On the Brink of Privatization: Retail Bottle Shops Emerge in Ontario

Special Report: An Op-ed and Guide to Bottle Shops

By Sara d’Amato

Without many of us even noticing, privately-owned bottle shops have been quietly opening across Ontario. The reality of the privatized retail sale of alcohol has come to a head and its emergence is due to a perfect storm of conditions, with the pandemic as its catalyst. In an effort to support restaurants suffering due to spasmodic lockdowns, the government of Ontario initiated the “to-go” program in 2020, allowing for the take-out and delivery of alcoholic beverages with an accompanying food order. A government news release at the time stated: “The Ontario government is supporting jobs at local restaurants, bars, breweries, wineries and distilleries during the COVID-19 pandemic by expanding opportunities in alcohol sales, including making the sale of alcohol with food takeout and delivery orders permanent.”

This permissive action has allowed licensed restaurants, agents (with caveats), private entrepreneurs and sommeliers to become part of the retail wine sales game in Ontario. Two other important circumstances are in play at this very moment. The first is the introduction by the LCBO of a new wholesale discount of 20 percent available to licensed restaurants and agents on beer, wine and liquor. As restauranteurs and agents will tell you, this is long time coming as Ontario has been a hold-out province in Canada in terms of any significant wholesale pricing. Second is the LCBO’s removal of half of the VINTAGES collection in-stores. VINTAGES selections are LCBO products that are purchased in smaller lots, generally from producers with limited production and are sold in a reserved section of select LCBO stores. These are the wines that have long been the preoccupation for us WineAlign critics. These select bi-monthly releases of largely higher quality, smaller-lot products are now being given limited shelf space, as their forum is being slowly transitioned to on-line availability. There are pros and cons to this move, but for now, understand that the confluence of these key events has opened the doors for privatization in Ontario. With the emergence of bottle shops, consumers can expect a greater selection from curated collections in Ontario. LCBO is no longer your only outlet for retail sales of wine.

Covid Measures Make Way for Privatization in Ontario

In 2019, prior to the pandemic, the Ford government made amendments to the liquor control act. If you remember, the Ford government campaigned on the retail privatization of alcohol. They began to set up framework that conceived of a time in the future where they would redefine the sphere of retail alcohol. Yet, in those 2019 amendments, the Ford government didn’t make any significant changes to who could play in that retail alcohol space. One can only speculate that this was due to time constraints and that these changes had to be put off until the next election. Regardless of the cause, the onset of the pandemic in 2020 allowed the Provincial government a more immediate access route to change retail alcohol sales than through legislation. Through emergency orders, the government temporarily enabled take-out of alcohol from bars and restaurants in early 2020. Other temporary policies that were also introduced as a relief to the hospitality sector included the sale of alcohol with take-out and delivery, patio extensions for restaurants, as well as the reduction of minimum pricing requirements for spirits sold as part of a takeout order. Then, in July, Ontario began to allow app-based delivery services to work with alcohol retailers to deliver their product to any privately-owned location. In December of 2020, those emergency orders became regulatory provisions that allowed the continuation of take-out alcohol sales through bars and restaurants. Further changes took effect as of January 1, 2021, by the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO), which made many of these changes more permanent.

Whether or not the Ford government realized it at the time, allowing take-out alcohol sales from restaurants and bars was a revolution from the perspective of Ontario liquor laws. Ontarians could now, for the first time, buy beer or wine for home, from somewhere other than the LCBO, the Beer Store, or a major grocery store chain.[1] In a pandemic-induced effort to help the hard-hit hospitality sector, the government had opened the door to privatized retail of alcohol, but hasn’t fully stepped through the portal.

[1] Or the Wine Rack or other winery-owned stores that operate under special licenses only available to wineries, and that were only available for a brief period in Ontario’s history and have not been issued for years.

Ben Somers, co-owner of Bossanova, says: “They’ve made those changes and made incremental changes to those changes along the way. I don’t think we’re at the evolved final step yet. They are changing a hundred years’ worth of regulatory environment. Whether you support the Ford government or not, they seem to have been progressive with respect to alcohol sales provisions in the province.”

