Tuesday, September 22, 2009

BC Wine? BC Deception. A slap in the face for BC Wineries!



It's hard to believe that the 2010 Olympics Logo, the designation of Official Wine Supplier, would be stuck on a product that is only cellared in Canada....and is not a 100 percent BC Product. We, as taxpayers, have sacrificed a lot of tax money to showcase our province to the world for 10 days. It would be appropriate to make sure the products we are showcasing are from BC. The article below lays it out nicley. Gordon Hamilton, from the Vancouver Sun, is an excellent journalist. Read it and weep......

Consumers 'deceived' by low-cost imports being sold as B.C. wines

By Gordon Hamilton, Vancouver SunSeptember 19, 2009
Lindsey and Michael Rankin, a honeymooning couple from California, check out a bottle of B.C. wine that contains imported wine as part of the blend.
Photograph by: Ward Perrin, Vancouver Sun, Vancouver SunLow-cost bulk wines from places like California and South Africa are being sold in government liquor stores as B.C. wines, raising a storm of protest among winemakers and wine lovers who say the impostors are damaging the reputation of this province's industry.

The wines are sold by Canada's three biggest winemakers as though they are British Columbia wines, and only a keen-eyed consumer can tell the difference, said David Bond, executive director of the Association of Wine Growers of British Columbia. Association members include some of the province's best estate winemakers.

"They are getting a free ride off the reputation everyone else has developed," Bond said in an interview. "They are selling it in the B.C. wine section, and it's atrocious. I think it's scandalous. This is a very calculated form of consumer deception."

It's a Canada-wide strategy developed by the three major winemakers in consultation with federal and provincial governments that is supported by provincial liquor boards. The B.C. Liquor Distribution Branch displays the wines as if they were domestic products, identifying their country of origin as Canada.

It's only in the fine print at the bottom of the back label that the wineries identify their product as being "Cellared in Canada from domestic and imported wines."

They don't have to contain a drop of B.C. wine under Liquor Distribution Branch regulations. They just have to be bottled in B.C.

They sell for less than the province's home-grown wines, and in this province are offered in the "British Columbia" section of government liquor stores.

Consumers have to be savvy enough to ignore the displays and head for wines identified by the VQA symbol (Vintners Quality Alliance) to get real B.C. wine.

The wines are priced to compete with international brands that are also blended from unspecified sources, according to B.C. Wine Institute general manager Lisa Cameron. She said how they are sold is a retail issue.

But the practice has already blackened British Columbia's reputation as a wine region. A sharply critical article in the Sept. 10 issue of the influential news magazine The Economist was headlined: "Blended Deceit from the Nanny State."

And Jancis Robinson, one of the world's leading wine writers, wrote in her blog recently that a tasting this summer of B.C. wines "was tempered by my experience in a typical local monopoly liquor store in Vancouver," when she checked out the wines in the section identified as "British Columbia".

"It's just so difficult to take Canadian producers seriously when they are allowed to mislead the wine-buying public to this extent," she wrote.

Robinson, who lives in London, England, told The Vancouver Sun in an e-mail that consumers are being misled.

"I do think it is extremely misleading, and I know many very intelligent and well-educated Canadians who have no inkling that these wines are not all-Canadian," she said.

Tourists seeking a taste of B.C. can also easily be misled by the marketing strategy. At Vancouver's Alberni Street liquor store, newlyweds Lindsey and Michael Rankin found out just how difficult when they tried to buy a B.C. wine while on their honeymoon here.

They said their confidence in the province's viticultural achievements was shaken when they learned a bottle of Peller Estates wine they were eyeing was actually a bulk wine, likely from their own state of California.

"If it says B.C. wine, you would expect it to be local," said Michael Rankin, referring to the store's "British Columbia" signage above the wines. The LDB identifies it with a red maple leaf, meaning, according to the store, it is a wine originating in Canada.

Lindsey, the wine-lover of the two, said she read the description on the back label, but would not have picked up the fine print identifying it as imported.

"If I read that before, I would have gone straight to the imports section and bought a wine I know something about," she said.

Rich Coleman, minister responsible for the Liquor Distribution Branch, said in an interview Friday that he was not aware of the practice, and he intends to look into both the labelling of the wine and the way it is displayed in B.C. liquor stores.

"I never had a problem when we would bring in juice and then ferment it into wine in British Columbia. But if they are actually bringing in wine and re-bottling it, and it's already been made somewhere else and they are just re-bottling it, then that sounds a bit odd to me."

He said he intends to raise the issue with LDB president Jay Chambers on Monday.

"So it's where it's actually displayed on the shelf that's the issue," he said. "That I can look into, and I will do."

The bulk wines can be purchased for as little as 21 cents a litre, said Bond, yielding huge profits for the wine companies.

There are about a dozen brand names using the words "Cellared in Canada" -- from Peller Estates Proprietor's Reserve and Jackson-Triggs Proprietors' Selection, which sell for $9, to Wild Horse Canyon, at $13. All are made by divisions of Mission Hill, Andrew Peller Ltd. and Vincor International Ltd., owner of the Jackson-Triggs label. The three are the country's largest wine companies.

Only Mission Hill's more costly Wild Horse Canyon separates itself by stating on the front label that it is made from California, Washington and British Columbia wines.

The "Cellared in Canada" issue is one the three winemakers and the Liquor Distribution Branch are sensitive about.

No representatives of the Big Three were willing to talk about it for this article.

The LDB would only explain its policy by e-mail. Labelling is a federal responsibility, the LDB said.

As long as the wines are bottled here, they are shelved in the "BC Wine" sections of LDB stores, the e-mail stated.

But "there is no British Columbia grape content requirement for these wines," the e-mail said. "And wineries are able to make their own blending decisions."

John Clerides, owner of private Vancouver wine store Marquis Wine Cellars, said he only carries Jackson-Triggs wines because of the price point, but his staff warn consumers what they are buying.

"It's not in the Canadian wine section. There's really no home for it. We tell our customers to put their glasses on and read the fine print."

B.C. Wine expert John Schreiner said there's a lot at stake for the big wineries that use the "Cellared in Canada" wording. Not only are they hugely profitable for wineries, but also for the LDB.

But he believes some of the wineries are going too far. He singled out Vincor, which puts its logo identifying it as the official wine supplier to the 2010 Olympics on its "Cellared in Canada" wines.

"The most egregious example of a wine that will fuzzify consumers is the merlot from [Vincor's] Jackson-Triggs that has the special Olympics label.

"The issue these days is we are making world-class wines and these wines are kind of competing with the image of what we do so well in the Okanagan Valley.

"It isn't that they are bad wines. It's that they are often fairly ordinary wines. Let's face it. If you are a [domestic] winery out on the market for bulk wine, the wineries with bulk wine for sale aren't going to sell you the stuff they put in their best bottles.

"I'd like to see some better disclosure on the labels. I think it's more important than ever, now that we have quality wines, so Canadian consumers can make a choice."

ghamilton@vancouversun.com