Last night the Wine Council of Ontario formally introduced Mywineshop.ca and the details behind the campaign. Since its soft launch about a month ago, over a thousand people have shown their support by creating and sharing the dream wine shop they'd build if it was legal.
WCO President Hillary Dawson said staff have been really impressed by the response from Ontarians, but most importantly that 150 have clicked the “take action button” and checked the box indicating they are interested in becoming a private wine shop owner. Many have also chosen to let their M.P.P. know they support the council's vision with an impressive 75 of the total 107 having been contacted at least once.
“More selection will allow the burgeoning wine industry to flourish not just locally, but globally,” said WCO Chair Ed Madronich. But in order for that international expansion to happen it first needs to build the local wine culture through a strong local base. The council and its members believe a network of independent wine boutiques is the best way to make that happen.
One of the key points Madronich underlined is that Mywineshop.ca doesn't mean the end of the LCBO. The LCBO has played an important role in the growth of Ontario wine and will continue to under this plan, he explained. The LCBO would still continue to be the buyer of record under the council's plan, allowing the province to collect all the taxes and (most of the) mark-up just as it does currently. He also maintains that bottom line for the LCBO and the province would actually improve with the addition of private stores. While it's true that under this model the LCBO would loose out on approximately $1 to $1.50 of revenue that it currently collects on every $12 bottle of wine, that would be more than offset by not having to pay for warehousing, transportation, stocking and staffing costs.
The core message of the council's plan is convenience, selection and choice. The last one is key. Per capita Ontario is quite underserved when it comes to retail alcohol options. Dawson pointed out that in North America, only residents of Utah (a state where all alcoholic beverages over 4.0% AVB must be sold in state-run stores) and Pennsylvania (where all liquor stores are state run) are more underserved than Ontarians. Interestingly, the LCBO plans to open 70 new stores over the next couple of years, hinting that they seem to recognise this disparity. But rather than spending millions of provincial tax dollars building those stores this plan would help close the gap, Madronich explained.
One of the other issues the WCO's plan addresses is the oft-cited concern that private retailers with primarily profit-based motivations wouldn't fill the social responsibility role as well as the LCBO. Under its model the LCBO would continue to set the socially responsible floor for a particular type of alcohol and it would not be allowed to be undersold by any private store. It feels that like in B.C., where private and provincial stores coexist, consumers will be willing to pay the slight premium for convenience and selection. As for serving minors, just like restaurants, bars and nightclubs, anyone caught serving minors would face penalties like: fines, license suspension or revocation.
The Wine Council has put a couple of additional suggested caveats on its proposal. The first is that manufactures like wineries as well as wine importers not be allowed to operate a store because of a conflict of interest. The second is a suggestion that licenses only be granted one per individual precluding the chance of market dominance by a few large chains, which have focused on pricing and convenience at the expense of selection elsewhere.
One issue that hasn't really been explored is whether beer and liquor would also be allowed in these stores. Madronich said that the council has talked to some craft breweries and while they aren't opposed, the overall response wasn't as unanimously enthusiastic as the wine council's members, so it has chosen to focus on wine for the time being.
Madronich closed on the point that the council has spent seven years on the proposal taking into account all sides and has come to the conclusion that this is the right time and it's “really a win, win, win” for consumers, wineries and government. But if there's one thing he and the council stress above all others it's that MyWineShop.ca represents just the beginning of a dialogue on modernising alcohol sales in Ontario. If anybody has any concerns with anything it has presented there is an open invitation to talk about it with all the contact info you require on the site.
"The limited points of access for the consumer to purchase them and the limited shelf space available at the LCBO are our biggest challenges in getting wine out to our consumers. Private wine shops would offer the consumer greater convenience and choice across the board. As a VQA winery we have only the LCBO and our own store at the winery when it comes to a retail shopping experience for the consumer in Ontario. For example, many people do not understand why The Wine Rack and the other wine stores located in grocery chains only carry the wines of the biggest Ontario wineries — they are shocked when they learn that these companies actually own these stores and have a license unavailable to the smaller wineries that permit them alone to operate their own off-site retail locations. We do not have this opporuntiy. We support Mywineshop 100% as a complimentary option to what is already available in Ontario".
- Stephen Gash, Malivoire Wine Company.
"Ontario has only one retailer for the entire population of 12+million people. No other wine region in the world suffers from this sort of millstone. I have been heavily involved in the development of this program, and think it is a great way to let government know that the current liquor retailing system in Ontario, which has been in place for over 80 years, is archaic. We need private wine stores, and this initiative will help us get them. It comes down to choice and convenience for the consumer, and more access for us in the Ontario wine industry. In regards to the passage of Bill C-311, One of the best parts of the debate was how it shone a light on the greedy, almost corrupt behaviour of some of the liquor boards. In particular, the way that the SAQ and LCBO collaborated to aggressively attempt to forestall its passage was particularly revealing. Thankfully, the federal gov’t decided to ignore them. The LCBO monopoly on wine sales needs to come to an end. Nearly every province in Canada has some form of private wine sales, except Ontario. In BC, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia, and Quebec, the private and government stores manage to coexist quite nicely. Why not in Ontario? Our citizens deserve improved choice and convenience. And us folks in the Ontario wine industry need an alternate channel to sell into. Ontario needs private wine stores today.".