Presently in Ontario, there is no dedicated “bottle shop” license that can be obtained for the sale of alcohol, but due to the loosening of restrictions over the pandemic, businesses licensed to sell alcohol as a bar or restaurant are permitted to sell wine to the public. Because food requirements are minimal, this means that, with the right licenses in place, you can essentially run a bottle shop. But the regulations and amendments weren’t drafted with bottle shops in mind, so there is a bit of a square-peg-in-a-round-hole feel to some of the hoops shop owners need to jump through.

Another avenue to opening a bottle shop in Ontario is available to wine agents. Wine Agents are businesses that have a license to import and sell wine to licensees (restaurants, hotels) as well as to the public. WineAlign subscribers may remember that, in 2020, we began running both a restaurant relief case campaign, as well as multiple campaigns in partnership with wine agents, who primarily sold their wine to restaurants, that allowed them the ability to sell their own curated, mixed cases through our

WineAlign Exchange program. (Details on how the WineAlign Exchange program functions can be found here.) This WineAlign “channel” for restaurants and wine agents to sell to the public was only a temporary relief measure. When restaurants could begin selling their own products with the “to-go” program and agents were permitted to sell mixed cases of their own later that year, this initiative ended. Now that wine agents can sell mixed cases of their own, combining their agent’s license with a Liquor Sales License from the AGCO essentially permits them to set up a retail space to sell their own wine to the public. A wine agency license is not a requirement to set up a bottle shop. A strong will, a relationship with wine agents and a Liquor Sales License from the AGCO will do the trick. Still, it is not an easy feat as the retail sale of alcohol in Ontario is still rather uncharted territory, but the market has spoken, and as a result, greater regulations and direction are sure to follow. The upcoming provincial election may have an impact on the future path of the retail sale of alcohol but given that many businesses will have become established by that point, a roll-back of the current policies seems unlikely.

“I think that this is the most under-discussed, biggest, and most impactful change to the archaic LCBO/AGCO laws since, I don’t know, when was sliced bread invented?! And I think that guests still don’t understand what a big win this is,” says Sips co-owner Heather MacDougall. As you’ll see from the experiences detailed below, retail bottle shops have not been easy to establish, but this is a battle that the entrepreneurs I spoke with feel was worth the journey. Change feels imminent in Ontario. We’re primed for privatization and Ontario entrepreneurs are looking to explore this new avenue of retail sales.

The Role of Grocery Stores

Having the ability to bring home a bottle of wine and a case of beer from the grocery store is undeniably convenient, but what will change given the new exploratory climate for retail sales of alcohol in Ontario?

Let’s start with the numbers. There are about 450 grocery stores in Ontario that are licensed to sell beer, and of those, 150 are also permitted to sell wine. (Consumers can search for those stores here.) The Ontario government passed this legislation late in 2015 and, in doing so, may have been hoping to appease consumers who were anxious for the privatization of alcohol sales in Ontario. Yet, this was not real privatization by any stretch. Grocery stores are still required to choose wines from a permitted list that is made up of general list LCBO selections. On the plus side, self-curated Ontario wines may be sold at grocery stores with proper licenses as long as the Ontario wineries have submitted their wines for listing on the “grocery catalogue”. In some cases, the 164 Arterra-owned Wine Rack or the Peller-owned The Wine Shop stores were simply moved into the grocery aisles, causing transparency issues for consumers.

Moving forward, could further regulatory changes allow grocery stores to become competitive wine retailers with more freedom to import and sell? Toronto sommelier and co-owner of Praise bottle shop, Will Predhomme, thinks that competition from grocery stores is coming due to the new wholesale discount and loosening of regulations. “Now you have the ability to create a margin, so I think you’ll find that we’ll be competing with grocery because now all of a sudden they’ve added 20 percent on to the 3 percent [margin] they were making. Now it’s something viable. That’s something we [private bottle shop owners] need to look at because, why are you going to come to us?”

