It’s cucumber time and the living is silly
The Final Blend
by Anthony Gismondi
While I’m recovering from the National Wine Awards and enjoying some of the sunshine, there are a few loose ends, or better yet, bin ends, running through my mind. It’s mid-summer in Canada and for a change this year we have the weather to prove it. In fact, the drought has been so intense in southern Ontario wine country, Vineland grower/winemaker Brian Schmidt made the ultimate sacrifice and removed the fruit from his four-year-old Legacy cabernet franc vineyard to prevent the young vines from expiring, trying to ripen fruit in a bone dry environment.
In the Okanagan Valley, another warm spring and an early bud break pointed to a record early harvest in the West but a change in weather and a fair bit of rain has cooled expectations literally and figuratively. That said, veraison is well underway, suggesting another year where the harvest window is going to peak earlier than normal.
In Vancouver, Burgundy winemaker Philippe Pacalet, who makes natural wines, was explaining to a youthful room of sommeliers how he used to harvest his pinot noir in mid-October. These past years he has been forced to pick his fruit at the height of the warm summer season in August. Those dates would have been something unimaginable to Burgundy producers only a quarter century ago.
It would seem the ancient clones and vineyard selections of Pacalet’s forefathers may have to change to survive and be productive in a warmer environment. Burgundy crop levels are falling due to warmer winters, and the vines that never really go dormant are subject to additional risks that a cold winter would eliminate. In what sounds like heresy, Pacalet may need new pinot noir clones better suited to the changing conditions. If Burgundy is to adapt to the new climate they will need local researchers to develop more clones suited to a warmer future.
Yet after all the talk of change, Pacalet warns that a traditional Burgundy vintage, “Is the way the wine is dressed; it’s not the point.” I love the way the Burgundians see the soul of wine although some days I’m not so sure they see the massive amount of energy and effort the competition is expending to catch up. No one can stand still, not even in the midst of summer holidays.
They say that summer is the silly season, and it would appear some of Canada’s provincial Premiers decided to pile-on regarding the free trade of wine across Canada by suggesting that they would make Canadian wine, from outside “their” provinces, available online, through some newly minted portal on their monopoly websites.
I think we can say free trade in Canadian wine, or any wine for that matter, across Canada is officially dead. I’ve come to the conclusion that wine isn’t that important to Canadians or they wouldn’t put up with a suffocating monopoly system that appears to exist to extract gobs of money out of every bottle of wine. After stalling for four years, literally ignoring a federal ruling to allow Canadian wine be traded freely across the country, some provincial monopolies want to run Canadian wine from outside their fiefdoms through the monopoly gauntlet and generate another level of income. I’m guessing the “Free My Grapes” folks were not counting on another layer of taxes and handling when they lobbied for the free movement of Canadian wine. I’m sure David Lawrason will have much more on this topic and be keeping a close eye on proceedings in his monthly Canadian Wine Report.
Conversely, there does appear to be a light at the end of the monopoly tunnel with the announcement that the LCBO will start selling wine on-line and have it shipped to your local store, or right to you home using Canada Post. To re-jig a Home Hardware jingle, it’s government workers helping government workers.
Jingles aside, it’s a good idea for so many reasons and better late than never. Monopolies can access just about any wine in the world if they want to and with a little practice and work they should be able to satisfy the ten percent of the market that causes them 80 percent of all complaints. If you can order wine, especially wines not available at the LCBO and have them shipped to your home or a nearby store, that would end most of the issues wine lovers have with the monopoly. The same goes for restaurants. If there is a reasonable timeline here, it is going to be a home run.
Price will always be an issue, but often price is less important than availability and access at the higher end of the market. In any event, the over-sugared, junk blends that pass as wine and that currently dominate store shelves will still be sold in monopoly stores, so everybody wins. One of the advantages of being a government monopoly is you get to make the rules, so we do not foresee any regulatory problems relating to online sales that are currently faced by any other retailers.
As for Canadian wine sales, always a big issue with monopolies, there is no reason not to make every provincial wine available online. That should satisfy local producers by giving them access to the entire market as long as they can come up with a price that works for everyone. By the way, as a Canadian citizen and a lover of all wines, I would have no objection to being able to order any wine online in Ontario, Quebec or Alberta or anywhere in Canada for that matter and having it shipped to my home via Canada Post. But then that is probably just wishful thinking.
It may be just a coincidence, but the shift to online sales perfectly aligns with a recent Wine Intelligence report about Online Retail & Communication in the Chinese Market 2016, where the WI reports “49% of Chinese urban upper-middle class wine drinkers now shop for wine on the internet, making the country the world’s largest and fastest-growing e-commerce market for wine with approximately 21 million online wine buyers.”
Finally, while Canadian monopolies continue to search for new sources of revenue they may get some help from a new industry they could never imagine may inject $100 billion into the worldwide liquor business. It’s been suggested that in the not too distant future the rise of driverless cars and car-sharing will make a large impact on liquor sales in restaurants, bars and clubs.
In a Business Insider report, Morgan Stanley was suggesting “Shared and autonomous vehicle technology [could] help address the mutual exclusivity of drinking and driving in a way that can significantly enhance the growth rate of the alcohol market and on-trade sales at restaurants. After calculating current global alcohol consumption and its monetary value, and compared with estimated figures under the impact of car-sharing and driverless cars the analysts found that the booze market could get an extra $98 billion.
We did say it’s the silly season, or as they say in many countries, cucumber time. I’ll take my cucumber in a cocktail on the patio please. Back to more serious, maybe even complicated, wine thoughts next edition.