- Jeff Aubry, Coyote's Run Winery
"The biggest challenge faced by our winery getting wine to consumers is the lack of distribution channels available in our domestic market. The only place where all our wines are distributed is our own Winery Retail Store (WRS). We are allowed only one WRS and it must be onsite at our farm gate. The LCBO offers extra distribution but there is intense pressure for the limited shelf space available and it is reaching a crisis point for many smaller wineries to compete in such a restrictive environment. Let me just say that the LCBO does an excellent job of providing a good supply of products and a nice retail environment and we value them as a partner in growing our business, but it is not enough for consumers or producers. We are in support of the mywineshop.ca initiative. It will potentially offer consumers a wider assortment of product and hopefully convenience. The great thing I envision about this model is that it will likely attract applicants that will be passionate about the wines they will sell in their store. So if you love Ontario wines, or Italian wines or are passionate about Riesling there will likely be a specialist store that will focus on those wines. Wine geek heaven. Or if you're just looking to pick up a six pack of local craft beer, you could get that more easily too. It will provide a great complement to the existing distribution channel. The revenue returned to the province under the mywineshop.ca proposal would be the same as that returned via LCBO sales.
Rosehall Run currently produces about 8,000-8,500 cases annually. Growth is very expensive however, especially if it involves vineyards, bricks and mortar and significant equipment investment as ours does. Having said that, it would be nice to see our production in the next ten years grow to about 25,000-30,000 cases-still small but with a volume that should allow Rosehall Run to be sustainable over the long term. It would help create the jobs and opportunity our rural economy in Prince Edward County is striving for. Bill C-311 is an important first step in bringing alcohol distribution into the 21st century, at least the feds don’t consider it criminal to ship our wines to fellow Canadians. But honestly, it really hasn’t changed anything in a material way. Provinces are still dragging their feet in allowing the direct shipment of wine to consumers. It must be pointed out that Manitoba and B.C. have taken the first steps by opening up their borders to Ontario (and other provinces) wines. East of Ontario and elsewhere it’s business as usual, meaning provinces will not allow direct shipment to consumers.
We have the potential to make wines that will be regarded as reference points the world over-we have the terroir for it. I look forward to the day when PEC will be renowned for outstanding Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, Beamsville Bench wines will be the reference point for distinctive internationally recognized Riesling and Pinot Noir or Niagara Parkway for Cabs that fit nicely alongside those of Bordeaux or California for example. It is already starting to happen.
In order to do this we must be strong in our domestic market. The B.C. model of both private and provincially owned stores is a good start and is what is being advocated by the mywineshop.ca initiative. It will help strengthen our wine industry.
The estate/family winery business is complex: We are farmers, manufacturers, retailers, often wholesalers, tourism destinations and much more. And we are heavily regulated, taxed and reported on. We return a huge amount to the Ontario economy in spin-off business and supporting hospitality activities and for that reason we are worth investing in and supporting.
That is the case we bring to Ontarians".
- Dan Sullivan, Rosehall Run Winery.
"The Single biggest issue can be summed up in 2 words: Market Access. While we do work with the LCBO, as a producer of several niche wines ranging from a 40 – 300 case production, the LCBO is just too big a system to accommodate these wines in an efficient manner. So we’re left with one retail sales alternative for the whole province of Ontario – our little wine shop in Jordan. While we have lots of loyal fans and offer a great winery visit experience, it’s not enough incentive to everyone down to Jordan to buy wine. Who can blame them? As consumers we look for convenience, but the LCBO is too big to accommodate that, and as a winery with a single retail license, we can’t either. More wine retail options can open up a whole new world of amazing wines.
Mywineshop is a clever way to educate people about an issue they’re likely not aware of. Most Ontarians think, ‘I like the LCBO’, but have no frame of reference for a wine shopping experience beyond that. Alberta for example has an amazing range of wine shopping experiences from large volume to small specialty. That helps explain why the Alberta average per capita consumption trounces Ontario. My Wine Shop get’s people thinking about what type of wine retail experience they’d like to see. It’s fun, easy and starts a dialogue. Most importantly, it encourages folks to write to their MPP, that’s the best way to encourage change.
Shipping fees are a main issue for us. Hopefully C-311 (when fully implemented in each province) will bring down the shipping rates for out of province shipping if larger couriers like FEDEX start shipping wine. We have lots of demand from folks outside Ontario for our wine, but the costs to ship are significant. In terms of competition from other wineries outside Ontario, I don’t see that as an issue. The more VQA people drink the more they’ll want. Great producers of Canadian wine stand to reap the benefits of more market access.