LCBO’s Shifting Focus and the Pros and Cons of Privatization

None of the many bottle shop entrepreneurs I spoke with for this article were under the delusion that they were in competition with the LCBO. They see themselves as taking advantage of an opportunity to play a part in the retail alcohol space in the gaps left by the LCBO. Even if competition were a consideration, the playing field is not exactly level. As a long-standing monopoly, the LCBO has regulatory influence and advantages, and is not subject to many of the requirements that are imposed on licensed retailers (like having to sell food with any order).

Part of the catalyst for the development of bottles shops in Ontario has been the changing landscape at the LCBO. The pandemic has forced the retail alcohol monopoly to switch gears to deal with rapidly changing demands. It is no surprise that this massive government-run operation — with more than 8,000 unionized employees (according to OPSEU/SEFPO) — had difficulty with the quick pivot required by the onset of the lockdowns.

Furthermore, the online retail platform of the LCBO was shaky even before the pandemic — and with an influx of orders from those confined at home in 2020, the problem was exacerbated. The shortage of products was expected, but customers also faced extensive shipping delays, a significant number of which resulted in outright order cancellations. Canada Post services were pushed to the limit already during the pandemic and the requirement to obtain a signature from someone 19 or older caused further shipping delays. Deemed an “essential service,” the LCBO stores remained open throughout the lockdown, but if you didn’t want to leave your house in 2020, you were not getting alcohol quickly. If you did make it to the stores, the shelves were pretty bare, a problem that continued well into 2021. Pair this with companies like WineAlign offering to ship mixed cases of wine to residences, local breweries amping up their delivery to include same-day and next-day services, and restaurants being permitted to deliver alcohol, and consumers were finally beginning to see that privatized retail sales of alcohol could give them more convenience than the LCBO could possibly deliver anytime soon.

To right their footing and to create a more viable business model, the LCBO has made some significant changes over the past year. Up to 50 percent of the LCBO’s premium, small-lot collection, known as VINTAGES, is now being transitioned to an online-only platform. The margins are generally lower on these products, as are the volumes, so amalgamating them into one central location seems to be a sound business decision. Yet should a government-run monopoly be acting like a privately-run business, or does it have a greater responsibility to the public to educate and offer a comprehensive selection of equitably distributed products in locations across the province? In the meantime, we cannot negate the benefit of the revenue the LCBO contributes to necessary services in the province. According to the 2020-21 Annual Report of the LCBO, a “dividend of 2.39 billion dollars was paid out to the Government of Ontario to support critical services like health care, education and infrastructure.” Seemingly impressive but consider that revenue for 2021 totaled more than 7 billion dollars. Profit here seems small compared to revenue. Could the privatization of retail alcohol sales run more efficiently and potentially increase tax dollars and job creation? Consider that the legislative privatization of alcohol will likely require similar taxation to consumers, and that government run stores could potentially co-exist with private bottle shops. A downside to privatization, depending on your political inclination, is likely a reduction in the number unionized jobs.

The LCBO seems to be refocusing its attention on larger volume and higher margin business. Margins in small-lot, online VINTAGES sales are less exciting. A gap is waiting to be filled. Why not let the LCBO take care of high-volume alcohol sales and permit small bottle shops to play in the smaller volume, artisanal category of alcohol sales? Increasingly, it feels like the right time to support the privatization of alcohol sales in Ontario.

Ring up me a Lolly! What to Expect of Your Local Bottle Shop

Don’t expect wine shops to be popping up like candy stores… sorry, like cannabis shops on every street corner. Ben Somers of Bossanova is clear that it has been by no means easy breaking into this market. “It’s so interesting watching this landscape evolve. There are more regulatory controls on the alcohol space than cannabis, I wager we won’t be as inundated with bottle shops as with cannabis.”

Yet, determined retailers have found perfectly legal means to sell wine to the public through bar and restaurant liquor sales licenses — and, in the case of virtual bottle shops, liquor delivery service licenses. The caveat? Unlike at the LCBO, bottle shop consumers must purchase a food item, and this can be something trifling like a lollipop, a small bag of chips, or something more substantial. How substantial this food item must be has not yet been clearly defined by the AGCO and is a point of confusion currently among alcohol retailers. A small food item purchase requirement may be seen as a competitive disadvantage to private retailers but up until now, it is more of a small nuisance than a barrier for consumers.

