Wine vending machines arrive in States: Sacre bleu!, say the French

wine vending machines?Americans can now buy a bottle of wine out of a vending machine as if it were a Coke or a bag of Cheetos. No surprise how that's playing in France, the self-styled wine capital of the world and a place not known for its tolerance of bourgeois enterprise.

Well, the French are not only turning their nose up at this experiment in Pennsylvania -- the first in the U.S. -- they are downright concerned. In a villa overlooking the Mediterranean in Nice, Charly Bismuth sipped a Bordeaux that he bought from a human being and pondered the potential damage.

"Wine should be had in moderation and should not be so easily available," Bismuth said in French to WalletPop.

"That's great if you're a vagabond," Sonia PIpernos of Paris added.

In all fairness, what might appear to be tacky is actually Pennsylvania's way of working around its relatively strict liquor laws. Before the machines emerged, Pennsylvanians could buy alcohol only in state stores. The first two wine vending machines have popped up in Harrisburg supermarkets, with expansion to Philadelphia planned in September if all goes well.

The kiosks scan ID to determine if consumers are of drinking age, a camera with a real state employee at the other end confirms that the photo and the face match, and then buyers must breathe into the breathalyzer to prove their blood-alcohol concentration is under .02 percent to make the purchase by credit or debit card. The wines begin at $5.99, with a $1 convenience fee to come after the start-up phase.

"That's not expensive at all," Michele Daucourt, a Paris schoolteacher, said. "It can't be good at that price."

(I didn't dare tell Daucourt that I had been consuming $3-a-bottle French rose during my French Riviera vacation, and still felt good about myself the next day.)

While we were on the subject of value, Daucourt's husband, Patrick, asked what wines were being dispensed out of the Pennsylvania automats. Sutter Home and Kendall Jackson, among the 53 options, didn't impress. "I question the quality," he said.

Officials have repeatedly pointed out that the machines are not for connoisseurs, just ordinary folks who want a little grape with dinner. They are a hit so far. The machines sold 1,400 bottles in the first two weeks after their June debut, generating $16,000 in revenue for the state, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer. That's a little more than $11 per sale, confirming that consumers aren't going for the good stuff but aren't sipping from the bottom of the barrel either.

The venture appears to be a cinch for expansion -- up to 100 locations, according to one report. Officials claim the purchasing process takes 20 seconds, but Keith Wallace, president and founder of the Wine School of Philadelphia, told The Inquirer it was cumbersome. He also called the project an image disaster that portrayed Pennsylvanians as "conniving underage drunks."

The French debated the same potential problems as opponents did here -- increased access for minors who can get someone to buy the booze for them without a clerk keeping an eye out, abetting alcoholism, etc. But if someone really wants to get drunk, would it really be a vending machine's fault?

Said Patrick Daucourt: "You can get water out of a machine. You can get Coke. Why not wine?"

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