September 13, 2017

A visit to Creekside

Filed under: Cancon, Wine — Tags: — Nicholas @ 03:00

Another of my favourite wineries in Niagara gets a great write-up from Rick VanSickle:

While the vast majority of Niagara wineries chart a predictable course of core varietals — Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc — the winemakers at Creekside have taken the rabbit hole less travelled and have found immense success doing it.

The steady team of head winemaker Rob Power […] and assistant winemaker Yvonne Irvine […] love the challenge of being different.

“There are guys that stick to Chardonnay and Pinot and there are guys that don’t,” says Power. “And we definitely don’t.”

Their portfolio is deep and varied and by their own admission is the antithesis of Pinot Noir/Chardonnay, mainstays in Niagara winemaking. Here it is Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah and wild things that are lost and found in the darkest corners of the cellar that get top billing.

Or, as Irvine says: “We make wines we want to drink ourselves.”

The lineup here is deep in Sauvignon Blanc in every incarnation you can imagine: Stripped down bare, oaked, blended and sparkled. Syrah also plays a starring role in equally varied styles right up to the flagship wine from the winery: The Broken Press Syrah with and without the inclusion of Viognier. And, of course, the big bruiser and one of the region’s most sought-after wines, made just five times in 18 years — the Lost Barrel Red, a zany concoction of highly concentrated remains of wine and “tailings” that’s collected, stashed in a barrel and forgotten for years and years in a dark corner of the cellar only to emerge as a wine very unlike anything else made in Niagara.

Creekside has always marched to the beat of a different drummer, even has ownership as changed. And what a beat it is.
I got a front row seat to the winery’s chaotic mass of wine that was laid out in the barrel cellar to taste with Power, Irvine and retail director Britnie Bazylewski — an endless array of whites, reds and big bruisers including one red that just may be the last one in Niagara released from the hot, hot, hot 2010 vintage (that aforementioned Lost Barrel).

March 24, 2017

The LCBO “phones in” their Ontario VIP selections

Filed under: Business, Cancon, Wine — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Michael Pinkus on the odd choices of wines to celebrate some Ontario wine luminaries:

Let’s be honest, the LCBO is lackadaisical, at best, when it comes to promoting Ontario wines, and they do it with such a blasé attitude it is embarrassing in the way they continue to absolutely fail the people of Ontario … let me explain and expand.

The main feature of the April 1, 2017 release is “Visionaries, Innovators and Pioneers” (VIP) – on a global scale – here you’ll see names you recognize and wineries that are household names (or one’s that should be) – people like Angelo Gaja (Italy), Ben Glaetzer (Australia), Ken Forrester (South Africa), Michel Chapoutier (France) and Nicolas Catena (Argentina) and for each they pair a wine to go along with them … I question the wine selection for these iconic wine luminaries, but what the hey, sometimes those iconic wines are sold out (icon wines do that) and you then have to go for secondary wines by those producers.

Then I reached the part with our local VIPs: Moray Tawse (true, a more recent member of the VIP club and in my opinion kind of an easy choice by the LCBO), even more lazy are the wines selected, far from what I would call his “iconic” ones; but that seems to be par-for-the-course in this release. Tawse makes single vineyard / single block wines that are “the bomb”, yet the LCBO chose a “Growers Blend” and a “Sketches” wine, seriously?

But the one that incensed me the most was Chateau des Charmes, not for the man they named, Paul Bosc Sr., who is a Visionary, Pioneer AND Innovator in Ontario, but the wine that was chosen to represent him: Cabernet Icewine? When I saw that, you could have knocked me over with a feather; what happened to Gamay Noir Droit? Single vineyard varietal offerings? Sparkling wine? Or even Equuleus? But instead of showing off these iconic / original table wines the LCBO goes for the easy layup of Icewine; which isn’t even what Bosc is known for (though he makes excellent versions of it), that honour should have gone to Inniskillin (Donald Ziraldo and Karl Kaiser)

October 10, 2015

“We’re very inefficient … and proud of it”

Filed under: Business, Cancon — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 3 Oct 2015

Craft Brewery tourism is on the rise. Ontario Craft Breweries are opening throughout the province; eventually there will be one in every community. These breweries are a catalyst for economic growth. They have become sought-after tourist destinations, event venues, culinary centres.