When you walk into a retail bottle shop, you can expect to see a tasting bar and often food options. But more importantly, you are likely to find both knowledgeable staff and a selection of products that are not found at the LCBO. Curation, convenience, specialization and added services such as customized consultations and educational sessions are key to drawing in your business. Many of the retailers I spoke with had either branched out to include beverages other than wine or devoted equal attention to both beer and wine. Dan Grant of Bossanova says that about one-third of their clients buy only wine, one-third buy only beer, and one-third buy both. Below, I’ve highlighted five bottle shops in Toronto that have been generating quite a bit of buzz but there are many more that are opening every day. Expect to hear more on this front from the team at WineAlign. 

Bossanova Wine & Beer
103 Roncesvalles Ave., Toronto

Co-owners Ben Somers and Dan Grant each had successful careers before they dipped their toes into the unknown waters of private alcohol retail sales in Toronto. Somers was no stranger to hospitality, having worked in in bars in England 25 years ago before moving to Toronto, where he took a detour working in government. He renewed his interest in wine with the successful completion of the WSET Diploma this past year. Grant has been writing about beer for almost a decade in publications such as the Toronto Standard, Now Magazine, and Taps, as well as forming the popular local running club, RUNTOBEER. Grant completed the 3 levels of Prud’homme Beer Certification and has hosted Toronto Brewery tours, was voted Ontario’s favourite beer personality in a province wide poll in 2019 along with being awarded two Golden Tap awards. Hailing from Alberta, Dan Grant of Bossanova remembers what happened in that province in 1993 when the province privatized, he says: “for the past 20 years I’ve been living in Toronto, this is what I’ve dreamed of.” Why during the pandemic? “Dan and I have been talking about Ontario alcohol regulation [for] 20 years, so it was a confluence of many factors that came together. We enjoy each other’s company, we are passionate about beverage alcohol, and this was a crazy opportunity to do something different.”

The pair has opened up on an under-serviced part of the dynamic Roncesvalles strip that is more than a kilometer away from any LCBO. The aim was to create a space that would give customers an excellent experience with both beer and wine. The idea was to create a laid back and unpretentious atmosphere where Ben and Dan could engage with customers at all levels from novice to expert. Being able to communicate directly with the consumer, understand what they want and provide it to them is their utmost objective. A mutual love of the Pixies, hence the choice of the name “Bossanova’, Ben and Dan were a natural fit having been long-time friends with similar values that found an opportunity to open up a shop in Ben’s own neighborhood.


“Half of our inventory is based on what the consumer wants and the other half on what they don’t yet know they want,” Grant says. Bossanova offers a mix of fresh finds and classics. About 80 percent of the beers are from Ontario, offering about half a dozen wine-influenced, skin-contact beers, including their own collaboration with Niagara’s Ferrox. On the wine side, Ben’s stylistic preference veers towards subtle, nuanced winemaking and fresher wines. “I’m searching for things that are drinkable, food-friendly and are of high quality — organic, biodynamic and vegan, and wine from people who care about what they farm and what goes into the bottle. Ontario makes amazing wine but also incumbent upon us is to support our local industry and the pandemic focuses an even greater lens on that.” At present the wine selections are 80 percent international and 20 percent from Ontario. “Smaller Ontario wineries and craft breweries are represented — basically what the LCBO can’t support due to smaller volumes. Consumers are asking for Ontario wine,” Somers says.

Pandemic regulations permitting, Somers and Grant offer tastings of a rotating selection of wines, along with educational sessions. They’re all about consumer engagement as a value-add. Next-day delivery for greater GTA and much of Ontario. Drop into the retail shop or take advantage of the online ordering platform.

