The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board is housed in the 1930's-era, nondescript Northwest Office Building. And on the fifth floor is an office with a bureaucratic name on the door: the Retail Education Center.
Inside it is anything but bureaucratic. There are black leather chairs and sofas, hardwood floors and track lighting set a wine-bar mood. There is a bar, and wine, and big screen televisions.
It is here that roughly 12 employees, called buyers, will sip and spit wine and spirits from around the world. They will decide which booze should make the cut and which won't. They'll make recommendations to the PLCB board, which will ultimately decide which bottles will end up on the shelves of Pennsylvania's wine and spirits shops.
PLCB CEO Joe Conti says a controlled environment, which the room provides, is crucial to the work the employees do. He also insists the room is used for other purposes by senior staff. He says there are meetings and presentations in it on a regular basis. He also supports the tasters.
"There is no drinking in the room. Everybody must spit out the product after they taste it. It's just what best practices are for the selection of wine and spirits in our industry," Conti said.
But critics are calling it a bad practice and derisively call this room a "wine shrine."
"Essentially these are government workers paid by taxpayers, and getting taxpayer-paid pensions," said Jay Ostrich of the Commonwealth Foundation. "At a time when we're trying to get the budget right and making ends meet, we don't need people to educate our palette in state government."
The Commonwealth Foundation is a very vocal critic of the state liquor store system and the organization is openly pushing privatization. He says the "wine shrine" gives his argument more fuel.
"The people of Pennsylvania are saying they are tired of government monopolies, manipulations, and mediocrity," Ostrich said. "They don't need kings of cabernet to choose their booze for them. They can choose all by themselves. It's called freedom and it's something they want back."
"This has nothing to do with privatization," Conti said. "This is simply an uniformed opinion on a room that is a multipurpose, functional room in this building and we're happy that we have it."
There are about a dozen PLCB buyers. They make between $40,000 and $60,000 a year plus benefits; that is, benefits other than what they do for a living.