A Canada Day weekend column is usually a lock for me: wax poetic about wines from our own backyard, encourage people to try British Columbia and Ontario wines in our market (or the few Quebec, Maritime or Prairie wines), etc.
But I feel differently this year -- this year, I feel as if Canadian wine is at a crossroads. Don't get me wrong -- the quality of wine made in Canada is as good as ever, and continues to improve. It's just that Canadians aren't able to try enough good quality reds, whites, bubblies and stickies from B.C., Ontario, the Maritimes, Quebec and even the Prairies.
Bill C-311, the amendment to the Importation of Intoxicating Liquor Act (which, if you didn't guess by the bill's antiquated-sounding name, dates back to 1928), means the federal government no longer completely prohibits the inter-provincial movement of Canadian wine. C-311 has now passed third reading in the Senate, and Royal Assent was set to happen this past week (or very soon).
As a result of Bill C-311, "personal quantities" of wine will be allowed across provincial borders by an individual -- or so it would seem. In fact, it's the provinces that decide whether or not to set any level of "personal quantity," and yes, most allow Canadians to bring small amounts of beer, wine or spirits home with them tax-free.
It's the potential for e-commerce -- buying wine directly from a winery's website and having it shipped to your door -- that's being completely eschewed by the provincial liquor boards. Unfortunately, nobody wants to allow inter-provincial traffic (other than the wine, beer and spirits you physically bring back with you), and the amount allowed varies from province to province.
Allowing the online ordering and shipping of Canadian wine from Canadian wineries to individual Canadians in other provinces would go a long way in fostering a pan-Canadian wine identity. It would get wine drinkers talking about (and drinking) wine from other provinces.
Many smaller Canadian wineries don't have the staff, resources or patience to deal with the red tape of shipping through provincial liquor boards. Direct shipping also means lost tax/tariff/markup revenue for those liquor boards -- another minus. (I'll be chatting with local wine-industry types about Bill C-311 in the coming weeks.)
Canadians want change. A Harris-Decima poll released earlier in June found 78 per cent of respondents deemed inter-provincial restrictions unreasonable, while 82 per cent of respondents felt they "should be allowed to access wines from other provinces through online purchasing."
If the provinces don't make a move, we may end up with a stalemate when it comes to shipping of Canadian wine.
Happy Canada Day. Free my grapes.
Key links about Bill C-311
freemygrapes.ca: Set up by a group called the Alliance of Canadian Wine Consumers, this site is updated frequently with the latest on Bill C-311.
winelaw.ca: Mark Hicken is a Vancouver-based lawyer sharing his thoughts on Bill C-311 and legal issues relating to wine in Canada.
twitter.com/search/freemygrapes: Most Canadian wine industry folk tweeting about Bill C-311 and wine in Canada use the #freemygrapes hashtag.
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MISSION HILL 2010 FIVE VINEYARDS SAUVIGNON BLANC (Okanagan Valley, B.C. -- $14.99, Liquor Marts and beyond)
Green apple, honey, mineral, lime rind and bell pepper aromas scream New World Sauvignon Blanc. Light-bodied, bone-dry and crisp, the Five Vineyards avoids getting overly grassy, retaining a fine balance between tart citrus and herbal/vegetal notes. Solid -- the 2011 is on its way soon and should ramp up the freshness. 87/100
SANDHILL 2008 SMALL LOTS "TWO" (Okanagan Valley, B.C. -- around $43, private wine stores)
I tried this blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc last fall at the winery, and it showed really well -- leather, cinnamon, cocoa, raspberry and vanilla aromas were intense, while it delivered deep blackberry, plum and dark chocolate flavours on the rich, full-bodied palate. I've seen this one at Banville & Jones, although the vintage may vary and it may be at other private wine stores too. Regardless, the "Two" bottling is a consistently excellent release. 90/100
JOIEFARM 2011 RIESLING (Okanagan Valley, B.C. -- not available in Manitoba, $23 on winery website)
This wine isn't available in Manitoba. How did I get it? I'll just plead the Fifth. Anyway, the wine is medium-gold in colour, with incredible, fresh red apple, perfume, lemon and light yeasty aromas. It's off-dry, with almost-sweet green apple, lemon candy and tart peach flavours as well as light but bright acidity. I often find their white wines are so juicy and fresh they're like tasting right from a tank at the winery. Visit www.joiefarm.com for more about this excellent winery. I'd order a case online if I could do so legally. 91/100