September 15, 2015

Ontario wineries and the demands of the Chinese market

Filed under: Business, Cancon, China, Wine — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

In the most recent edition of his wine review newsletter, Michael Pinkus just barely avoids sounding like an editorialist from the anti-Chinese era of American yellow journalism (er, sorry) over Chinese money being used to buy up Ontario wineries to concentrate on icewine production for the Chinese market:

Hinterbrook, Joseph’s, Marynissen, Alvento, Lailey – all wineries in Niagara that have seen a major shake-up of ownership over the past few years; in fact it is reported that about 8 or so wineries have seen new ownership, which potentially can be seen as a good thing: a revitalized interest in wineries in Ontario’s largest growing area.

Now before I go any further, I’m sure this topic is going to spark some controversy and some of the comments I’ll make might come off a tad inflammatory, but hear me out over the next few paragraphs.

The majority of these wineries have been purchased by those of Oriental decent, namely Chinese interests, who see exporting Ontario Icewine back to the homeland as a path paved with gold … On the positive side this provides wineries and workers with jobs, another bonus is that Icewine is still being made here at home, instead of being falsified, forged, misappropriated, and wrongly-labelled elsewhere; and some longtime growers and owners are finally cashing-in after a lifetime of tilling the soil, and growing the grapes to make the wines we all know and love … but at what cost to the industry and reputation of Ontario wine?

We have been battling a snake-belly-low reputation for years – one that never lets us forget we put Baby Duck and inferior Baco Noirs (with apologies to Henry of Pelham) into bottle. Now we have some of our most beloved names (namely Lailey and Marynissen) seemingly on the brink of becoming Icewine houses. The fear here is that Ontario will be bought up by foreign interests and our wines moved off-shore, and most, if not all our grapes used for the purpose of making Icewine – for all intents and purposes killing off our quality domestic dry wine production.

These fears were realized once again in July after reports were confirmed that Lailey had been sold. They then closed their doors for “renovations”, subsequently re-opened to sell their remaining inventory, and netted their entire 2015 crop to be used in the production of Icewine … As the French say, “quel domage!” (what a pity) – those beautiful old vines of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, that fantastic Syrah, the Sauvignon Blanc … all the grapes that were lovingly nurtured so that they produced the fruit to make wines full of terroir / character will go into lifeless sweet Icewine. Frustration and dismay were echoed time and time again on Twitter and FaceBook with the hashtag “RIPLailey”.

No matter how we may try to romanticize them, wineries are just businesses. Not only businesses, but farm-related businesses. Farming is a hell of a way to earn a living — ask any farmer — so if someone comes up to your farm gate and offers you enough money to sell up … at least some farmers/grape growers/winery owners are going to take the cash and split. From the list of wineries that Michael lists, I’d had poor experiences at three of them … bad enough that I’ve never been back. If my experiences were typical of other customers, then selling up was a great thing for the former owners. Treat your customers like shit, don’t expect them to come back (but do expect them to mention you to all their friends).

If someone thinks that it’s worth the money to buy up these places and convert them to all-icewine production and concentrate on exporting to China, great. More wineries are opening every month, so the loss of a few under-performing (and customer-abusing) “old names” has more chance to improve the overall wine scene in Ontario.

November 28, 2014

Niagara’s wineries … too many too soon?

Filed under: Cancon, Wine — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 00:03

Michael Pinkus shares a cringeworthy report from a foreign wine writer on a recent winery tour in the Niagara region:

After giving it some thought it came to me as a sports reference: have we hit that expansion team overload amongst the wineries of Niagara? What I mean by that is a watering down of the talent available. For example: when a league (NHL, NFL, CFL, etc.) expands to include more franchises the biggest worry is that there will not be enough high-caliber talent in the pool to feed that new franchise and keep it competitive. Now apply the same theory to the wineries: with more and more wineries opening every year is the talent pool of engaged and conscientious prospective “manpower” really there to staff them? Is that the problem? Or should we just blame training and be done with it?

