It took until the last two weeks of 2009 to come across the most ridiculous (and most senseless) wine story of the year. If only the article I read on pennlive.com over the weekend was fiction, but sadly, supermarket wine kiosks are coming to Pennsylvania. According to the PA State Liquor Control Board (you think DMV is inefficient, try moving wine through a state run liquor authority), the new wine kiosks will guarantee the customer is 21 and cannot purchase wine if their alcohol level is above .05 as a breathalyzer test is mandatory with each purchase.
Without delving too deepy into the politics of wine in supermarkets (I am against it), I must say that the idea that someone can walk up to a wine vending machine is completey asinine. Corporately run supermarkets often do not have the trained staff like their smaller wine shop counterparts, but grocery stores in Pennsylvania want to dumb down customer service to an even lower level. Jo Nalate, spokesman for Wegman's explains that the wine kiosks, "offers one more convenience to our customers." And by going the way of EZ Pass, this will enable big box marketplaces like Wegman's to cut down their staff levels as well. As Alder Yarrow wrote this morning on his wine blog, Vinography, using the machine might turn out to be a nightmare as customers have to find a bottle in the cabinet, then make sure they choose the same bottle at the order screen.
As for the wine itself, it will be treated like nothing more than soda in a vending machine. I can't imagine too many fine wines finding their way into the kiosk, but even if the wines are filled with brands such as Yellow Tail, Barefoot and all things Franzia, the wine buying experience is completely deligitimized. What scares the hell out of me most is the prospect that wine buyers who one-stop shop in supermarkets will essentially become lazy and not seek out interesting wines that might be stocked on the shelves of a boutique shop down the street. Am I protecting wine shops, maybe. What I most interested in, however, is that the casual consumer learn something about wine. I can't imagine the liner notes for each wine in the kiosk will prove to be useful at all - maybe they will have pretty pictures or scores from Wine Spectator and Wine Advocate. Perhaps this line of thinking can be construed as a cynical view of the demise of an overly-romanticized idea of wine, but wine should not be treated like Kit-Kats or mini-bags of Peanut Butter Combos.
I am not one for hoping for failure for others, but maybe the wine kiosk system will be so ridiculously flawed that enough people will stop buying wine in supermarkets and the vending machines will find there way into a used arcade game stores. I wasn't looking forward to putting together lists for wines of the year, articles of the year or ideas of the year, but with the PA Liquor Board announcing the arrival of wine kiosks in supermarkets, it looks as though the bonehead wine idea of the year has taken care of itself.