This is an open letter to Jancis Robinson, wine critic from London, who writes in the Financial Times today (Saturday, May 29) about the Cool Chardonnay event that took place in London a couple of weeks ago.
Let me start by saying: Oh. My. God. The Canadian wine industry is not in turmoil, not by a long shot. It has never been stronger, has never made better wine and has never been more popular with the consumers of this country.
Canada, like just about every other wine country in the world, blends foreign grapes with domestic grapes to produce a product that sells like hotcakes in the cheap aisles of our liquor and wine stores. Here we call that Cellared in Canada.
Those wines are all under $10 a bottle and made by the big wine companies in Canada â€” mainly Vincor (an American owned company) and Peller. They are made to compete with the cheap imports that flood into this country (and I presume yours, as well) from places like Chile, France, Argentina, Australia and on and on.
These companies are allowed to blend foreign juice with a percentage of Canadian juice and sell them as a Cellared in Canada product in the government-run liquor stores and their own retail outlets.
Just over half of the grapes grown in Ontario go into those wines (which tells us that a lot of people like the wine and the price) and, we can assume, that keeps a lot of people employed in the grape and wine industry in Canada.
Wineries in Canada cannot compete in the under-$10 wine category with our domestic grapes. Great strides have been made to make a decent drop of wine in the $12-$15 range but that’s far too expensive for the larger community of wine drinkers who enjoy a glass of wine but have a limit of $10 and don’t care who made it or how it was blended.
So, instead of letting cheap foreign wines devour the marketplace here, some wine companies compete with those sales by combining ripe, juicy, and, most importantly, cheap juice from other countries with a percentage Ontario grapes. And why not? Our shelves are full of foreign wines blended with the juice from countries other than where the wine originates. It’s like open season and if you arrive too late you’re going to lose shelve space to a wine made in another country.
Thankfully, all those cheap blended wines have been moved away from the VQA aisle at the LCBO and they are clearly marked for what they are: A domestic-foreign blended wine. I think that most of us here are happy with that the change and can live with it. Our goal is not to put half the grape growers in this province out of work. You don’t believe for one minute that after we kill the CIC industry in Canada that all of sudden we’ll have fabulous under-$10 VQA wines, do you?
That’s not going to happen. We can’t make good cheap red wine. We don’t have the climate or the vineyards for that and likely never will.
A headline such as yours on the FT website â€” Canadian wine â€” from bottom to top â€” does not do justice to our industry here. You are talking about apples and oranges.
We have a quality VQA industry that has nothing to do with CIC. I don’t see the same articles about France and the U.S. and the blending they do as a preface into the next great Bordeaux or Napa Valley vintage.
You do our industry a disservice when you write a nice long article presumably about our wonderful chardonnays with a preface that dominates the piece about the evils of domestic wine blending and how our industry is in “turmoil” because of CIC and the squabbling between the wine council, big wineries and grape growers. Come on, let’s move on. We have.
Thank-you for enjoying our Chardonnays in London. We appreciate your thoughts on our cool-climate wines. It’s important for us to show them off to such an influential critic and get your feedback.
For that, we are grateful.