Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Enough is Enough

The Wine Content Act in Ontario is actually not something new – it has been around in one form or another since 1972. Over the years there have been many changes to the act with the most recent visible change happening in January of 2001 when the wine content act was changed to allow a minimum of 30% Ontario-grown product and a maximum of 70% imported product in the “Cellared in” or “Cellared by” category. In actuality, the Wine Content Act had an expiry date of December 31st 2000 which, quite obviously, has been ignored by our politicians and has continued to remain in effect.

Now, not only are there no crop shortages, which is what precipitated the current changes to the Wine Content Act, but our grape growers are facing surpluses because the government is encouraging the LCBO to market the “Cellared In” or “Cellared By” wines side by side with wine made by our wineries using grapes that came from our soils. My father actually came to me just a couple of days ago because he had been in a local LCBO store and seen how the Cellared in Canada wine was on the exact same shelf as some of the smaller wineries he recognizes from my rather large collection of wine. It is a bit of sore point with me and I explained to my Dad that it is because the Cellared in Canada wine shares shelf space with legitimate 100% Ontario wines with no distinction in quality visible to the average consumer that I absolutely refuse to buy any wines from Ontario in a LCBO store. There are 160 wineries operating within the province of Ontario…how many do you think are available on the shelves of the LCBO. At last check, less than 25 of them are available according to the LCBO’s website. They then turn around and put “Cellared in” wines side by side with the lucky twenty five wineries who grace their shelves and it is not much wonder that the remaining 135 wineries are struggling, have grape surpluses and, in general, are having a hard time surviving from year to year. The true shame in all of this is that these smaller wineries continually make unique and interesting wines that most people are missing out on.

When people from other countries around the world hear about Ontario wine, or wine from Canada in general, they tend to look down on it thinking our table wines are awful tasting, of low quality and not worth wasting time on. At the other end of the scale they think our very pricey Icewines. Although Icewine is one of my personal favourites and I do have quite a few in my cellar, there is so much more to wine from our country than Icewine. With the next set of Olympics set to take place a year from now in Vancouver and Whistler area, you would think that this would be the perfect time to showcase just how great Canadian wine can be. Now, since the Olympics are in BC, then it does stand to reason that the Olympic Committee would choose a BC wine. Well, they did…SORT OF! There is a buzz going around the wine community, which we are trying to get the word out around here on about how The Official Wine of the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver/Whistler is actually one of these horrid “Cellared in Canada” wines. The winery making the official wine is one of the larger, conglomerate wineries who are only interested in making a profit and, in the meantime, it is damaging our industry in a variety of ways.

Cellared in Canada wines only require 30% of the content to be made from Canadian grapes. The remaining 70% comes from another country that is more than willing to cut a deal on their juice. Chile is one of the more commonly used countries in this scenario and, although Chile does make some great wines, you can be sure that they are not giving the good stuff away to us Canadians. Now, picture yourself as someone who is new to wine, living in Ontario and you want to try something new and exciting. So, you make a trip to your local LCBO, because you don’t realize you can actually go straight to the winery and get some really amazing wines that will never see the light of day on the shelves of the LCBO, and you see some wines that are much more “reasonably” priced than the other wines on the shelf. Since you are not interested in spending a lot of your hard earned money on something you may not like, you pick up the cheaper Cellared in Canada wine as opposed to wine made from 100% Ontario grapes. Now, you take that bottle of wine home, crack it open, and you can’t stand the taste of it. No biggie – it only cost you $10 anyway so down the drain it goes – but what kind of opinion do you now have of Canadian wines…NOT A GOOD ONE! The problem with this scenario is that you now think that all Canadian wine tastes like this and you are not overly inclined to try wines made by us, even though what you have just tasted was made up of 70% wine that came from ANOTHER COUNTRY! With situations like this, it is not much wonder that the Canadian wine industry is looked down upon for creating inferior table wines or overpriced Icewine.

So, how do we get around this? Well, if you live in Canada or if you are elsewhere around the world and see Cellared in Canada wine, there is a group of us who HIGHLY RECOMMEND that you boycott any wines whose label contains the words “Cellared In” or “Cellared By”. If you are part of the media – newspapers, magazines, blogs, TV or radio – use your voice. Our government needs to realize just how damaging this situation is to our farmers, our grape growers, our wineries and our PUBLIC IMAGE. Given the state of the economy in North America, we really cannot afford to keep up the practices that the Wine Content Act has forced upon us in the last ten years. Enough is enough – stand up for your country, your jobs and your way of life!
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