Sips Toronto
405-20 Maud Street in Toronto and seasonally in Muskoka

No need to leave the comfort of your couch because Sips Toronto’s virtual boutique delivers within 24 to 36 hours across the GTA. Or, if you want to say hello to owners Heather McDougall and Allison Vidug, choose to pick up from their downtown location or, seasonally, from the marina in Muskoka. More than just a bottle shop, Sips Toronto is a wine-focused events business. They have partnered with Maple Leaf Tavern for catering and chef David Salt for meal kits. Sips offers products from The Cheese Boutique as well as their own homemade sauces and condiments. The founder of Sips Toronto, McDougall is a certified sommelier and has spent the past decade perfecting her hospitality and cellar management services in retail and restaurants across Canada. A life-long resident of Muskoka, Vidug joined Sips over the pandemic and began bringing food and wine to residents on snowmobile. Last summer, their operation included a location on the Muskoka marina. This second location is set to re-open in May and will include full-service catering that can be picked up or delivered by boat or car. For private or corporate tasting, Sips Toronto can arrange for personalized samples to be delivered in tetra pack or glass, along with food and snack pairings. Gifting has become a large part of the business and Sips specializes in custom packaging and branding.

Sips Toronto

McDougall and Vidug offer hospitality consulting services, helping restaurants put together concise and profitable wine programs and curating wine lists.  The Sips team is equipped for training staff in their location, when it is safe to do so. “Not every business can afford a sommelier but you do need a wine program that is costed to make you money, easily, and it should be low intervention and turnkey,” says McDougall. “Business owners have enough to deal with without adding in the unknown, which can be a wine program.”

Sips Toronto

Sips Toronto operates under a delivery license, purchasing and selling their products through the Maple Leaf Tavern. Heather describes their operational model: “We are allowed to keep stock on hand based on orders placed. We are not officially open to the public in this space, so it’s not a retail restaurant location. We are going with this hybrid model because the regulation has not caught up to the reality of our situation. We’ve applied for our own liquor license, and the catering extension covers everything else and the delivery license.” The pair insist food is included with all purchases and customers seem to understand this requirement. “We’re a service-based business first that deals with wine, food and experiences. I take the guest experience online as seriously as if someone was walking into my restaurant and about to be shown to the table,” says McDougall. “Classic and quirky” is how the duo describes their offerings. In addition to classic wine selections with an emphasis on France, Italy and Spain, they offer a few wildcards that stem from custom ordering for individual clients.

Praise Bottle Shop
828 Bloor St. (Bloorcourt Village)

Opened at the end of last October, Praise Bottle Shop is the ambitious and eco-charitable venture of sommeliers Scott Zebarth and Will Predhomme. No novices to private wine sales, Zebarth and Predhomme have been involved in the popular Gargoyle Wine Club, a Canadian subscription-based curated wine service. Having a physical location has opened up a number of possibilities for this dynamic duo, who have had significant wine careers of their own up until now. Predhomme is not only a Canadian national sommelier champion, he is an ambitious entrepreneur who is no stranger to putting on large-scale trade shows representing regions from across the globe. Zebarth is sommelier, wine judge and writer who has been involved in wine programs in many of the largest hospitality groups in Toronto. This past year, Scott collaboratively launched his first wine label called Interloper.

Praise Bottle Shop

A strong desire to use their business to help put some good back into the world, the duo has taken on a meaningful cause, the availability of clean water.  “Water is the biggest problem on our planet and it’s solvable,” says Zebarth. They partnered with water.org to help provide micro loans to communities in 11 countries to fund the set-up of their own filtration units. This momentum will be applied to projects closer to home involving lack of clean water across Canada. “It’s crazy that we’re in Canada and there are still water issues,” says Zebarth. “There is water to be had but you don’t have access to it.” The program is transparent for consumers: “When you buy one bottle you give one person water for a full year. Today we’ve crossed the threshold of [providing clean water to] 190,000 people,” Zebarth says. Predhomme believes that this integrated, charitable model positively reinforces the customer experience. “We don’t want to guilt people into buying wine because we give back. You’re probably going to have a bottle of wine so why don’t you do something good at the same time?”

Located in the former Mulberry Bar, Praise offers a selection of cheese from The Cheese Boutique, and is working with Vince Gasparro’s Meat Market and Sanagan’s Meat Locker for meats and curated pantry selections. The two describe their margin as “very polite” and offer a small corkage fee if you wish to enjoy your wine purchase on-site.

