Wine Cellaring in Canada:
The Wine Labeling Dispute
The Wine Labeling Dispute
By Keith Watt, Morning Bay Vineyard
So what is all this "Cellared in Canada" dispute about anyway?
Every country has imported wines that are "made" by larger vintners in that country. Canada does too. Big wineries such as Jackson Triggs, Mission Hill and Peller Estates have for many years imported wine by the boatload and sold it as "Product of Canada."
(Small wineries like Morning Bay must produce only wine from 100% BC grapes according to our licence. It is quite a disadvantage as foreign fruit can often be purchased for as low as $100 per tonne while if I grow or buy BC fruit it's going to cost between $2000 and $4000 per tonne. However I love BC fruit and wouldn't want it any other way, as long as my opposition has to be truthful with their labeling.)
The people's wine-seller, the BCLDB, aka "BC Liquor Stores," have been complicit in this deception, selling this wine in its stores under big BC banners, suggesting that if you buy these wines you're supporting the BC wine industry. The BCLDB also prominently supports the Vintner's Quality Alliance (VQA) program, which does guarantee 100% BC fruit (more on the VQA in another column). But many small wineries like Morning Bay choose not to be part of the VQA program because of the cost and the unfairness of the approval process. (It is, again, dominated by the big wineries.)
Most buyers assume that if you buy the "cellared in Canada" wines--the labels are brands such as Naked Grape, Wild Horse Canyon, Mission Ridge, Sawmill Creek, Jackson Triggs (white label), Sonoran Ranch and others--you are buying BC wine, wine that was grown and vinted in BC. Unfortunately neither is true. These wines are made from wine grown and vinted in Argentina, Chile and other foreign lands, earning their "cellared in..." moniker for the scant weeks spent in the tank before they're bottled and loosed upon an unsuspecting public clamoring for BC wine.
Different provinces have different regulations for the "cellared in..." product. In Ontario, "cellared in..." products allow a maximum of 70% imported wines, with up to 20% water and a minimum (in good harvest years) of 10% Ontario fruit. In fact in past poor years, "cellared in" products were allowed up to 99% foreign wine.
BC is bound by no such home-grown enthusiasm. BC "cellared in Canada" wines do not need to include even a drop of BC wine.
It is true that these large wineries are doing the drinking public a favour. They acquire what they feel are quality bulk wines and bring them to Canada at very low prices. That leaves those of us who buy these wines with more money for necessities such as shoes for the kids. And if Canadian wineries didn't do it, that market share would go to some foreign winery. It's the misleading labeling I protest. You have to have your magnifiers with you to see where it says "cellared in Canada." And Jackson Triggs actually has two product lines with identical labels except the colour scheme. The white labels are "cellared" product; the black labels are actually grown here.
For the most part these deceptions have been small beer, but they reached the peak of mendacity and cynicism this year when Jackson Triggs, the official vintner of the 2010 0Iympics, released their "Spirit" wines, drinks designed to celebrate Vancouver's 2010 Olympics. Lo and behold, all the first "Spirit" releases were "cellared in Canada" products--cheap plonk imported from overseas to create profit for Jackson Triggs (incidentally JT is owned by Constellation Brands, the world's biggest booze company) and, we assume, for Canada's Olympic team, once the bills were paid to the offshore vintners. Realizing their error, JT has since relased a full line of "Spirit" wines which actually were grown in BC.
This is where this story gets fun because instead of being deified for raising money for the Canadian Olympic Team, JT is now being vilified as a fraudulent importer and a sullier of the BC wine industry. This is public relations gone badly wrong.
And that's all this dispute is really about. If foreign vintners are buying cheap plonk and bringing it into the BC market, then Canadian vintners should be allowed to do the same. It makes sense that jobs go to Canadian winery workers. Just be honest about your labeling.
I was in New Zealand several years ago and saw this in action. New Zealand faces many of the same impediments that BC does--high wages, cooler climate therefore smaller crops, etc. Their big wineries import wine to compete in the lower price brackets the same as Canadian wineries do. But right there on the front of the bottle in large letters it reads "made from grapes from New Zealand and Chile." No "cellared in New Zealand" in six-point script buried in a paragraph on the back of the label, just clear, plain language in plain sight on the front label. Now that's truth in advertising.
But let's face it: that's not about to happen in BC. Why? Because the BC wine industry is in the control of the BC Liquor Stores, the people's wine-seller. And BCLS is big. We're talking about the third biggest booze buyer in the world, and working with small wineries is a time-wasting bother to them. They need the business of the big boys--Mission Hill, Peller Estates, and, the biggest of the bigs, Vincor, owner of Jackson Triggs, See Ya Later, Inniskillen, N'Kmip, and others--in other words the brands who make money from "cellared in Canada" wines. In other words, don't hold your breath until they all come clean.
What can you do? Look at the fine print. If you see "cellared in Canada," you know it isn't BC fruit. In a restaurant, ask your server. But don't take their word for it because many don't know. Ask to see the bottle. If it says " cellared in Canada," politely inform them that it is NOT Canadian wine and that you would appreciate more truthful labeling. Then, and only then, will we find out what is actually in the bottle
Keith Watt is owner and winemaker at Morning Bay Vineyard on Pender Island.