Sunday, May 30, 2010

An Open Letter to an Open Letter

It should be noted that references to CICs labelling and the location of these in LCBO outlets is mostly out of date. It's a shame these products still have presence next to legitimate Canadian wines. However, the criticism of a respected wine critic's statement at that time rather than being denigrated should be taken as one person's point of view. What can we gain from an unprofessional diatribe? (May 2012)

In his blog Wines In Niagara, Rick VanSickle published an Open Letter to Jancis Robinson criticising her comments on 'Cellared in Canada' and the 'turmoil' in the Ontario wine industry. JR's article was published in the Financial Times (29May2010) entitled ‘From bottom to top - Canada’s wines’.

I have a difficult time letting statements, often made on my behalf by members of the wine trade, in this case a journalist catering to Ontario (mainly Niagara) wineries, food establishments, tour operators and publicists.

I am a ‘bare’ consumer, ie. one having no affiliation with the wine trade in Ontario or anywhere else. The money I spend on wines is from my pension. Trips are at my personal expense - there are no business tax claims. I’ll use Consumer with a capital C to distinguish from others that claim to be consumers although heavily influenced by their wine trade occupation. These are my comments on a number of points made in the Open Letter.

The Ontario wine industry, if not the Canadian wine industry, is in disarray if not turmoil. From my viewpoint this is largely an internal conflict caused by Corporations usurping control, inadvertently or as a consequence, over the future and fortunes of smaller businesses. Perhaps naively so I don’t believe any business purposely restrains other businesses in the Ontario Wine Industry. However, the size of the Corporations allows an infrastructure more capable to respond to market opportunities. The bulk importing of offshore juices, setting up private boutiques at high traffic retailers, presenting a Canadian identity in government outlets, pervasive presence in bureaucracies and Government associations, the ability to setup Alliances to counterbalance trade associations, etc. Corporate weight offsets the initiatives by a myriad of smaller wineries.

Yes, the normal disarray of an industry attempting to coordinate its future growth is often turned into reactive turmoil.

The Open Letter rationalizes ‘other countries do it so it must be legitimate for us to do it’. And what is ’it’? The ’it’ is to mislead Consumers into the belief that what’s in the wine bottle corresponds to what is stated on the label. If the CIC label had read ‘Imported Wines Blended and Bottled in Canada’ it would have been a clear declaration for you and I, Consumers. I have not yet noticed a change in controversial labelling… and I have not yet noticed a change in our local LCBO outlets separating CICs from VQA wines. I have not yet noticed increased advertising for VQA wines or space on Vintages shelves. The Ontario wine industry remains disadvantaged.

The Open Letter rationalizes that we Consumers need cheap locally produced imports to compete against cheap ’other country’ imports. Let me paraphrase here ’So, instead of letting cheap foreign wines devour the marketplace here, some (a US owned Corporation and a local Corporation) compete … by combining cheap juices from other countries with a small percentage of Ontario juices…”  I cannot explain why this perverse ‘he beats his wife so it’s OK for me to’ argument could be considered as rationale.

The statement ‘we can’t make good cheap red wine’ does nothing to lessen the disarray. Every grape grown on a vine in Ontario should be used to produce wine - some of it will be ‘good cheap red’ given a will. If anyone believes all CIC reds are both ‘good’ and ‘cheap’ they’re not tasting the same ones I have. The alternative, to import juices then use the same facilities to produce ‘cheap red wine’ here, is a contradiction. Are Ontario grape growers growing the wrong grapes? are they not cultivating vines correctly? or are they purposely letting their grapes be ploughed under? If so, there is a resolution. If the large Corporation put its facilities to use every last Ontario grape could they not make cheap and often ’good cheap red [and white, as much of CIC is] wine’… perhaps even legitimately labelling it VQA Ontario?

Three points of view: an international wine critic, a local wine writer and a solitary Consumer. Your POV is welcome. All will help us truly 'move on'.

Cheers, Ww 

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