A wine writer from another country (who will remain nameless) wrote to me about a visit he recently made to a winery in Niagara (which will also remain nameless). Here were some of his comments about the tour he took:

“Worst tour: Inexperienced tour guide who didn’t understand what she’d been taught and gave a series of garbled ideas … e.g. windmill in vineyard uses propane to heat the vines, grafting is done because it’s too cold here to grow on own roots, [also] told us we wouldn’t enjoy the wines in the tasting and that their barrel fermented and aged Chardonnay was best in a spritzer.”

I’m not saying all wineries are bad, but there are some that leave, for lack of a better expression, a bad taste in the mouth — even when their food (or, for that matter, wine) is delicious. One of the wineries we visited in Niagara-on-the-Lake provided us such a lousy experience that they almost did not make our top five … but their food was just so memorably delicious, it was the thing that saved them — now imagine if they did not have that food, it would have been memorable for all the wrong reasons.

Whether it’s the lollygagging behind the counter, chatting with co-workers to the point where you indicate where to go with your chin (“it’s over there”), ignoring a guest until they approach you, or just being grumpy and surly, it all takes its toll on the winery’s reputation. A bad experience sticks in your mind more and longer than a good one. I especially remember a tasting at a famous Niagara-on-the-Lake winery about 10 years ago where, after buying two cases of wine between the three people I was with, the staff member who served us chased us out into the parking lot for the $5.50 tasting fee … I have never, ever forgotten that one.

I wonder if that last winery was the same one I’ve been avoiding for the last ten years … the experience wasn’t exactly the same, but it soured me on ever having anything to do with them again. Bad customer service in the wine trade has a much greater long-term than it does in, say, the fast food business.

July 24, 2014

Niagara Peninsula to host brigade-level military exercise in August

Filed under: Cancon, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 00:02

A report in Niagara This Week by Paul Forsyth discusses a major Canadian military exercise to be held in the area next month:

Called Stalwart Guardian 14, the exercise is an annual one for troops across Ontario. But unlike many other training exercises that typically take place on military bases, this one will be much more visible to the public.

Col. Brock Millman, commander of the London, Ont.-based 31 Canadian Brigade Group, said in a letter to Thorold Mayor Ted Luciani earlier this year that the exercise will be “massive,” but will be conducted in a “safe, respectful and environmentally sound manner.”

At the July 15 meeting of Thorold city council, Millman and Maj. Paul Pickering — who is co-ordinating the exercise — said conducting the operation off-base makes it more realistic, because foreign bad guys are likely to hit infrastructure in populated areas.

“The terrain (on bases) is not complex, there are not big buildings, there are not roads, there is not a civilian population,” said Millman. “The training is not as effective as it can be.

“We’re coming here because it’s much more effective.”

Millman’s brigade, which is the reserve Canadian army in southwestern Ontario, is part of the 12,000-strong 4th Canadian division. He said more than 2,000 soldiers — a mix of reservists and veterans of missions in Afghanistan and Bosnia — will descend on Niagara for the exercise running from Aug. 16 to 24.

Back in my day, we’d have a camp established just outside Niagara-on-the-Lake and unless something went wrong, most of the civilian population in the area wouldn’t know we were there except for the unusually high number of short-haired guys in the bars after 6pm. In the mid-1970s, short hair was an unusual fashion statement…

While the soldiers take their soldiering seriously, Millman said there will be civil-military co-operation personnel to arrange interaction between soldiers and Niagara residents.

“Kids will get a chance to climb on their vehicles,” he said. “We’re not going to discourage (residents) from engaging with the soldiers” if it doesn’t conflict with the training, he said.

He told St. Catharines city council on Monday night that people simply find military vehicles fascinating

“There’s a five-year-old child in all of us who thinks…Thomas the Tank (Engine) is pretty cool,” he said. “Thomas the Coyote surveillance vehicle is super cool.”

Thorold city councillor Becky Lott said she hopes there is plenty of publicity about the exercise before soldiers arrive so people don’t fear the worst.

“I can see people calling and saying ‘why is there a tank rolling down my street?’” she said.

Coyotes? In my day we were just getting rid of the Korean War-vintage trucks and jeeps… get off my lawn, you kids!

Coyote Armoured Patrol Vehicle

June 11, 2014

Winter damage to vineyards in Niagara and on the Bench

Filed under: Business, Cancon, Wine — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 08:20

The first — and probably not the last — definite sign of how bad this winter was for the wineries comes from today’s newsletter from Featherstone, where Louise Engel says they’ve suffered severe damage to some of the vines:

Every season is an adventure in weather here in Niagara. Every year since we bought the vineyard fifteen years ago, Dave and I have looked at each other at some point during the grape growing season, sighed deeply, and said:

“Hmm … well, never seen that before.”