Predhomme says they are still trying to navigate the hybridized regulatory model.  “We’re still figuring out what it is we’re dealing with here in Ontario with privatized sales and we’re taking it really easy.” As warmer weather is imminent, the duo is enthusiastically awaiting the opening of their outdoor space. “We have a beautiful 30-seat patio, a gorgeous tree in the middle of it, natural shade, we’re east facing and not under the hot summer sun. It’s very vibrant and people watching is wicked,” says Predhomme. If you’re a whiskey lover, as to check out their atmospheric den on the lower level which is a “totally different vibe, with carpets, very dark, red lighting, you want to listen to Venus in Furs from Velvet Underground when you go down there” says Will. Try and buy in a relaxed atmosphere, unpretentious hospitality is included.

On the list, you’ll find many of the bottles that are offered via Gargoyle’s monthly wine club. Bottle prices range from $17–$23, with some at $30–$50 — the aim is to keep prices approachable. “Essentials products” are joined by monthly curated selections of recognizable, quality products at competitive prices. Says Predhomme: The classic offerings are “for the people. Not trend-driven. Have a good Côtes du Rhône before you have a f*%$ orange wine.” Choice-overload is not the goal. “We don’t want to give you 200 options, that’s not impressive. I’m looking for a bottle of sparkling wine, great, we’ve narrowed it down for you…. If you wanted to try natural wine, well, we’ve got some of those.” While both “classics” and “cool gems” are available, Praise is not about “trying to teach anything unless they want to learn it” says Predhomme.

Praise offers online shopping and delivery with a 45-minute option for essential products within a 7 km radius, as well as same-day delivery within the GTA. Province-wide delivery may take 3–5 days, weather permitting.

Bottega Volo
608 College St. (inside the Royal Cinema in Little Italy)

The historic Royal Cinema in Toronto’s Little Italy has been transformed into a space for wine, beer, cider and spirits along with a selection of groceries that is drawing customers from the neighbourhood and beyond. The shop is an extension of the Bar Volo family that also owns a small brewery on Nicholas Street. The family has been long time importers, brewers and sommeliers, and now runs an agency called Keep6 that imports a selection of international wine, beer, ciders and spirits. The Morana family, brothers Tomas and Julian, and father Ralph, have been involved in hospitality and importing wine for 35 years. They have spent years lobbying the LCBO to make it easier for consumers to buy beer and wine and so the recent opening of a physical bottle shop where they can showcase their acumen in importing and producing their own goods is a natural result. Having foresight that Ontario was on the cusp of privatizing the sale of alcohol, the family opened an online shop pre-pandemic. When take-out sales opened up for restaurants during the pandemic, the Morana’s transitioned to a physical location, taking over the cinema next door.

Bottega Volo

At Bottega Volo expect to find a vast selection of rotating canned beer releases, numbering almost 200, and more so on Fridays when new brewery releases arrive. Specialty imports from Belgium and the US are included, as well as local selections. On the wine-and-spirits front, Julian prides himself on his extensive selection of amaro, vermouth and aperitifs, all sourced from consignment. The curated selection of wine is largely low-interventionist styles with international labels from Spain, Austria, Hungary, Italy and France. Their own imports are supplemented by wines from other agents in an effort to support local business and provide greater selection. As the province inevitably starts relaxing lockdown regulations this spring, Julian hopes to use the new space at the Royal to expand their wine education program, hosting event and bringing in producers. Order online or shop in-store.

Grape Witches
1247 Dundas St. W.

The Grape Witches were one of inaugural water testers with respect to retail bottle shops in Ontario, having established highly successful collaborative pop-up events showcasing idiosyncratic wines. Co-founded by Nicole Campbell and Krysta Oben, the Witches are now a substantial team of 11. Campbell grew up working for one of Canada’s most well-known wine agencies, Lifford Wines & Spirits, but branched off to making wine, earning her WSET Diploma, and is currently director at Grape Witches. Five years ago, late-night conversations with close friend and sommelier Krysta Oben of Paris Paris, hatched a plan to bring the great wine they were drinking to their non-wine savvy friends whose access was limited to what they could find at the LCBO. Their loose business plan involved working with friends in the hospitality industry to run events that made great wine accessible and shone a spotlight on new restaurants and event spaces in Toronto. The highly attended events built up such a substantial following that the duo realized they needed to evolve their business to include importing, retail and a space to call their own.

