January 10, 2013

Recapping the awful legal conditions for Ontario wineries

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Business, Cancon, Law, Wine — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 09:44

In the latest issue of Ontario Wine Review, Michael Pinkus explains why the outcome of the last provincial election dashed a lot of hopes in the Ontario wine industry:

Give an Ontario winery the chance to vent its spleen, especially about the recent provincial election and the future of the wine industry in the province, and you can sit back, pour a glass and listen to what has been described as “years of frustration”. Ontario remains one of the most backward places to make and sell wine and the rules and regulations are just so 1920s (the decade our monopoly was formed). One of the most telling problems about our system is how many winery principals are afraid to go on the record with their comments. “I will ask to remain anonymous as quite frankly I am afraid of LCBO backlash. We are spending more and more time getting to know the LCBO system [as one of the only ways to grow our business] … and I am sure with one phone call the buyers will drop us … without the LCBO we are screwed.” Now, you would think we were discussing selling forbidden information in communist Russia or talking against the state in Stasi-controlled Cold War Germany, instead of discussing election results in a “free” country like Canada. [. . .]

“We are definitely one of the worst regulated wine industries in the world. No other jurisdiction has supply-managed grapes and government-owned monopoly distribution (a system designed to fast-track imported wine into Ontario). In fact, I am hard pressed to think of any other industry in Canada that has this type of anachronistic regulatory burden. Off the top of my mind, a list of products more dangerous than 100% grown Ontario wine that are less regulated: hunting rifles, cigarettes, pseudoephedrine, ATVs, fast food, pointy sticks, etc.” (AWP)

So what can you as a consumer do about this situation? First of all, you can of course become more informed, look into why you can’t order wines from other provinces, question, and why you can’t buy local wines at wine shows or farmers’ markets. Find out why wineries are limited to where they can sell their wines and why only a handful of wineries are making money hand-over-fist because of the ability to blend foreign wine with domestic wine (yet over 98% of wineries cannot use that practice) and why those same wineries can sell wine in off-site stores, while smaller un-grandfathered post-1993 wineries struggle to sell wines in one of three places: their cellar door, restaurants and the restrictive LCBO. Many wineries won’t go on the record against the biggest wine buyer in Ontario (so much for free speech).

[. . .]

Problem One are direct sales to restaurants and other licensee holders (banquet halls, etc). One AWP says OMAFRA (Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs) puts ridiculous regulations in place. “If I sell a bottle of wine at the winery for $10.00 (including all taxes etc), I get to keep $7.55 of that. If I deliver that wine to a restaurant, I get to keep $4.03, rather than $7.55. Although LCBO has not touched that bottle, I have to pay the equivalent of LCBO warehousing charges. This overhead is not warranted as cost recovery by LCBO, as its only responsibility is the audit of winery reports.”

Remember the LCBO had nothing to do with the sale, yet it makes money on it.

Problem Two is that market share is actually declining. According to numbers obtained by the Winery and Grower Alliance of Ontario (WGAO), Ontario’s market share of wine, in its own market place, is actually declining — although an agreement made years ago stated that the LCBO would work towards a 50% target for Ontario market share compared with imported wine. The numbers show a different story. In 2010/2011, imports had 61% of the market, while Ontario had only 39%, of which 29% were International-Canadian blends (the old Cellared in Canada) … leaving Ontario VQA wine (100% Ontario product) with a measly 10% (WGAO newsletter — August 2011) … Ontario is losing ground in its own market — and that’s not because of low quality wines, that’s because access to market is curbed. Says one winery principal on the subject: “The present situation is choking the wine industry in Ontario” while another says, “it is very apparent that the LCBO is unable or not interested in growing the VQA wine industry.”

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