Michael Pinkus who rarely lets an opportunity pass to let us know how he dislikes the LCBO (or as he sometimes calls it, the KGBO), reports on the troubles of Daniel Lenko, who appears to have provoked retaliation from the board for his criticisms:
An “order to comply” certificate was slapped on Lenko’s winery door. The order, from the Region of Niagara dated July 18, 2011, listed two areas of concern an official found after inspecting Lenko’s property on June 29, 2011. First, “Lenko must cease and desist from discharging winery production waste” (Lenko says this waste is 99% water and 1% wine) into an unapproved septic tank and then discharging that onto the ground surface. Second, Lenko is ordered to apply to the Region for a permit to construct a sewage system and, upon application, submit a detailed design plan from a qualified engineer or sewage systems designer and, upon approval, proceed to install the new system by Sept. 14, 2011. Costs for this work could get into the $50,000+ mark.
[. . .]
Then it hit me. I saw Danny’s face peering back at me from between two barrels in a May 6, 2011 article in the Toronto Star entitled “Grape Expectations frustrated by LCBO”. In the article Danny, who has never been shy about his dislike for our monopoly system and those who run it, said: “In the real world, there’d be an alternative, some place else to sell our wines, but the LCBO’s the only game in town … They say they’re the best at what they do, but how can you say that when they have no competition? What’s wrong with having a VQA store?” Another prominent quote in the article is not attributed to anyone, but with Danny’s face front and centre at the top it is easy for any reader to make an inference (rightly or wrongly): “Would I like to get more of my product on the shelves? Sure. But why would I provoke an 800-pound gorilla? There’s just no way to win that battle.”
[. . .]
The aforementioned picture at the top of the article had a caption that read: “Daniel Lenko started his winery in 1999 using the grapes from the vines that his father planted in Beamsville in the Niagara Wine Region, in 1959. Lenko sells his wines from the kitchen of a small house on the vineyard which he also uses as a wine testing lab and an office.” Now what do you think it take for the LCBO to get on the horn with the AGCO (Alcohol Gaming Commision Ontario — who “oversee” the wineries) or even a local official and say to them: “maybe you’ll want to look into this Lenko guy a little harder” he is after all selling wine from his kitchen and a kitchen might not be considered a suitable place to be selling alcohol from. I think someone is making an example of Danny.
Michael Pinkus responds to an unfair accusation against Diamond Estates over their ability to open a retail store in Scarborough (most wineries are not legally able to do this):
Upon reading the Fashionable Press’ article I shot back the following (on everybody’s favourite medium these days) the Facebook comment section: “Have you really not been paying attention??? Diamond has a store because they bought a winery that had 1) a pre-1993 license and 2) had a pre-existing store. No mystery here, no cronyism, just smart business sense. In Ontario’s archaic system there are two things that reign supreme: a pre-1993 license (which allows you to blend foreign and domestic wines) and a winery with an outside store attached. Diamond got them both when they acquired DeSousa.”
The reply from Fashionable was quick: “Yes we understand that point the issue remains why no other winery can do the same thing?”
To which I answered, “This comes back to the archaic laws … not cronyism or the fact that Murray Marshall is chairman and CEO of VQA Canada. As many know I am not a huge supporter of the big wineries that can blend (and do) but Murray is working well within the crappy, backward, stink-ass system we call the alcohol laws in Ontario. If another winery wanted to do it they can pony up the 3+ million Cilento will sell their license for (of course I may be off by a few million on the price because that pre-93 piece of paper is a license to print money).”
To understand all this, and all it’s intricacies and complexities is to understand why Ontario’s small wineries are so pissed off (and yes that is the right wording here) when the subject of VQA stores is brought up. But back to Diamond … The moment DeSousa went up for sale Murray saw it as an opportunity to get a store that wasn’t tied to Niagara and a way to get his products into the hands of consumers in the much more lucrative market of Toronto (in this case Scarborough).
Now the astute amongst you (or the Ontario wine history buff) will note that Lakeview also has a pre-1993 license (est. 1991) – but that’s where it gets even wonkier. While Lakeview would be allowed to blend foreign with domestic wines, the original owners never branched out to buy another retail store, so their operation was stuck in Niagara post-1993 when the moratorium on wine store licenses was imposed. DeSousa (est. 1990) on the other hand, did acquire one additional retail licence prior to the cut-off.
