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It’s time to open the flood grapes

By Asha Hingorani      

When the U.S. freed-up domestic wine trade, business boomed. So, what’s stopping Canada from drinking the benefits of a more fluid inter-provincial wine delivery?

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Picture this: You’re visiting beautiful Niagara-on-the-Lake, and you’ve just finished a fabulous wine tasting at one of the region’s wineries. Your palate is completely seduced by the estate’s unoaked Chardonnay, and you’ve settled on buying a case and having it shipped back to your home in Edmonton, Alta. As you stand in line to make your purchases, you hear that the couple from Texas in front of you is also purchasing a case of the unoaked Chard to be shipped back to their home in the United States.

While the attendant tells the Texans it’s no problem to do so, when it’s your turn to make the purchase, your request is denied.

Due to Canada’s interprovincial trade laws, you cannot have a case of Ontario wine shipped back to your home province of Alberta. As an Albertan, you could drive the case home on your person, but unlike our neighbours south of the border, there’s no way you can have that case of Chardonnay shipped home. This reality is not only ridiculous, it’s hurting Canada’s economy and its national identity.

In late 2016, the case of Gérard Comeau once again hit national headlines. The 14 cases of beer and three bottles of liquor that Comeau of Tracadie-Sheila, N.B., brought from Quebec to New Brunswick in 2012 put the issue of interprovincial trade into the limelight.

At the time of publication, the Supreme Court is in the process of a 60-day application for leave to appeal as the Public Prosecution Services of New Brunswick noted that the implications of the Gérard Comeau case are “far greater” than beer and liquor.

If the Supreme Court does hear the case and rules in favour of removing some of the remaining barriers to internal trade, it will not only be an enormous victory for domestic markets, but also for unifying the country and the identity of Canadians.

In July 2016, at the first ministers’ meeting in Whitehorse, Yukon, premiers announced that the provinces will set-up
a working group on the inter-provincial trade of alcohol, with the goal of creating a more open domestic market, as part of the Canada Free Trade Agreement.

B.C. Premier Christy Clark is quoted saying, “We haven’t freed the grapes entirely, but they’re a little bit freer.”

Despite the June 2012 House of Commons’ passage of Bill C-311 (An Act to amend the Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act), which allows provinces to remove internal trade barriers when it comes to importing wine for personal use, most provinces did not respond.

British Columbia, Manitoba, and Nova Scotia are the only jurisdictions in Canada that permit inter-provincial wine delivery. This means that only 19 per cent of Canadians can legally order and have Canadian wines delivered to their out-of-province home.

Moreover, these are wines that are not always readily available in liquor retail stores in provinces outside of the province in which they are produced. Not only do these trade barriers restrict consumer choice, they also restrict wineries from accessing would-be loyal customers, which could be a great source of revenue for small, medium, and large-grape wineries operating in six provinces.

As the issue could soon be before the country’s highest court, Canada could learn from the U.S. In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional for a state to allow direct wine delivery within a state, but to restrict direct wine delivery between states.

Today, interstate direct wine delivery is legal in 45 of 50 states, with some limitations.

Over the past five years, direct wine delivery in the U.S. has grown by 66 per cent, with small wineries benefitting from 63 per cent of direct-to-consumer wine sales volume, and 74 per cent of wine sales value. As a result, these same small U.S. wineries are supporting consumer choice, becoming more profitable, investing in their business, creating jobs, entering the American distribution channel, and will soon begin to export to Canada—taking wine sales and market share away from Canadian wineries which are restricted from the same opportunities in our home market.

Much like many other agriculture industries, the Canadian wine sector is an economic driver in Canada, creating more 31,000 jobs and generating more than $6.8-billion in annual revenue.

In the past decade, almost 300 new wineries have made investments across Canada. With such a large impact on the economy, one would think that Canadian consumers could have their favourite wine delivered to them by their favourite out-of-province winery if it were not readily available to them in their home retail market.

This case, if heard by the Supreme Court, could provide a precedent-setting national building decision, providing Canadian consumers with choice and options, and increasing market share for national goods and services.

