Saturday, June 02, 2012

The Elephant in the Room

In his article 'Winning the War but Losing the Battle' Michael Pinkus asks the question 'Why aren't more restaurants featuring Ontario wines...?'  a simple question with a difficult answer. The article goes on to ignore the 'elephant in the room' by comparing Canada wines with examples of success in other countries... and other unrelated professions. Patriotism isn't going to sell wine... blindly 'loving what we make' isn't going to work... pushing a 'signature grape' against its success in other world regions isn't going to work.

Back to the elephant... Generally Ontario consumers if they find quality don't find value in Ontario wines and the markup typically applied by restaurants to all wines aggravates the situation - but it's not their problem is it?

First the quality perception:  Row after row of blended juices, wines that are comparable with equally inferior entry level imports but priced competitively with entry level VQA products. These are brands a cool-aid drinker takes to a dinner invitation - the $9 to $12 obligatory offering. These excuses for wines sit on shelves among or opposite Ontario VQA wines. By association this ingrains a stigma or negative perception to regular wine imbibers. It's a stigma not easily overcome - like, my brother is a ponzi schemer - I must be one too. It makes one walk right past the VQA displays.  And if you peruse Vintages representation of VQA wines the term 'lip service' comes to mind. Now there's the starting place for 'patriotism'. 

A diversion: How about changing the 'Vintages bay' to a 'VQA bay', ie. merge the Vintages Releases to the main floor with their Country shelves and stock the legitimate VQA wines from across Canada to the renamed bay leaving the 'Canadian International Blends' where they are today? Some bottle shuffling with a name change is all it would take for the local monopoly to show some patriotism. Do Corporate bottlers have such a hold on the LCBO that this couldn't happen in a matter of a few weeks?

If a restaurant owner chooses to ignore/overcome this stigma his selection of VQA products is now intermingled with imports along with his usual markup. VQA wines become positioned among mid to higher priced options and the diner is presented with a choice, one based on value already biased toward the import. The European label to go with his European cuisine. The acclaimed Argentine Malbec with his grilled Tri-Tip Sirloin or Burgundy with his Bourbon Marinated Flank Steak, etc. Perception becomes reality and VQA labels get short shrift.

Niagara wines do have a difference - I believe most have an acquired taste. Whether it be the terroir or winemaking history they have a level of purity not characteristic of other world wines. The ones that are full bodied and true to their style sometimes find a place on a sophisticated wine list cast among the upper echelon, forced by their marked up price to compete in the $80-plus bracket.  That $50 Chilean Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon looks good by comparison.

Not often enough I visit Niagara-on-the-Lake attending a show and staying for a meal at one of the many fine hotels/restaurants. Their wine lists often carry Niagara wines but there's no concession. There's no marketing blurb encouraging customers to choose local. These restaurants form their own judgment and are numb to local bravado. 

A novel idea would be to have a separate Canadian Wines List, even holding back the regular wine list unless asked for - an approach that might turn into an adventure.  Perhaps too risky though as John Szabo says "restaurants with crappy wine lists are bound to go out of business, sooner or later" (...but I've seen many a 'crappy wine list' - some with deceptive 'French' labelling of local bulk blends).  (Chaos Theory: The Butterfly Effect on Wine)

Wineries are lost in a sea of profiteering often of their own making but mainly of others. Don't blame the restaurants. They aren't the cause and it's not their problem to solve!

My thoughts, Ww

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