The hard part about owning these stores is they are rarely permanent, and here’s why. The rationale behind placing one of these additional retail outlets somewhere is that it is an “under-serviced neighbourhood” … Fashionable asks the following: “Why didn’t the LCBO find this under-serviced gem and plunk one of its outlets there? … Why did they choose in a gentlemanly way to cede over to Diamond?”
To that I say ‘Have No Fear’, if that Diamond store does well then you can bet the farm that the liquor monopoly will parade in like a white knight and announce a store nearby … which will force Diamond to relocate the store to another “under-serviced area” … and how, you may ask, will the LC know that Diamond is doing so well? That my friends is what smells bad in this entire deal: Who do you think gets to look at the sales numbers from these off site stores? Hmm? They’re not called the KGBO by some for nothing.
So the brief and fleeting moment that Diamond has taken advantage of will disappear as soon as the LCBO decides that they need to move into that disadvantaged area and open an LCBO store, which will force the private seller to close their store in the area. Nice.
It’s rather late notice, but if you’re an Al Stewart fan, you might want to visit Tawse Winery today for their 10th anniversary celebration:
Canadian music icon and friend Jim Cuddy returns to Tawse Winery along with “Year of the Cat” singer/songwriter Al Stewart, to help celebrate our 10th anniversary. This very special ‘al fresco’ concert promises to be the event of the summer, and one not to be missed!
Unfortunately, I’m at the other end of Lake Ontario today, visiting CFB Kingston.
Michael Pinkus reports from
last Friday night’s award ceremony:
The 16th Annual Ontario Wine Awards were held Friday night with a triumphant return to the Queen’s Landing Inn in Niagara on the Lake hosted by Food Network star Laura Calder, host of French Food at Home. [. . .] Big winners this evening were Kacaba, winning two Golds in the Red categories (Cabernet Franc and Meritage) as well as another for Label Design; Chateau des Charmes for winning Best Dry Riesling twice (both its category and Best White of the Year) along with a Silver for the close to my heart Sparkling (Rosé). Flat Rock did the same for Red Wine of the Year for their The Rogue Syrah and another Gold for Their Rogue Pinot Noir, prompting them to immediately change their name to “Flat Rogue Cellars” (kidding — not about the awards, about the name change). Inniskillin and Malivoire pulled off tri-fectas in their categories by sweeping them (taking the Gold, Silver and Bronze): Vidal Icewine and Gamay respectively.
I’m delighted that Kacaba is getting the recognition for their great wines (unless it forces them to raise prices, in which case I’m upset that my favourite winery is getting “discovered”)
I took the day off yesterday, but not just for a wine tour (that was the bonus on the day). It was only a brief tour — three wineries — but I tried to make the most of the time available.
First stop was at one of my all-time favourite wineries, Kacaba Vineyards. They’re best known for their red wines, but I usually find their Chardonnay to be well worth trying. This visit was no exception, as they were having a sale on their unoaked Chardonnay ($100 per case, which is insanely cheap for a very pleasant summer quaffer).
After lunch at the About Thyme Bistro (one of the best new restaurants in Ontario), we headed over to Flat Rock Cellars, where Sam discovered an unexpected taste for both Reisling and heavily oaked Chardonnay (Sam didn’t think of herself as a wine drinker, but this tour may have started to change her mind). My mother really enjoyed the “Red Twisted” blend, which is primarily Pinot Noir.
The last stop on our brief visit to the area was Strewn, where the 2007 vintage hasn’t yet been released (to my disappointment), but the 2006′s are still going strong. I picked up a few bottles of the Terroir Merlot (which is drinking nicely now) and the Terroir Cabernet Sauvignon (which really needs a few more years to mellow out the tannins).
Then it was time to hit the road, in hopes of avoiding the worst of the traffic. Hopes partially fulfilled . . . the QEW was very heavy from St. Catharines to Burlington, but the 407/ETR was fast moving (as hoped).