Cellared in Canada: big bottlers move to stem growing outrage

Over the last few weeks, pressure had been building nationally and internationally, concerning the deceptive Cellared in Canada wines. These inexpensive bottles, made by the country’s major wine bottlers, give a Canadian aura to blends made totally (or almost) from foreign wine brought in bulk to this country from Chile, Australia or elsewhere.

Last month, articles in The Economist, abroad, and the Vancouver Sun, nationally, were added to a long list of features by Jancis Robinson, Wine Spectator and French industry site Vitisphère, all criticizing the confusion between truly Canadian wine and foreign plonk. A half-hour segment on CBC’s The Current also contributed strongly to the debate by catching Andrew Peller president John Peller in a web of his own contradictions about the clarity (or lack thereof) of CiC labelling. While Peller insisted that the labels were clear, and that all relevant information was clearly stated, a string of LCBO consumer interviews at the end of the segment showed all of them surprised, if not angry, at learning that what they thought was Ontario wine was something else altogether. They certainly thought it was confusing and deceptive. And so did Anthony Gismondi, as he stated in a solid piece also published in the Vancouver Sun.

Facing growing public resentment, as well as growing pressure from the BC government, big bottlers Vincor and Peller met with the Vancouver Sun on Thursday to explain that they were planning changes to the labels and presentation of the wines. While Vincor president Eric Morham and Andrew Peller president John Peller insisted they never meant to mislead the public (then why all the small print on the labels, the incredible similarities between some brands’ VQA and CiC labels?), but that they are hearing the feedback and are working on new label designs.

One reason for the move might be explained by the BC government’s changing attitude towards the confusion:

In a separate interview, Rich Coleman, minister responsible for the Liquor Distribution Branch, said the LDB is on-side with the changes in marketing the wines.

“I have already told our guys to look at how it is displayed in the stores. It will be fixed.”

Coleman said Vincor, which is an official Olympic supplier, told him its Cellared in Canada wines should be re-labeled before the 2010 games begin, a sensitive issue for both the government and the winery

Here’s hoping that not only the labeling will be re-done, but also that Vincor will focus on actual Canadian wines, in its Olympic promotion, instead of products like the Cellared in Canada Esprit wine. The Olympics will be a great opportunity to showcase Canadian wine to the world, not compromise its credibility by blurring boundaries.

At this point, the decisions seem to affect only British Columbia, but it would seem normal that they should apply to Ontario as well. On Friday afternoon, I tried to reach spokespeople for Peller, Vincor and Mission Hill (in this last case, to see if the company would follow suit with the two others), to confirm whether or not Ontario is also concerned, but received no reply. I’ll follow up when I get more details about the proposed changes from the concerned parties.

One person who did reply is Seaton McLean, co-owner of Closson Chase Vineyards in Prince Edward County. Mr McLean, who has been speaking out in public – and working behind the scene – against the present Cellared in Canada situation, welcomed the new position by Peller and Vincor as “good news”, while pointing out in his e-mail message that the labels weren’t the only question at hand:

“However, there are many other fundamental elements of the Ontario Wine Industry that are dysfunctional and the clear labelling of CIC wines is just the tip of the iceberg.  So, we’ll see what happens next week and fingers crossed that it will be significant.  If there is no decrease in the 70% Chilean content a lot of Ontario growers will have a tough time surviving.  I hope that the CIC guys ultimately see how they could make themselves appear to be good citizens if they went ahead and committed to buying the aprox. 8,000 tonnes of grapes that are unsold and will make a wonderful photo op hanging there, dying on the vines, while 50,000 tonnes arrives from Chile.”

Indeed, it’s hard to see how Cellared in Canada wines wouldn’t be having a negative effect on the wine growers of Ontario, who are facing considerable drops in prices and uncertainty about the intentions o buyers, as a Globe and Mail pointed out on Friday. Increasing the amount of Canadian wine in the blended wines would seems like it could be a favorable option (content of Ontario grapes can be as low as 10%, contrary to what the Globe piece says). Especially since Vincor and Peller, while looking to improve the labels, seem to want to hang on to the word “Canada” in what is essentially a foreign product. According to the Vancouver Sun piece:

[Vincor president Eric] Morham produced mock-up labels that Vincor is considering for its Sawmill Creek brand that state in large print on the front of the bottle the origin of the wine. One option states “International Canadian Blend”. The other, “Cellared in Canada.”

Shouldn’t using the word Canada should mean having a majority of Canadian content? In any case, I find it hard to see why the bottlers would want to hang on to CiC, which has been garnering so much negative attention. Time to start fresh, and give straight answers, guys.

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9 Comments

  1. Posted October 3, 2009 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    Cellared in Algeria for purchase by the French then sold to the Americans as French Wine?

    sounds very familiar… and I’ll bet there was a Hedge Fund set up to bet AGAINST the market when this story really breaks open.