This past year we added ‘polar vortex’ to our table talk. However, we were optimistic that the vines would come through relatively unscathed from the punishing winter temperatures. Our optimism was misplaced. Both the Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc vines have been badly damaged and will need extensive re-planting.

The Gewürztraminer has been virtually wiped out. We are considering replanting that entire field with a hardier variety, like Riesling. The Riesling field that was planted in 1998 is sixteen, going on seventeen, and still thrives. So it may be so long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, goodbye Gewürztraminer.

Does this mean that prices will increase? No, it doesn’t. But if you are a fan of our Gewürztraminer, I suggest you climb ev’ry mountain to get here before it’s all gone. Forever.

If you’re not familiar with the Niagara Escarpment sub-appellations, Featherstone is in the Twenty Mile Bench: most of my favourite wineries are in this sub-appellation.

March 6, 2014

Ontario wineries facing severe losses to the vines this winter

Filed under: Business, Cancon, Wine — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:20

In Decanter, Carolyn Evans Hammond says two of Ontario’s three wine-producing regions are experiencing damage to the vines as this long, cold winter continues:

Freezing temperatures across Ontario have damaged vines in the Canadian province’s vineyards, with some producers reporting bud loss of around 90%.
Niagara Peninsula Sub-Appellations
Producers in two of Ontario’s three wine appellations are already facing a smaller 2014 harvest after reporting severe bud loss in the past few weeks.

‘Our winery has 95 to 98% bud loss, so we won’t be getting grapes this year,’ says Tom O’Brien, owner of Cooper’s Hawk Vineyards in Lake Erie North Shore.

That appellation shows the most damage, with an average bud loss of 86 to 90% across all varieties, according to Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI).

Meanwhile, average bud loss in Niagara Peninsula ranges from 34% for Pinot Noir to 66% for Syrah, according to CCOVI with Chardonnay, Riesling and Cabernet Franc faring better than Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot.

Due to the normally colder winters in Prince Edward County, most wineries bury the vines until spring, so the damage in that region will not be as bad as Lake Erie North Shore or Niagara/Beamsville.

December 16, 2013

It was thirty years ago today

Filed under: Personal — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 09:27

York County Court HouseElizabeth and I got married in Toronto on this date in 1983. It was a bit of a race to get to the courthouse on time — my so-called best man decided that he had to go back to Mississauga “for a shower” that morning, and was quite late getting back into Toronto. Trying to get a cab to hurry in downtown Toronto traffic was a waste of effort, so I very nearly missed my own wedding. Elizabeth was not pleased with me holding up the show (even though I could rightfully claim it wasn’t my fault). The rest of the day is rather a blur to me now.

Prince of Wales hotel in Niagara-on-the-LakeWe had the reception that evening at a lovely house in the Playter Estates (during which my father tried to pick a fight with Elizabeth’s uncle), and then set off for our very brief honeymoon in Niagara-on-the-Lake the next day. We could only afford two nights at the Prince of Wales hotel, and because we got married on Saturday, we were in NOTL for Sunday and Monday nights. Back in 1983, Ontario still had fairly restrictive Sunday closing laws, so there was very little to do — almost everything was closed. (And that was probably for the best, as we had almost no money to spend anyway…)

Chateau des CharmesOne of the few businesses we found open in the area was the original Chateau des Charmes estate winery (not the huge, imposing facility of today: a small industrial-looking building a few kilometres away), where the only person on duty was Mme Andrée Bosc who gave us an exhaustive tasting experience and showed us around the winery. Neither of us were experienced wine drinkers, so this was wonderful for both of us. I’d love to say that we started our wine cellar that day, but that would only be partially true: we bought about a dozen bottles of various Chateau des Charmes wines, but we couldn’t afford to restock after those had been opened. We visited the winery every year on our anniversary for about a decade, until we got out of the habit of going back to NOTL (which was around the time our son was born).

