Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Prices that drive you to drink

Grant Park mart features booze for those with taste, money

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Ben Rusch holds a bottle of MacKinlay's Scotch whisky, which sells for $265.99, next to a $16,999.99 bottle of Macallan's Scotch, which is under lock and key.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Ben Rusch holds a bottle of MacKinlay's Scotch whisky, which sells for $265.99, next to a $16,999.99 bottle of Macallan's Scotch, which is under lock and key. Photo Store

If you've got a hankering for high-end hooch, grab your wallet and head to the Distinctions room at the Grant Park Liquor Mart.

Whether you're shopping for a $17,000 bottle of single malt scotch, a $5,000 bottle of rum or a (relatively) cheap $2,500 bottle of cognac, then Distinctions is for you.

The Distinctions room quietly opened in February as part of the newly renovated Grant Park store. Al Roney, executive general manager at Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries, said they decided to officially launch Distinctions on Friday after months of searching the globe for unique items.

"We saw that people were getting more and more interested in these types of higher-end, unique products, we saw that in our sales trends and that's the whole reason that we built this," Roney said.

Not so fast, said Mo Razik, owner of Fenton's Wine Merchants and chairman of the Independent Specialty Wine Stores of Manitoba.

Razik said it was the independent stores that created the market for these pricey products.

"We've been working hard for the past 20 years to increase the market for these types of products," said Razik. "We've increased it from almost nothing back in 1994 to the level where it's at today."

"We have products that are so rare that only one barrel of wine was produced."

-Ben Rusch, Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries

Razik said before 1994, Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries -- then called the Manitoba Liquor Control Commission -- had a monopoly over the majority of alcohol sales because there was almost no competition.

He said 20 years ago, the wine selection at the Liquor Mart was two-thirds white to one-third red, whereas the independent stores were the opposite.

"Usually, people who look for specialty wines look for red wines," said Razik, whose wine store was created to serve those customers.

Razik said he thinks the reason the Liquor Mart is expanding is because of competition from specialty stores.

Ben Rusch, who specializes in product education at Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries, said they're seeing increasing interest in higher-quality products every year.

"There was a time when wine was more of a commodity," said Rusch. "But now people aren't satisfied with that anymore, they want better quality, they want unique, they want different. They want wine to be not just a lifestyle choice but something that works well with the direction that cuisine is taking these days, too."

Razik estimates the independent stores provide wine to around 80 per cent of the higher-end restaurants in Winnipeg.

He said it's one of the things that has helped increase demand.

"The wines people drink at restaurants are the wines people start looking for on the market," said Razik. "I'm not claiming we did it all, but we definitely raised the bar."

Roney said Manitoba Liquor Marts have been satisfied with customer response so far.

The Distinctions room attracts around 10 to 20 buyers a week.

"Obviously with some of the price points in here it's not a high-traffic area, but we've been very happy so far with the response and hopefully, the consumers that have been buying from here have also been happy with the selection," Roney said.

Rusch said he is excited people don't have to go to places such as Chicago or New York to buy these unique wines and spirits.

"We have products that are so rare that only one barrel of wine was produced," said Rusch.

"The best part is, it's right here in Winnipeg."

veronika.gorlova@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 17, 2013 B3

History

Updated on Tuesday, December 17, 2013 at 6:48 AM CST: Changes headline, replaces photo

11:16 AM: Added pullquote.

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