CREW 2010 Meritage – Michael Pinkus, The Grape Guy, Ontario Wine Review

Filed in Our Wines, Wine Reviews on October 3, 2013

The first thing you’ll notice about this wine from Colchester Ridge (CREW) is the label, it’s not the same old sail on the label … and it’s not just the label that has a fancy look, this just might be the best Meritage to come out of CREW – let’s say ever.  The nose doles out oaky and smoky notes right from the get go, then the cassis swings in – palate is all about dark fruit: blackberry, black raspberry and cassis with good balancing acidity and a nice lazy tannin structure, meaning they don’t over-power the wine, they hang out but aren’t causing trouble – much silkier than expected with touches of cinnamon and spice.  Only 295 cases produced and they should go fast. Price: $20.00 – Rating: ****+

OntarioWineReview:  Impassioned Pleas and Deaf Ears

Last week was a big one here in Ontario.  Last week the bankrupt (of ideas) and corrupt Liberal government took a page out of the Progressive Conservative’s book and said they were going to look at the way Ontario sells alcohol and in particular the way Ontario wineries get their products to shelf.

Premier Kathleen Wynne was interviewed on-board a Go Train (what is this supposed to suggest?  She is going places?  She’s progressive?) by CTV, talking about the issue:  “Small wineries being able to sell in farmers’ markets, those are things that are being discussed right now,” interspersed with an interview of Jeff Aubry (co-owner of Coyote’s Run): “[Ontario is] one of the most repressive alcohol distribution regimes in the western world.”  Jeff’s a great spokesperson for the issue: he’s vocal and articulate about needing more opportunity to sell his wine, of which he and his fellow wineries currently only three avenues (cellar door, restaurants and LCBO) … but the question was raised:  is he the right spokesperson?  Let’s hold off debate on that one for just a moment.

Not only did I see Jeff’s interview on CTV, but I also heard his next interview on CFRB-NewTalk 1010 a couple days later on the Jim Richards show (~3:45pm).  There Jeff repeated his message that Ontario wineries need other venues to sell their wines – besides the LCBO and their own cellar door (restaurants are whole other ball of wax).  When asked how much of his production the LCBO takes, he said “75%” (a number he also mentioned to CTV) … Now hold the phone.  If I had one customer (like the LCBO) taking 75% of my production I’d be a pretty happy business owner – granted I really should look to diversify, because if that one customer decides to cut me off (which has been known to happen), I’d be in real trouble; so one could understand the need for wanting more places and different shelves on which to sell ones product, but still, it could be argued, Jeff and Coyote’s Run are in an enviable position, the LCBO likes to deal with them and 75% to a customer that pays on time is pretty sweet, right?  So why complain?

I agree when Jeff says his winemaker makes great wine and that’s why the LCBO is interested in carrying it, but you could also make the case that there are plenty of other great winemakers and wineries in this province making great wine that doesn’t get that kind of support from the LCBO.  On the other hand, there are some who claim they don’t want the LCBO’s help because they take too much of a bite out of the bottom line … but then we’re back to the same problem: how else do you get your wine in front of more people?  No matter how you slice it Ontario wineries are limited in their selling avenues (did you miss why – see the above paragraph).  Let’s face it, if you want to grow your winery business you NEED to deal with the LCBO, like it or not; it’s akin to being held hostage: you don’t like your capture but sooner or later you have to learn to get along or they’ll kill you … yes, Ontario wineries have a case of Stockholm Syndrome.

And what about the other wineries in the province of Ontario that needs to put bottles onto LCBO shelves, how do they stack up against Coyote’s Run’s 75%?  A random sampling over the weekend found the following:  Lailey (5%), Rosewood (25%), Coffin Ridge (20%), Sprucewood Shores (30%), Colchester Ridge (15%), Kacaba (30%), Muscedere (5%), Ravine (11%), Staff Wines (35%), Creekside (40%), Flat Rock (50%), Angels Gate (65%), Closson Chase (10%), Ridgepoint (5%), Quai de Vin (0%) … Though many admit they want that number to rise and the LCBO to take more – but then again what choice do they have, the LCBO is the only one who can take more.

Truth is, all the wineries mentioned above, and plenty more like them, have nothing but their cellar door to fall back on when the LCBO says no, and sooner or later they do, because the LCBO gets flooded with so many requests to sell foreign and domestic wine, and they only have a finite amount of shelf space … they are, after all, THE ONLY game in town.

Let’s move on to the government’s latest thought bubble.  In a companion story to the CTV interview, the Toronto Star did a story in which they spoke with Finance Minister Charles Sousa, who was quick to point out what his government is already doing to help the industry.  He pointed to the three new Ontario VQA “boutiques” as if they were something to get excited about … but what he fails to grasp is that it is still the LCBO; avenues for selling Ontario wine have not changed, they’ve just been given a fancier name: “boutique”.

In that same article, Sousa also noted that “a “wine panel” of officials from the ministries of finance, economic development and trade, and agriculture is looking at the system.” – this is nothing new for this government, in fact a report called the BASR report came out in 2005 – commissioned by, you guessed it, the Liberals, to do just that and more.  So in essence the Liberals are looking at an idea they were advised was a good one 8 years ago.  Your tax dollars hard at work, again.

Finally, Sousa touted the coming of “express stores” in grocery stores as another achievement … once again failing to realize that you’re still just selling to the government run agency (the LCBO) … and once again, that is not a new avenue – it’s the same old place with a different name.  So currently this government’s answer seems to be to keep selling through the LCBO, but give things different names to make it look like the market is being expanded.

As for our friend Jeff Aubry over at Coyote’s Run, he with the 75% production going to the Board, the earlier question asked was: is he the right spokesman for the job?  Consider this:  if a guy in a seemingly “golden” position, like Aubry, has something to gripe about – you have to question what the other wineries, who are in a more precarious position on the LCBO pecking order, are thinking.  Aubry has listings to lose while the other wineries would be more than happy to fill those voids – and don’t for a second think the vindictive LCBO is above that.  Aubry is walking a double edged sword: on one side he’s fortunate enough to have a big customer; on the other side he makes too much noise he’s liable to lose them.  So whether you think he’s the right man or the wrong man for the job isn’t really the issue … it’s that his message is spot-on no matter where you are on the LCBO depth chart.

As for Premier Wynne, she talks about “Controlled availability”, “Ontario the good”, and “getting over our history”.  But she leaves me with more questions than answers.  Haven’t we had enough control?  Hasn’t Ontario far out-lived its moniker of being “good”?  And how long does getting over our history take?    Especially when it comes to the way we treat our wineries and how we go about selling their wines.  Ontarians have been told time and time again by so many of our previous governments, about reforming the system from Peterson to Harris and now Wynne (and I’m sure there are more in the past I just can’t remember) … heck why should we believe it this time.  This issue has because Ontario’s ‘Big Foot’ legend:  we’ve heard about it but we’ve seen little proof.

So Premier Wynne, with all due respect, whether you stole the idea from the PCs, are looking to buy winery and the wine-lover’s vote, or suddenly had an epiphany in your sleep, I don’t care – can we please just stop talking about it (too many governments have paid enough lip service to this issue), let’s get on with it already.  It’s high time Ontarians had easier access to their home-grown wines, and high time that Ontario’s wineries had greater and better access for getting those wines into consumer’s hands.  Can we finally be like other wine making regions of the world and show pride in our homegrown wines – and just for one month at the LCBO?

Ontario Wine Review Newsletter 214

Review Date
Reviewed Item
2010 Meritage
Author Rating

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