When you head to Niagara’s marquee Vintages store this weekend on Glendale Ave. in St. Catharines you will notice something big and shiny and new.
One of three Our Wine Country destination boutiques (the others are in Niagara Falls and Windsor) was unveiled Thursday at a glitzy ceremony that brought a boatload of LCBO honchos and Niagara wine royalty together for the big reveal.
It’s perfect timing. The new boutique inside the LCBO location coincides with the largest release of Ontario wines this Saturday (for my picks from the release, go here).
I was there on Thursday to check out the much-ballyhooed redesign but couldn’t stay for the speeches.
I have to say that a lot of thought and money went into the redesign of the boutique that comes with an impressive collection of wines.
The Our Wine Country boutique boasts over 500 different Ontario wines for sale, the largest selection by far in the province. The wines are divided into a red and white section and then by varietal or blend.
As well, there is a refrigerated section for chilled wines, an aisle for big format and gift packages, an icewine section and a rack with rare and Vintages Ontario wines.
The LCBO says that showcasing and promoting Ontario wines is part of its plan to strengthen the economy and help create new opportunities for jobs and growth.
Said Charles Sousa, Ontario minister of finance: “Our government is committed to enhancing and supporting the province’s wine industry. These new stores will give smaller wineries increased access to larger markets while promoting the best wines Ontario has to offer.”
Some facts about the new St. Catharines boutique:
• The boutique features more than 500 Ontario VQA listings chosen from leading wineries.
• The boutique in St. Catharines is the largest-to-date at 1,004 square feet and is a full-corner concept space with icewine features and chilled wines.
• The interiors of the Our Wine Country boutiques are designed to reflect the relaxed look and feel of elements from a weathered harvest barn, creating a distinct shopping environment that emulates a visit to wine country.
• Simplified fixtures consist of white-washed, quarter-cut oak with contrasting vanilla surfaces and charcoal metal detailing. Open ceilings with suspended honey-stained, rough sawn oak baffles create a roof effect and flooring consists of planked porcelain tiles in weathered tones of sand, taupe and grey.
• For local wine and food pairings and samplings, there is a tasting table with anchored seating that has the look and feel of the family kitchen. A large digital screen will also display video and still images of Ontario wine country.
• Three World of Ontario Wine (WOW) leaders – specialists in Ontario wine – are available to assist customers.
• Wines in the section are organized by varietal instead of region with internally illuminated white and red wine wall sections.
Now, not to rain on the LCBO’s parade, but a skeptic might be suspicious of the motives of the government monopoly at the energy going into these new boutiques.
Only a fool would believe that all of this renewed interest from the LCBO for local wine isn’t being partially driven by the growing calls for privatization of the antiquated monopoly.
I have seen some questions raised as to the location of these boutique so close to wine country. Michael Pinkus says in his Ontario Wine Review that it’s silly to put these new stores in areas where there already is access to Ontario wines. How about Toronto or Ottawa instead, he argues.
For me, I would argue that wine country is a good place to start. If I were given a licence to open up a private VQA store my first choice would be right in the middle of Niagara.
In B.C. the first VQA wine shop was placed in the middle of the Okanagan Valley. It was the first and last stop I made when I visited regularly during trips from Calgary. You just can’t make it to every winery in Niagara on a quick weekend trip, so a visit to a store that has over 500 wines is a good idea, in my opinion.
Placing it in downtown Toronto is no bargain. We just don’t have the same buy-in in Ontario for local wines as they do in B.C.
Enjoy this love from the LCBO as they pour energy and cash into the Ontario wine movement. They will not give way to even a sniff of privatization without a fight.
But, for all the LCBO is doing or will do in the future to convince consumers it is the right choice for Ontarians, it will never by enough to convince me that the private sector can’t do better.
It’s plain and simple: Government should not be in the retail business. Other provinces have realized this and are making dramatic changes. They are modernizing their out-dated monopoly models and making way for the future.
The future is coming, LCBO. The future is coming.
But, hey, thanks for at least trying.