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VQA police order Calamus to remove Bordeaux from back label — two years after bottling! Really.


Some people have way too much time on their hands. Like the secret VQA police who prowl around the tasting rooms of Ontario wineries looking in every nook and cranny for horrible rules infractions that can ultimately result in a wine running afoul of regulations and possibly getting hauled off the shelves.

Take Calamus Estate Winery for example.

About a month ago, a woman came into Derek Saunders’ Calamus winery near Ball’s Falls in Vineland. It’s a beautiful spot, out of the way, and a nice getaway for wine lovers. The tasting room is small enough that you can’t just walk in without being noticed.

When Saunders asked the woman if she needed help, she introduced herself as being a VQA (the Vintner’s Quality Alliance of Ontario, which polices rules and regulations for 100% Ontario-made wines) compliance officer. She went about her business, clipboard in hand, and quietly left without saying much.

Saunders didn’t really think about it until he received an email from VQA two days ago.

CIMG5240The letter, which you can read to the left with the inspector’s name blacked out by me, informs Saunders that the “back label of this wine (the 2008 Calvin’s Cab) contains the words … a light Bordeaux style.”

The letter goes on to warn Saunders to make the appropriate changes to the label, to remove the word Bordeaux, as it is against VQA rules, within 30 days or it “may lead to further enforcement actions including an order suspending sales of the wine.”

Seriously? Really?

Calvin’s Cab 2008 was bottled May 6, 2010. It was sent to VQA testing in January (and passed) but the back label hadn’t yet been printed. It’s been selling at the winery for a year and half, is pretty much all gone now, and some bureaucrat wrote him up over a descriptive word that’s no bigger than 6-point on the back of a wine bottle.

The back label as originally labeled.
The back label as it's labeled now.

Is this a good use of someone’s time? Don’t you have bigger fish to fry? Instead of reading the backs of wine labels looking for the horrible crime of printing the word BORDEAUX as in a “light Bordeaux style” of wine that tells consumers (isn’t that who matters here?) exactly what they are getting in the bottle, why not go about the important work of a VQA inspector. Or is this the important work of a VQA inspector?

Yes, the word Bordeaux is now against the rules. Saunders says the rule came into effect in the interim between bottling and labeling, but I can’t find the exact date of the change anywhere on the VQA website. I did find reference to it in a December, 2010, VQA newsletter:

Reference to foreign appellations or wine regions to describe a VQA wine is prohibited under the VQA regulations. The use of European appellations in particular is also regulated under the Canada-EU Agreement on Wines and Spirits and through the Canada Trademarks Act. These prohibitions are very broad, and apply to use on wine labels and packaging and also to just about every type of media where a wine is described, such as websites, advertisements, shelf talkers etc. Try to avoid using descriptions such as “Bordeaux-style”, “Alsace-like”, “Burgundian” or any other term of origin except Ontario’s appellations to describe your wines. Including these terms on a label will result in a failure during the approval process and ancillary uses will likely lead to corrective action being requested.

It’s really not the point. The offending word is printed on the label, it’s against the rules, we all know that.

Would a better option for this inspector have been to simply tell Saunders, or ask him while she was already there, if he knew about the label “mistake?” And how can we rectify the situation?

Is an official letter to comply within 30 days or face further drastic measures really necessary? That’s just heavy-handed and everything that’s wrong when bureaucracies are given the power over others.

As mentioned earlier, Calvin’s Cab 2008, is pretty much sold out. It wasn’t even a wine that was sold in the LCBO, only to people coming through the winery and eating at restaurants.

Saunders now is stuck in his office, black felt pen in hand, scratching the word “Bordeaux” out from each and every bottle he has left.

So, instead of it reading: A light Bordeaux style, it now reads: “A light style.”

How silly.