22 Sept 2009 - read an update on this issue in our members' forum.
I'll be publishing my tasting notes on British Columbia wines later this week and my FT article on Saturday will be devoted to them. But my enthusiasm for the increase in quality of BC wines on a recent visit to Vancouver and the Okanagan Valley was tempered by my experience in a typical local monopoly liquor store in Vancouver. I had heard that BC was rather better behaved than Ontario in terms of not misleading consumers about the provenance of so much of the wine they are offered for sale, but I was wrong.
The bottles below are representatives of the popular Sonora Ranch and Naked Grape brands owned by Mission Hill and Vincor respectively. Very careful reading of the small print on the back label, which carries the term 'Cellared in Canada' , reveals that they contain a blend of Canadian and imported wine.
Yet, as the picture shows, they are clearly sold as though they were Canadian wines. I asked the man in the store with a badge proclaiming him a Sales Advisor where the wines came from. He assured me categorically that they were BC wines and that the only difference between them and the BC wines carrying the VQA designation was that they were more mass-market offerings.
I know I keep going on about this (click on the Canada tag below), but I think it is doing a disservice to real Canadian wine and its reputation abroad to continue with this misleading practice. It is just so difficult to take Canadian producers seriously when they are allowed to mislead the wine-buying public to this extent. Surely those who buy these cheaper brands would not stop buying them if they were stocked on a shelf headed 'Blended Wines'.
I asked Anthony von Mandl, owner of Mission Hill, how he could justify these practices and he claimed that he was planning to offer greater transparency in labelling and would be spelling out exactly where the ingredients in all his wines come from. If he did, this would surely be a great spur for the biggest company of all, Vincor owned by Constellation, to come clean and do the same. In fact, Vincor, the dominant Canadian wine company, is particularly misleading. It uses its Jackson Triggs label, name of its flagship BC winery, for both BC wines and for imported blends.
I'm delighted that there now seems to be increased awareness of the deeply misleading wine labelling and wine merchandising that operates quite legally in Canada. There is now a Boycott 'Cellared in Canada' page on Facebook, and this recent article in Wines & Vines also draws attention to the problem. Although it is interesting that the most militant protests seem to be coming from Ontario growers worried about their livelihood because a bumper harvest is in view rather than from anyone championing clarity of labelling on behalf of consumers.
How many Toronto wine drinkers realise that wines may quite legally be sold in Ontario labelled 'Cellared in Canada' containing 20% water and only 10% Canadian wine?