  2. Posted October 3, 2009 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

    Buyer beware or in this case consumer beware. Don’t think for a moment this does not happen in other countries. When the 1 litre screwcapped Kressmann wines became very popular there was not enough French wine to fill the bottles.In order to keep up with the demand wine from Algeria and eastern Europe was added into the mix. Have a look at my post on this subject. As usual the media likes to blow things out of proportion.
    http://wwpress.blogspot.com

  3. winecase
    Posted October 3, 2009 at 10:33 pm | Permalink

    The fact that the same thing happened elsewhere doesn’t make it less problematic. I don’t think the media are blowing this out of proportion at all. I think it actually took everyone a long time to catch up to the actual situation and get a sense of the difficulties it is creating for both consumers and wine growers.

  4. Posted October 3, 2009 at 11:55 pm | Permalink

    Difficulty for growers? Admittedly so. Difficulty for consumers? Nah, they don’t have to buy it. They do because it is in a price range they want to shop at. And that can be a whole other topic on why Canadian wines aren’t competing with other world wine regions.

  5. winecase
    Posted October 4, 2009 at 12:16 am | Permalink

    It is a difficulty for consumers, Mr Krutzmann: you can tell by the number of people who are incensed when they find out they weren’t getting what they thought they were getting. A LOT of consumers wind up buying CiC wines because the labels lead them to think they are actually Canadian wines. Check the end of the segment by The Current, you’ll hear what I mean.

    If the labelling and the name given to these wines were clear, and consumers actually knew what they were getting, and they still bought them, there wouldn’t be a problem. Then, consumers buying what is currently called Cellared in Canada would, indeed, be basing their choice on a price range.

  6. Posted October 4, 2009 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    You are obviously talking to a different group of consumers than I am. This story originally broke here in BC. When I talk to wine drinkers out here asking them if they know this is not a BC wine they are drinking, I get an ‘Oh’ and a shrug of the shoulder.The problem is more Ontario based with the wine content act changing on a regular basis. Since 2001 only a minimum of 30% Ontario grapes is needed and 70% of imported product is allowed in CIC wines.

  7. Posted October 4, 2009 at 10:06 am | Permalink

    I work at a small wine store in Westfield, NJ named CoolVines. Not a day passes that someone doesn’t ask for the IceWines from BC. What can I say to them? No I cannot get the REAL icewines FROM BC… but I can get the other Canadian stuff from Quebec.. it just doesn’t taste the same.

  8. winecase
    Posted October 4, 2009 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

    The story has been written about for quite a while, well before the Vancouver Sun piece last month.

    I started writing about it two years ago, and there were already articles denouncing the situation:

    http://winecase.wordpress.com/2007/08/17/what-is-a-canadian-wine/

    True, some consumers shrug at this, but many, many others buy them and – rightly – feel they have been deceived. With truly clear labelling, those who want to buy Canadian will know what they’re getting, and those who shrug will know what they’re shrugging at.

  9. winecase
    Posted October 4, 2009 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

    You should have no problem finding icewine from both Ontario and British Columbia (VQA, from 100% local grapes) in New Jersey. Brands like Inniskillin, Mission Hill, Jackson-Triggs, Château des Charmes and Magnotta are pretty widely distributed, as a quick search on http://www.wine-searcher.com will tell you.

    There is a little icewine being made in Quebec, but what you are likely getting is ice cider, made from frozen apples instead of frozen grapes. That would easily explain why it doesn’t taste the same. Though it is just as good and does wonders with foie gras, smoked salmon or apple, pear or almond desserts.

2 Trackbacks

  1. [...] Cellared in Canada: big bottlers move to stem growing outrage « The Wine Case winecase.wordpress.com/2009/10/03/cellared-in-canada-big-bottlers-move-to-stem-growing-outrage – view page – cached Over the last few weeks, pressure had been building nationally and internationally, concerning the deceptive Cellared in Canada wines. These inexpensive bottles, made by the country’s major… (Read more)Over the last few weeks, pressure had been building nationally and internationally, concerning the deceptive Cellared in Canada wines. These inexpensive bottles, made by the country’s major wine bottlers, give a Canadian aura to blends made totally (or almost) from foreign wine brought in bulk to this country from Chile, Australia or elsewhere. (Read less) — From the page [...]

  2. [...] Last week, Vincor and Peller moved to stem the growing turmoil surrounding Cellared in Canada wines, these mostly-foreign blends that have been insistently sold by their bottlers as Canadian products. Since then, things have kept on moving quickly. According to a Canadian Press article, British Columbia’s Agriculture minister, Steve Thompson, stated that CiC wines were to be moved out of the BC wine section of BC Liquor Distribution Branch store (where they had no business in the first place). The particulars of the repositioning are being left to the BCLDB, however. [...]

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