Cellared in Canada, eh?

The wine industry in Canada has changed a lot since I moved from Vancouver in 1997. And life has been so busy in the Washington state wine industry that I haven’t kept as close an eye on my old stomping grounds. That changed recently with the considerable media attention given to the labelling “Cellared in Canada” (CIC).

The recent grapes-of-wrath controversy began on Aug. 17 in a blog post called The Canadian Con by influential British wine writer Jancis Robinson. She noted that the term “Cellared in Canada” – in small print on the back label of a bottle – revealed the wines contained a blend of Canadian and imported wine. (In many cases, CIC wines contain 60- to 100-percent juice from imported grapes.)

Robinson scolded the industry for shelving and marketing them as wines from B.C. or Ontario. “I think it is doing a disservice to real Canadian wine and its reputation abroad to continue with this misleading practice. It is just so difficult to take Canadian producers seriously when they are allowed to mislead the wine-buying public to this extent.”

Not surprisingly, her blog post generated widespread attention by leading industry writers such as Wines & Vines author Peter Mitham (Cellared in Canada Wines Under Seige), Canadian author John Schreiner (Cellared in Canada Controversy Blows Up), and also in influential publications such as Wine Spectator, The Financial Times and the Economist.

Demonstrations started popping up at liquor stores in Ontario. And faster than you could say “CIC,” a Facebook group was created called Boycott Cellared in Canada Wines – almost 1,250 fans belong as of today. Then yesterday, one of the most detailed explanations appeared in The Montreal Gazette by Bill Zacharkiw: When does a wine become Canadian? 

“Cellared in Canada (CiC) is a classification of wines blended and bottled in Canada, yet are made mostly with imported grapes, from such places as Chile, California and Washington State.” (Just think, for example, if Woodinville wines had to be labelled “Cellared in Woodinville” because the grapes came from Red Mountain.)

So questions continue to swirl around whether these wines should be made in the first place, what percentage of grapes should be from Canada, labelling, product placement, merchandizing, marketing and, of course, price points.

Somehow, I suspect this grapes-of-wrath debate will continue in the months ahead. And not only in Canada, eh?