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Wolf signs wine, beer sales reform bill

Greg Gross

The most wide-ranging reform of Pennsylvania's wine and beer sales in decades was signed into law by Gov. Tom Wolf on Wednesday.

"This bill will improve the customer's experience," Wolf said during a signing ceremony, noting the bill will increase revenue for the state.

The lawmakers in the House voted overwhelmingly and abruptly on Tuesday to approve the measure, House Bill 1690, which allows certain grocery stores and other outlets to sell up to four bottles of wine per customer for takeout and formalizes beer sales in convenience stores that began as a result of court cases.

York County wineries and breweries are expecting to reap the benefits of better accessibility in the form of increased sales after the law takes effect in August, 60 days after Wolf signed it.

"The rise of the tide raises all ships," said Carl Helfrich, owner of Allegro Winery in Chanceford Township.

Hilary Loehwing, manager of Wyndridge Farm, said the York Township brewer of hard cider and beer saw sales increase when its products were offered in local grocery stores in recent years.

"It's flying off the shelves. It's more convenient," she said, adding she expects sales to increase further when Wyndridge's products are in convenience stores.

The law allows takeout wine sales in licensed restaurants, bars, hotels, supermarkets and delis. Republicans said the change is expected to generate $150 million in revenue for the state.

Taking effect: Though the law takes effect in August, customers likely won't see wine in select grocery stores right away.

"We're not quite ready to give a date," Michael Newsome, a member of the state Liquor Control Board and West Manchester Township resident. "We hope to be ready as soon as possible."

And don't expect to be able to pick up a bottle of wine at any grocery store.

Stores that currently have a restaurant liquor license, which allows them to sell six-packs of beer, would have to apply for a permit in order to sell wine, Newsome said, noting grocery stores that sell beer now are expected to apply for a permit.

There are more than 300 grocery stores in the state that have a restaurant liquor license, Elizabeth Brassell, spokeswoman for the board, said.

The liquor control board is now tasked with implementing the law and awarding the permits, which officials said they will work at diligently.

"There's a lot of work to do at this point," Newsome said. "We have lots and lots to do."

Michael Newsome, a West Manchester Township resident, serves on the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board.

What it does: The law allows wineries to send products directly to Pennsylvania customers, though some wineries are already allowed to ship to consumers in the commonwealth and in certain other states. Allegro is one of those wineries; it also ships to Maryland customers.

Wineries would have to get an annual direct-shipping permit for $250 and would have to charge $2.50 and a 6 percent tax on every gallon it ships to consumers.

The law also permits casinos to serve alcohol around the clock instead of just for 19 hours a day, as allowed under current law.

The bill provides for $1 million in grants through the Pennsylvania Wine Marketing and Research Board, which works to improve the quality of wines, among other things.

That could help spur on the state's wine industry, Helfrich said.

The law also:

•    Removes Sunday restrictions and state-mandated holidays.
•    Enhances customer loyalty programs and opens up coupons at state stores.
•    Provides options for flexible pricing to allow state stores to offer special discounts and sales.
•    Makes permanent gas stations’ ability to sell six-packs.

Heavier punch: Hard ciders that have an alcohol content of up to 8.5 percent can now be sold in bottles, under the law. The former threshold was 5.5 percent.

A quirk in the now-old law allowed stronger ciders to be sold onsite but not in bottles, Loehwing said, noting Wyndridge has a 12 percent cider it sells in its restaurant.

"You have to come into the restaurant and have a glass from the tap," she said.

Though Wyndridge can now produce a stronger cider to be sold in bottles, Loehwing said it's doubtful that'll happen anytime soon.

"I feel we would just stick with the (5.5 percent) because those are our flagship ciders," she said.

— Reach Greg Gross at or on Twitter at @ggrossyd.