Ontario producers need better market access in their own province: We’re the only province in the country with zero privatization. Only 2 wine producers with grandfathered retail licenses have been allowed to flourish in Ontario – that is grossly unfair. Let people have better access and selection to all wines, the biggest change you’ll see as Premier is greater tax revenue from increased wine sales. Continue supporting local (and by local I mean VQA, not ICB) producers. It’s been clearly demonstrated by WCO and KPMG that there is a significant economic benefit to the province from every bottle of VQA Ontario wine sold. Keep helping wineries struggling to be profitable in this difficult retail system that we’re currently stuck with. Government marketing and margin support programs for VQA producers are key to our success. Make it easier for us to grow, produce, market and sell our product to the people. There are so many outdated, restrictive provincial and federal regulations for what we do. It prohibits our growth and prosperity.
- Matt Loney, Creekside Estate Winery.
To demonstrate how easy the mywineshop.ca process is we got together and created our own examples that we'd like to share with you. Have a look and let us know what you think.
Shawn McCormick's WineShop
Uncork Ontario – www.mywineshop.ca/uncork-ontario
There's something about meeting the people who grow and make the products we consume; Just like the local food movement, my wine shop is all about local wine.
My blog, my winery-finding app, and in fact the majority of the wine I drink is Ontario based. My wife and I got hooked on discovering the great wines of Ontario that never make it to the LCBO. Every trip we have taken to PEC and Niagara has resulted in our return in a vehicle overloaded with great wines. We share them with friends and family, and in turn we have gotten them hooked and taken them on our Onatrio wine tours with us.
I've had this dream (discussed on Twitter with fellow Ontario wine enthusiasts) of opening Ottawa's first all-Ontario wine store. I would say all VQA, but I want to include quality fruit wines and a few non-VQA gems I have discovered from tiny producers. I want to show people that Ontario makes fantastic wine, and highlight the people and passion that goes into those same wines.
The varieties I chose are all wines I know I can get here in Ontario. I know at least 2 great producers of each, and many more of most varietals. I love the idea of working as an agent for a great Ontario winery one day, promoting their wine. The only job that would be better than that would be promoting all Ontario wines through my shop!
My Forest Hill shop is all about location. St. Clair, the neighbourhood's southern border is lined with apartment buildings that are home to one of Toronto's most walkable communities, but we're drastically under-served by the Bathurst LCBO. The Control Board's location planning is obviously done by looking at a map and thinking about serving customers that drive. They also seem to be more interested in building new stores than in expanding and updating existing ones to meet demand. It's time that private entrepreneurs were given the opportunity to start ground-up wine (and craft beer) retailers that are more closely tied to their community.
For the shop in Beaverton quality selection is the key. The LCBO system has an aggravating negative feedback loop when it comes to offering better-quality wine choices. Those who live outside of designated "big town/city" markets get awful wine to choose from and it's not surprising that these markets develop a taste for Hochtaler and magnums of Gallo. It's time individual entrepreneurs were given the chance to help introduce markets outside of the GTA and Ottawa to excellent VQA wine.
Mark Bylok's Wineshop
Wine on Richmond – www.mywineshop.ca/wine-on-richmond
Wine on Richmond is in a small space specializing on a focused collection of wine for the casual wine drinker that's looking for delicious wines. Pick a price point and the type and region of wine you'd like and we'll take away the hassle of having to choose. Instead you'll find a few wines in each category recognized for their value and taste. Each month new wines will be featured, and Fridays at 5 we'll have free samplings of some of our wines so you can pick up the right wine for that evening party or special dinner at home.
Michael Di Caro's Wineshop
Ullage – www.mywineshop.ca/ullage
Ullage refers to the air space between the top of the barrel or bottle closure and the wine itself. It's the small space where the magic of aging happens and time and oxygen conspire to transform a good wine into something great. This wine boutique, overlooking beautiful High Park, will be for wine lovers, run by wine lovers. The carefully curated stock will feature a selection of back vintage and small production Canadian wines representing the best VQA and Canada has to offer. Rounding out the selection will be gems from around the globe made in under-appreciated regions and from under-appreciated grapes—the kind of selection we simply don't have access to under the currant system. Think: grower's Champagne, orange wines and beautiful, but undervalued varieties likes Limnio and LaCrima. Since wine is all about connecting with great company over the table, Ullage is staffed by people as passionate as they are knowledgeable. We will be happy to assist you in making a selection and help you discover a new producer in your backyard or open your eyes to new whole world of wonderful wine.
Suresh Doss' Wineshop
VinoTapas – www.mywineshop.ca/vinotapas
Having recently spent some time eating through Spain, I'm obsessed with tapas-style dining and the idea of bite size treats complimented with a glass of wine. Marry that with an unhealthy obsession with bubbly, and you have my wine shop. Located steps from the St Lawrence Market, a tapas and bubbly bar where the focus is sparkling wine and finger-sized foods. We make a number of great sparklers in Ontario, and this bar would feature bubbles from Prince Edward County to Niagara. With the close proximity to the market, the shop will also have have a daily chalkboard menu bringing together some of the market's best cheeses, meats, and snacks.
Occasionally you may even spot a local chef who will take over the shop for the day and present their take on tapas. Pull up to the bar, explore the world of sparkling wine along with globally influenced, seasonally inspired tapas.
My Wine Shop is managed by Wine Council of Ontario. You can learn more at www.mywineshop.ca