After our brief honeymoon, we both had to go back to our jobs. Very shortly after that, my employer (the almost-unknown-to-Google Mr Gameway’s Ark) went bankrupt, which was financially bad timing for us, having just spent most of our tiny cash hoard on our honeymoon.

September 19, 2013

The LCBO’s new “Ontario Boutique” outlets – doing a Wal-Mart to Ontario wineries

Filed under: Business, Cancon, Wine — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:13

In the latest Ontario Wine Review, Michael Pinkus talks about the opening of three new “Ontario Boutique” LCBO stores. These stores are the LCBO’s response to rising demand for quality Ontario wines … opening stores to directly compete with the wineries.

Well it happened; the LCBO opened their Ontario Boutiques to great fanfare on September 12, in three cities: Niagara Falls, St. Catharines and Windsor … three places that have wineries nearby. Three places where the local populace could hop in their cars and within 15 minutes be at any of a dozen wineries in the area. The way we should all view this is the LCBO utilized the Wal-Mart approach to competition: get in there and fight it out with already established businesses. According to reports, they are beautiful, well-stocked and something to see. Now, I’m not questioning whether or not the LCBO was going to do a nice job on these in-store boutiques, heck they have the money to sink into them (yours and mine), I question their location and I question why the Wal-Mart tactics?


Someone who did get it (Bob) emailed me directly, putting it very succinctly: “The Wine Council’s information shows that the majority of VQA wines are still sold at the wineries. I asked one of their staff why they were putting a new VQA [boutique] in the Glendale store in St. Catharines rather than Toronto, and was told that it was because they sold more VQA wine in that store than any other in their system. Obviously, they are intent on trying to steal as much business away from the local wineries as possible, and therefore to deny the wineries (for the most part Canadian small businesses) as much profit as possible.”

While another reader, Gaye, admitted she has finally seen the light: “I always took your rants re: the LC mildly, as I like being able to shop in the “biggest” importer of wines in the world (sic). But I love Ontario wines, and living in Toronto always bemoan the difficulty of going to Niagara wineries and driving back … for obvious reasons. So I thought these boutiques were inevitable and of course would be in the place most Ontario wine was drunk, Toronto. As your excellent wife said, “a no-brainer”. This is incredible, opening in Niagara Falls? As if our wine was just something to be sold to tourists. Now I’m totally on side.”

December 3, 2012

Canada’s arch-traitor of the War of 1812

Filed under: Cancon, History, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 11:54

In the National Post, James Careless discusses the worst politician in Canadian history, the man who urged invaders to burn down his own constituency on their retreat:

Joseph Willcocks was an admired and effective member of the Upper Canada parliament for Niagara when the War of 1812 broke out. He quickly applied his skills to the war effort, convincing aboriginal warriors in his area to fight for the British. He earned the gratitude of the great British Army officer Sir Isaac Brock for his effort and fought alongside Brock at the Battle of Queenston Heights.

By all accounts he fought bravely. But as the war raged on, Willcocks decided to switched sides, joining the Americans who had overrun his Niagara riding. He created a turncoat regiment called the Canadian Volunteers who spied on Upper Canadians still loyal to the British, imprisoned their men and plundered their farms.

When the Americans retreated from Niagara in December 1813, Willcocks urged them to burn the village to the ground. This the Americans did, turning families out into the snow with the Canadian Volunteers’ eager assistance.

“This act of treason made Willcocks the only MP in history to burn his constituency,” says Sarah Maloney, managing director/curator of the Niagara Historical Society & Museum in Niagara-on-the-Lake (formerly Niagara). “His betrayal is unprecedented in our history.”

“Willcocks was certainly Canada’s worst-ever politician,” says Peter Macleod, pre-Confederation historian and curator of the Canadian War Museum’s 1812 exhibition. “But he was more than that. Willcocks was and still is Canada’s arch-traitor.”

Update, 24 May 2013: This was posted as a comment by Bryan Kerman, but comments are automatically closed on posted items after a few days, so it didn’t get added to the comment thread.

Sorry to surprise you but the article on Joseph Willcocks is misleading and covers up the big STATE LIE about him.

To whit:

1. He did not go willingly to the Americans but was run out by some prominent Tories, part of what would be called the Family Compact shortly afterwards.

2. He essentially fought his war within a war to hurt the Tories and otherwise political enemies who had caused him to flee.

