded by state police, which at times neglected to note years and vineyards under the brand names.
There is one possible positive outcome here. The Pennsylvania state law at issue offers one home — other than the drain — for these fine, seized wines:
Hospitals desirous of obtaining confiscated liquor offered by Federal authorities or granted to them by the courts of the Commonwealth shall make written application to the Board for permission to import the liquor if located outside of this Commonwealth.
While we’d love to know the story of how this bizarre provision found its way into the state’s post-Prohibition liquor laws, our immediate hope is that a hospital raises its hand to claim the collection. If that comes to pass we’d also like an invitation to their holiday party. It should be a good one.
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