The discussion is no longer reserved for wine geeks and industry professionals. People are not just talking about wine law, they’re joining the band. The waves of interest may oscillate in the chatter of the public sector and the media, but the time gaps between are narrowing. Talk is no longer cheap. Canadians are speaking up. Restaurant owners are crying out. Farmers are the lead vocalists. Politicians are listening. The cause and the demand is agreed upon. The song remains the same. Free my grapes.
To the uninitiated, the ignorant and the critic, the love-in happening for Canadian wine right now seems slightly counter-culture. The songs may sound a bit Kumbaya-ish or like covers of Lennon and Harrison chants. Make no mistake about it, this is about the business of selling wine and Canadian wineries want a fair deal.
Grape growers and vintners in Canada have a really good thing going save for one small obstacle. Most provinces won’t allow wine lovers to have out of province wine shipped to them. Ontario is not only the largest producer and consumer of wine in Canada, their government is also the most powerful roadblock to free grapes. Will this ever change? I’ve touched on the subject before.
Related – Wine begins to flow across Canadian provinces and Free grapes of colour
The short answer is yes, if the current level of lobbying is any indication. Last night’s Ontario and B.C. Wine chats, the weekly Twitter/Internet discussion boards created and mediated by Shawn McCormick (Ont.) and Sandra Oldfield (B.C.) took the discourse to an entirely new level. There were many new voices on board. The debates centred on Bill 98, the movement of Free My Grapes and liquor review policy, from one government to the next. Bill 98 is a Private Members (MPP Rob Milligan) Bill that could this make it legal for Ontarians to order and have shipped out of province wines. The opposition members bill has PC support and the promising potential for the NDP to follow suit. Bill 98 entitled “An Act Respecting the Importation of Wine, Beer and Spirits from other Provinces” amends the Liquor Control Act to add a provision that permits individuals of legal age to import wine into Ontario from another province as long as it is for personal consumption only.” The bill has passed second reading, following on the heels of MP Dan Albas’ gains in British Columbia.
Last month Sandra Oldfield posted this essential list on her blog. Top 10 reasons to free my grapes. From a local perspective, allowing grapes to flow across the country increases support for farmers, promotes a Canadian wine culture and increases local tourism. Looking at it globally, changing liquor laws and knocking down pre-prohibition provincial walls would drag Canada out of the laughing-stock category in the world of wine-producing countries. There’s the rub. Critics agree that the deregulation of provincial monopolies and the addition of private liquor stores will not cause tax loss suffering. Oldfield goes so far as to suggest the idea of a flat tax should be investigated. She’s not wrong.
What is the truth of the matter? Does the Ontario government lack the courage to effect change over the LCBO? Is tax collection and the billions of dollars annually endowed from the LCBO to the Ontario government coffers the real issue? Are inflated, algorithmic wine and spirits mark-ups at the heart of the matter?
Regardless of the answer, ears are burning, e-mail is buzzing, letters to MPP’s are increasing and petitions are being signed. Kathleen Wynne is at the centre of the storm and her party can no longer avoid the rising tide of change. It’s simply time to get this done and move on to the matter of making and selling great wine. It’s time to focus on terroir, on soil, on somewhereness.
Just yesterday Ontario wine folks tasted through single vineyard blocks of Flat Rock Cellars Pinot Noir and celebrated the 25th anniversary of winemaking at Henry of Pelham. Why must Canadians continue to waste their time pleading for Canada’s provincial governments to free the grapes?
So, while everyone waits for the inevitable here at home, wine remains a global concern. The greatest redeeming quality of the all-powerful LCBO is in the VINTAGES releases. The coming weekend features some other love songs, six terrific buys highlighted here. There is one lonely, singular offer from British Columbia, the terrific Burrowing Owl Chardonnay 2011. Try it and spread the word. Free my grapes.
Fielding Estate Winery Riesling 2012 (251439, $18.95) as per the warm vintage humidifies in increased tropical soupçon. There is a feeling of creamy pineapple and mangosteen, nearly sherbet like, with an expedient and harmonizing lemon/granite boost. Frothy too and coconut feathery. Finishes pithy but not overly so. Complex Beamsville Riesling. 89 @FieldingWines @RichieWine
Featherstone Red Tail Merlot 2011 (13150, $19.95) is a carnival of red fruit, sans mask. Raspberry, plum and strawberry, pressed, flattened and rolled. Blueberry too – it’s a freakin’ berry party. Plum and red licorice sneak in for good measure. That said, why wouldn’t you want your Niagara Peninsula Merlot to smell like this? Very approachable, friendly, with tart acidity to wrap it up in a winning package. Do not look for anything serious here. 88 @featherstonewne
Henry of Pelham Cabernet-Merlot 2010 (395855, $24.95) is dug in deep, in pedigree, track record and potential. Mysterious, haunting, cave dwelling fruit. Burrows even deeper, with obvious espresso timber assistance. Balanced, structured and long. A classic H of P CM in the making, throwing muses like the ’98, that will show well to 2022. It’s true, it told me. “It tastes like water, but I’m drunk.” 90 @HenryofPelham
Caves Saint Desirat Saint Joseph 2010 (342980, $23.95) in her elegance and grace from the Northern Rhône is the Syrah to quench even the most desperate anadispic thirst. So lithe, so pretty strawberry, so effortless, so drinkable, so food-friendly. Nothing dramatic or overly exceptional here save for a singer-songwriter, Adamsian, heartfelt angst, but this Syrah is crushed with old school desire without being rustic or misunderstood. “With no secrets, no obsession.” Metal felt but not metallic. Just sit back and enjoy. 90
Journey’s End Shiraz 2007 (337642, $19.95) initiates serious sanguine Stellenbosch intimacy with dusty black cherry and black pepper. Hard to break, like the Northern Rhône, or even Syrah-heavy Châteauneuf-du-Pape but swirl and she will open up. Meaty, gamey, anise, metal-mineral fruit. Hedonistic and certainly clothed in heavy coat but there is an underlying velvet dignity here, though it has not yet shed its bacon baby fat. I would follow this highly complex and intriguing South African for five to 10 years. Already a few years in and not nearly at its peak. Has ancient experience in its blood. 92 @JourneysEndWine
Yabby Lake Vineyard Mornington Peninsula SV Pinot Noir 2010 (262402, $49.95) is imbued with alluring candied morning glory and ginger aromas. Tight, upright and above sweet suspicion. A front-runner for the genre, faintly painted in dawn pastels and flavoured by a puncheon of strawberry and rhubarb. “Tomorrow never knows what it doesn’t know too soon.” Statis Pinot Noir that is the oasis from the peninsula. 93 @YabbyLake
Good to go!