3. His treason by taking up arms has provided convenient cover for 200 years to those who caused his expulsion and thence violent response.

These conclusions based on new evidence I have found is given in the ‘Introduction’ to my book Democrats and Other Traitors (Amazon) and throughout the novel.

Mr. Kerman’s book is listed on the Offorby Press website here.

October 10, 2012

Macdonell on the Heights

Filed under: Cancon, History, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 16:50

One of my favourite Stan Rogers songs is “Macdonell on the Heights”. Here’s the history behind the song, courtesy of the Niagara 1812 Legacy Council:

John Macdonell was born in April 1785 in Scotland. At the age of seven he came with his family to Canada where at the age of 23 he became a lawyer. He later earned a seat in the legislature and in September 1811 he was appointed attorney-general.

Macdonell was not loved by all, especially William Baldwin who duelled with the attorney-general, but his position brought him closer to Isaac Brock, who asked Macdonell to serve as his aide. Macdonell was a lieutenant-colonel in the York Militia where he served as Brock’s aide with energy and poise.

During the Battle of Queenston Heights Macdonell was not far behind Brock, who had left in the early hours from Fort George to the site of the American invasion. It was not long after Brock’s failed advance up the heights that Macdonell led his own desperate charge to retake the redan battery. Macdonell’s small force did push the Americans back briefly, but a musket ball hit Macdonell’s horse, which reared up as a second musket ball struck Macdonell’s back. Macdonell was shot four times but it did not prevent him from attempting to stand and continue the attack. Fellow officers pulled the lieutenant-colonel from the battlefield as the attack failed to capture the redan battery.

October 6, 2012

Reporting from the St. Catharines Wine and Grape parade

Filed under: Cancon, Humour, Wine — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 11:43

Scott Feschuk goes back to St. Catharines to watch the parade go by:

In my hometown of St. Catharines, Ont., the last Saturday of September brings the Grape and Wine parade — a fun, child-friendly celebration of Niagara’s contribution to our national drunkenness. Join me as I attend the parade for the first time in 25 years:

9:48 a.m. We set up across from City Hall, just down from the viewing stand and just up from the elderly lady in the “Will work for wine” T-shirt. Behind us, at a church-run snack table, a sign announces that passersby are welcome to take a free apple as a gesture of God’s love. An Italian sausage, however, will set you back four bucks because the hydro company does not accept payment in love gestures.

9:54 The parade doesn’t start until 11 o’clock, which gives everyone plenty of time to brag about when they arrived downtown to Get a Good Spot. The exchange between two women in line for coffee is typical. “I got here around 8.” “Really? We were totally set up by 7:30.” Subtext: You are a terrible mother, first woman.

[. . .]

11:14 I didn’t know the Grape parade had a theme — and had I known, I’d have assumed it was Please Stop Laughing at Our Floats. But this year several of the floats commemorate the War of 1812, including one with a giant banner that reads: “1812-2012: 200 Years of Peace.” Being a stickler for historical accuracy and also a huge jerk, I loudly point out that the war didn’t end until 1814. Feschuk 1, Parade 0.

11:16 It’s still early, but if I had to pick my favourite War of 1812 re-enactor so far, it would definitely be the soldier in the period-accurate Nike cross-trainers.

[. . .]

12:27 The parade is almost over and there hasn’t been a single clown yet—not one. And where is the A&W Bear and why aren’t people on floats throwing candy and why isn’t everything exactly the same as it was in my childhood WHEN EVERYTHING WAS PERFECT AT ALL TIMES??

12:34 A final note: the Grape and Wine parade featured a number of cheerleading teams and academies — so many that I feel confident in stating for the record that we, as a nation, are good for cheerleaders. We do not require any more eight-year-old girls to paint on thick, sparkly eye makeup and thrust their pelvises in a sexualized manner. We are good for bare midriffs and self-esteem issues. Sure, Niagara may have lost most of its manufacturing jobs, but it’s in terrific shape if the key to prospering in the global economy turns out to be human pyramids.

August 25, 2011

Niagara winemaker being punished for “stepping out of line”

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Cancon, Government, Law, Wine — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:18

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.

July 14, 2011

Yet another twist in the twisty-turny mess that is Ontario liquor law

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Cancon, Law, Wine — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:42

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.

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