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Pa. Liquor Control Board targets low-cost wine consumers

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Steph Chambers | Tribune-Review
Don Palumbo of Delmont pulls a Yellowtail Pinot Noir off the shelf at Fine Wine & Good Spirits in Delmont on Thursday, June 2, 2016.
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Steph Chambers | Tribune-Review
The New Chairman's Advantage program is on display at Fine Wine & Good Spirits in Delmont on Thursday, June 2, 2016. The program is an offshoot of the popular Chairman’s Selection program and offers fun, simple wines at deeper discounts — always under $10 and usually under $8.99. The program is only available in NON-Premium Collection stores.
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Steph Chambers | Tribune-Review
The New Chairman's Advantage program is on display at Fine Wine & Good Spirits in Delmont on Thursday, June 2, 2016. The program is an offshoot of the popular Chairman’s Selection program and offers fun, simple wines at deeper discounts — always under $10 and usually under $8.99. The program is only available in NON-Premium Collection stores.

Tim Beadling’s wine shopping strategy is simple: He wants the best wines available without going outside his price range.

Beadling, 50, of Salem said he typically aims for wines between $10 and $15 per bottle because he knows a higher price does not always equate to better wine.

“I’ve had $8 bottles of wine that I like more than $30 bottles of wine,” Beadling said as he browsed the newly revamped state Wine and Spirits store in Salem.

Beadling may be among the ideal customers for the Chairman’s Advantage wine program, which recently expanded to 300 stores statewide.

The state Liquor Control Board launched the program in the Philadelphia area in early 2015 and added more stores as it gained popularity.

Chairman’s Advantage aims to put high-quality wines at prices of $8.99 a bottle or less in neighborhood state stores.

Beadling spotted the Chairman’s Advantage display as he paid for his purchase — a bubbly prosecco to celebrate his 30th wedding anniversary — and said he might have to stop back to try the Vialoni pinot grigio offered for $6.99.

Wine surveys and Western Pennsylvania shoppers agree: When it comes to wine, price is important.

“That’s why I’m looking at what’s on sale,” said Don Palumbo, 63, of Delmont. He browsed a back shelf before selecting a 1.5-liter bottle of Yellow Tail pinot noir on sale for $12.99.

Price was the most important factor in deciding which wine to buy for 72 percent of customers, according to a 2015 survey conducted by Sonoma State University and the Wine Business Institute. Shoppers also ranked brand and varietal — such as chardonnay or pinot noir — as important decision-making factors, they found.

“I’m looking for a demographic of people who are buying boxed wine and Yellow Tail (who) just want a nice bottle of wine any day of the week and don’t have to pay a lot of money for it,” said Stephen Pollack, the LCB’s chief wine buyer for the Chairman’s Advantage and the more-established Chairman’s Selection programs.

Chairman’s Advantage wines will feature “uncomplicated wines,” such as pinot grigio, chardonnay and red blends. Shoppers will be less likely to see a cabernet, for example, because it’s harder to find quality cabernets under $10 a bottle, Pollack said.

“Uncomplicated to me is very simple; you’re not looking for a lot of complexities,” Pollack said. “Don’t take ‘uncomplicated’ for lesser quality. It means you don’t have to think. Just grab a bottle of whatever’s on that display.”

This program differs from the often-praised Chairman’s Selection program, which focuses on offering premium wines at deep discounts. Those wines typically still cost more than $10 a bottle and are found only at Premium Collection state stores.

Pollock said wine buyers tasted more than 1,000 wines for this program and purchased only 19, which will cycle through stores four at a time. Chairman’s Advantage displays generally will have two red and two white varieties, but different stores could display different wines at a given time.

At the Salem store, the Chairman’s Advantage display sat just to the left of the front door with bottles standing atop stacks of colorful cases. The display is relatively new, and as shoppers breezed through the doors, few seemed to catch the stacks or the grape-colored sign explaining the program.

Asked about it, though, shopper Kim Long of Salem, who prefers the single-serving-size bottles, said she plans to check out the offerings when she’s shopping for others.

“It might be nice as a hostess gift,” Long said.

Kari Andren is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-850-2856.

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