Grape Witches

The Grape Witches have created a model based on natural, low-intervention wines that are often biodynamically made. Krysta remembers her time working for Cava Restaurant when her counterparts used to, in jest, make fun of her “hippy, dippy wines.” Her desire to give a face to these wines made Krysta all the more determined to showcase them to others. Nicole believes that consumers are giving more thought and consideration to the environmental impact of what they eat and drink and are looking to support ethically minded producers. Those of us in the industry might refer to many of their selections as “natural,” “non-testable” or “non-classic,” but the Grape Witches prefer to simply call it “good juice!”

Average bottle prices range from $20–$25. To curate their wine program, they work with agents as well as importing themselves, despite the rising cost of importing. As travelling is a possibility again, Nicole and Krysta look forward to making connections in various wine regions to pass on well-priced, new discoveries to their clients. Services offered by the Grape Witches team include personalized recommendations, appropriate food pairings, and all your technical questions answered. When regulations allow, the Grape Witches plan to open an event space for events showcasing local and international talent.

Grape Witches Shop Interior

If you prefer to stay home, you can avail yourself of the Grape Witches online shopping portal where you can select your own bottles, have the staff pick wines for you based on your preferred level of “freakiness,” and find mixed packs, along with a selection ciders, fortified wines, sakes and spirits. In Toronto, shipping is free with a $150 purchase: $200 for the rest of Ontario. Otherwise, a small delivery charge applies. Expect a small food item to be included in your order, as per the current requirements in Ontario.

55 Bloor St. West (Manulife Center)

A concept eatery and marketplace with an aim to showcase high-quality Italian food culture to the world, the Eataly complex opened on the corner of Bay and Bloor in November of 2019, one of 35 locations that now exist in Italy and around the globe. The three-story gastronomic funhouse includes four full-service restaurants of varying themes, each with its own wine program, a sizable market, an in-house brewery, and a space for classes and events. The wine program at Eataly began in 2000 and has been building in scope since then. Currently under the direction of Canadian-born, New York resident Matthew Orawski, the senior beverage manager of Eataly North America, Eataly offers a curated selection of wines for each of its restaurants, which can be ordered by take-out (or dine-in) through restaurant delivery platforms such as Uber Eats, DoorDash, and SkipTheDishes. Visitors to the marketplace can also benefit from multiple rows of Italian wine selections for purchase by the bottle. With the creation in Ontario of the wine-to-go program with food delivery and takeout, in the Spring of 2020, Eataly Toronto combined their restaurant wine lists and made the offer available for online food delivery, as well as in-store with the purchase of food.

Eataly Exterior

The selection is impressive.  Says Orawski: “Through our Vino e Birra To-Go, we offer over 650 different labels from across all 20 regions of Italy with a focus on Piemonte, Toscana, and Sicilia. We’ve curated a vast selection of wines, from world-renowned and historic producers, indigenous varieties, and important wine producing areas such as Barolo, Chianti, Valpolicella, and more, showcasing small, family-owned estates with sustainable farming practices.”

The selection will vary from Eataly’s New York flatiron location due to differences in the procurement process and inventory availability but Matthew stresses that “there are certainly synergies between the two markets – and across all our other locations throughout the U.S. Eataly, on the whole, operates with the philosophy that high-quality food and drink unites us all, and so in the curation process we are always looking for producers that align with our values. In some cases, that means you might find your favourite bottle at the Flatiron location and then see it in Toronto. In other cases, it might mean that an event we do with an Italian producer at one of our American locations that we then replicate in Toronto, or vice versa.” Eataly currently works with many local Toronto agents that focus on the import of Italian wines in Ontario.

Eataly Shop Interior

In addition to the restaurant to-go wine lists and the in-store bottle shop, Eataly Toronto offers a monthly subscription service that highlights various regional themes and a food pairing item. Taking the experience once step further, customers can take advantage wine-centric classes both in-person and virtually through La Scuola di Eataly, the cooking school.

Sara d’Amato

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