Buyers Guide to VINTAGES – Sept 15th, 2018

Retail Privatization is the Answer for Ontario Wine
By David Lawrason with notes from Sara d’Amato

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

VINTAGES September 15th “Bring Local Home” feature highlighting Ontario wines is a feel-good piece boasting “a plethora of fine Ontario wines – and the practices, places and people that make them uniquely our own.”

The plethora is twenty wineries (more than usual in a VINTAGES feature), and each is allotted one wine except for the new Lundy Manor in Niagara Falls which has two (bonus for the new kids). Within the twenty there are a wide variety of styles, appellations, personalities and qualities profiled. It is actually a fairly comprehensive if uncritical read, but in the end there are not many stellar buys to recommend.

As the LCBO is the major retailer for Ontario wine and an agency of government that must promote a wide range of Ontario wines from all wineries who want to be involved, we should be expecting no more or no less.

That same retailer must also satisfy – within finite shelf space – every consumer of every possible wine from regions around the world. So the Ontario wine industry can only hope, ever, to get a small percentage of the pie at the LCBO.

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Westcott Estate Pinot Noir 2013

This situation will not change until the LCBO is removed as a retailer, and niche private stores and supermarkets selling Ontario wine are allowed to flourish and clear their own path. We are nosing down that path, but we are not there yet.

(Note to Premier Doug Ford: corner stores are not the whole answer either – we also need critically knowledgeable private wine merchants selling the good stuff, of which there is plenty. Then watch Ontario wine take off.)

British Columbia has five retail streams (four of them private) selling B.C. wine. And the result is that B.C. wine is the largest selling regional wine within B.C., selling more than Italy, France or California. In Ontario, 100% Ontario grown VQA wine has less than 15% of the market, outsold by those same countries one on one.

I support government jurisdiction over product safety, minimum pricing, social responsibility messaging and tax collection and – If it can efficiently be handled – wholesale distribution (the Alberta model). But can we please just move on, open this up and let the real world of retailing steer the ship.

Let’s trust the good guys, come down hard on the bad guys, collect what government needs to collect taxation-wise, and let the buyers and sellers decide which wines we get to buy and in what quantities. The buying and selling of wine by a unionized agency of the government just has to go.

And the current Conservative government has agreed to this in principle by turning cannabis sales over to the private sector next April. I expect we will see movement on wine as well.  But please let’s just get it going.

In the mean time, I want to outline the non-LCBO options for purchasing Ontario wine that do already exist.

Most importantly you can hop into your car and drive to the wineries and buy whatever you want. Sounds like a good day trip or weekender to me. You are opened to a far broader selection than the LCBO could ever possibly carry and the wineries make way more money per bottle. Win, win.

Ontario wineries can also sell online and direct deliver anywhere in the province, but ordering less than a case or six-pack doesn’t make much financial sense. Many wineries have wine clubs. You can also order online through the LCBO with delivery to your home or to your nearest LCBO store.

In a small but growing number of supermarkets, you can buy Ontario wine from kiosks and in-aisle sections that are licensed to one of the larger companies but mandated to sell competitors VQA wines as well.

As much as I welcome the recent supermarket efforts of the former Wynne government and the campaign promises of the Ford government, neither go far enough. Retail privatization of wine sales is the holus-bolus answer, and it has always been so. The government needs to let it go.

I have included our team’s Ontario recommendations from the VINTAGES Sept 15 release below. There are some good to very good wines but most did not hit the magical quality/price ratio to become “Picks”. So I have supplemented the selection with some Ontario VINTAGES Essentials that are continuously available. I encourage you to get involved in purchasing Ontario wine beyond the LCBO this fall.


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And that is a wrap for this edition. The harvest is upon us in Ontario, hurricanes notwithstanding. It is a great time to visit our wineries and catch the vibe.

If heading to Prince Edward County by chance you need to check out newly opened Morandin Wines on the Loyalist Parkway at Greer Road neat Hillier. Chris Morandin’s debut County Sangreal Estate Vineyard Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir were a very pleasant surprise to the WineAlign team at a recent tasting.

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

Use these quick links for access to all of our Top Picks in the New Release. Non-Premium members can select from all release dates 30 days prior.

Lawrason’s Take
Szabo’s Smart Buys
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
Michael’s Mix

New Release and VINTAGES Preview