Furthermore, if ruled in favour, it would be a victory for internal political relationships from coast-to-coast, helping to pave the path of support for the country’s national brand, identity, and pride in a Canadian craft.

In its recent report, ‘Tear Down These Walls: Dismantling Canada’s Internal Trade Barriers,’ the Senate Committee on Banking, Trade and Commerce identified wine as #3 on its list of top barriers to trade, and called for the removal of internal barriers by July 1, 2017—doing so, and allowing Canadians to support and sip the efforts of Canadian wineries regardless of where they live would be the perfect gift to celebrate a 150th Birthday.

*Editor’s Note: Asha Hingorani, formerly the editor of P&I’s sister publication Parliament Now, has taken on a new role as the director of government and public affairs with the Canadian Vintners Association. Aside from lobbying on behalf of Canada’s wine producers, she continues to pursue her passion for writing and wine education as a certified sommelier, and it is in this spirit (pardon the pun) that she will continue her regular column for P&I. 

Asha’s Wine Picks: Three icewines to help chase away the winter blahs

It may be packaged in a slender bottle, but it packs a big punch. In Asia it’s regarded as a luxury item, and in Canada, it’s one of our sweetest sensations. No, I’m not talking about sugar-coated Beavertails or even our cherished maple syrup, but rather our Canadian icewine. This national gem must be produced entirely from grapes that are naturally frozen on the vine, picked while the air temperature is -8°C or lower, and immediately pressed after picking in a continuous process while the grapes are still frozen.

In 2014, the Canadian government published its Standard of Identity for icewine in the Canada Agricultural Products Act. Many Canadians have a love it or hate it relationship with the sweet sipping beverage, but I encourage you to give it a taste. Usually served in 1.5 or 2 ounces accompanying a dessert, or as an aperitif with cheese, icewine can certainly be a strong mouthful. As Canadians search for creative ways to either avoid the winter chills or embrace the frost this winter, icewine will sweeten your senses and warm your soul.

Below are three Canadian icewine recommendations to sample by the fire this season. Keep in mind, due to the labour-intensive process behind its creation, icewine is not cheap—and it shouldn’t be. The grapes are harvested by hand in freezing temperatures, and the process requires careful craftsmanship and skill.

Malivoire 2014 riesling icewine (Beamsville, Ontario)

At $34.95, Malivoire’s 2014 Riesling icewine is a steal. Aromas of clementine, peach, mint, and apple will pique the senses. This sweet sensation would be great with a soft cheese, or green salad topped with fruit. Winemaker’s notes state that, “when harvested by hand on January 5th, the grapes’ sugars averaged 37.9° Brix.”

The grapes fermented in stainless steel before being bottled in May 2015. According to the winemaker, the “alcohol was measured at 11.7 per cent, residual sugar 193 grams per litre, titratable acidity 10.5 grams per litre and pH at 3.29.”

NK’ MIP 2015 Riesling ice wine (Osoyoos, British Columbia)

Another Riesling-based icewine, and no surprise, as Canada does Riesling exceptionally well—whether in a blend, as an icewine, as a single varietal. In fact, I’d say our vintners have mastered it. NK’ MIP is the first aboriginal-owned winery in North America, and its 2015 icewine is a stellar example of the craft.

Winemaker’s notes state the grapes were harvested on the first day of 2016, at temperatures that hovered at a chilly -11oC.The grapes achieved 40 brix and were fermented in steel for 45 days. For a price of approximately $65, this wine brims with flavours of honey, apricot, apple, and lemon citrus. The icewine is said to pair well with foie gras, olive tapenade, and freshly shucked oysters – yum, sign me up!

Vignoble Rivière du Chêne Monde 2012 (St. Eustache, Quebec)

Quebec experiences some of the harshest winters in the country. Rivière du Chêne Winery is located in the lower Laurentians, and boasts this icewine.

At $32, this award-winning product is a blend of Vidal, Vandal Cliche, and Frontenac Gris. The wine is silky on the palate, and presents aromas of ripe fruits and honey.

The winemaker’s notes suggests that the wine could be paired with foie gras or cheese such as aged cheddar, L’Hercule de Charlevoix, Louis d’Or et le Cheddar de St-Guillaume. Bon appétit!

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