If you're a Canadian wine lover, remember the date June 13, 2012 because it was likely the most significant day in the history of the country's young wine industry. Yes, more so than the planting of the first top-quality vinifera vines; more noteworthy than that first major award bestowed on a Canadian wine; and even more crucial than the adoption of legally-binding quality regulations.
Yesterday night, Sandra Oldfield, winemaker and owner of BC's Tinhorn Creek Vineyards, led a special BC Wine Chat under Twitter #Freemygrapes that was dedicated to Bill C-311. This discussion united wine lovers and wine industry professionals from BC to Nova Scotia. It trended nationally in Canada as well as Toronto, Calgary, Vancouver, Ottawa and Montreal. For those unfamiliar with Twitter that means enough people were talking around the virtual water cooler that #Freemygrapes became the “it” topic. It's the kind of buzz and national unity is usually reserved for something like an Olympic hockey game or a federal election. It's also the only time I can recall Canadian wine ever being at the heart of a national trending topic. As you can review in this archive, participants engaged in a passionate, intelligent and entertaining conversation regarding Canada's interprovincial wine regulations. A day later and thousands of tweets had potentially reached hundreds of thousands of consumers, industry professionals, politicians and even casual observers.
This seemingly driest of topics had people so engaged because Canada may be on the verge of finally amending an archaic law that could see you fined or imprisoned for bringing the local wine you purchased on your BC wine country trip back home to Toronto. Under this law wineries offering to ship the wine you've purchased from them to another province have had their license to operate threatened. In an era when you can buy just about anything on the internet, Canadian wine is still stuck in puritanical and protectionist 1928. Rightly outraged by this absurd situation, for the past couple of years there has been a grassroots movement by wine lovers to change this law. Sensing public and industry pressure to change it, BC MP Dan Albas, who represents the heart of BC wine country, introduced private member's Bill C-311 late last year. It aims to create a personal exception allowing customers to buy wine from a winery outside their home province and either have it shipped to them or bring it back on their person. The bill is up for its third reading in the Senate and should pass soon. Although this is great news and progress for Canadian wine lovers. It's also a critical time.
The hitch to Bill C-311 is the rules the provinces can set for this exception and how they choose to implement them. They can pretty much interpret them how they wish. For instance the LCBO recently changed its rules to allow you to bring back nine liters or 12 standard bottles, with you from your trip to BC or Nova Scotia wine country. But it must be for personal consumption (meaning you aren't reselling it like in restaurant) and you must personally take it back with you (meaning you'll have to stash it in your suitcase ).
If you look behind this policy you'll find that it's a bit self-serving. The limited number of BC wines that do make it into the LCBO's Vintages are usually priced much higher than they are on the winery's own retail shelves—the extra cash isn't ending-up in the winery's pocket. Should you desire, the LCBO will consider privately importing BC wine that it doesn't carry, but you'll find to do so is prohibitively expensive compared to what it can be had for in BC. Not to mention it's a relatively slow-moving and less than convenient process. Throughout the legislative course for Bill C-311 the LCBO has shown no signs that it would like to relinquish control and allow Canadian wine to move freely from its province of origin to another—arguably the crux of the bill.
For yesterday's #freemygrapes conversation and Bill C-311 to live up to their potential, wine needs to flow as freely across the provincial borders as it does into your glass. So if you want to take local wine culture to the next level you need to make your voice heard by writing your local MPP and telling him/her how you feel about Bill C-311. Ask them to take action on your behalf and apply their influence so that when the LCBO–a provincial crown corporation–implements this law they give Ontarians freedom to bring a reasonable amount of wine into the province.
To further emphasise your point and make it memorable, we're asking you to send your letter wrapped around your the empty bottle or cork of your favourite local wine. Yes, it's a little more effort than sending an email, but this kind of personal touch stands out and won't be easily forgotten. Think of it as sending a reminder of what you'd like to see shared with your fellow Canadians if wine were to flow freely cross-country.
Yesterday's Twitter conversation and the Free My Grapes have been invaluable in helping mobilising this movement, but it needs to keep moving forward. Reaching out to your MPP with this personal touch might just give the effort the nudge it needs to be adopted sooner rather than later. You can use this site to get the contact info to send the letter to your MPP and this one or this one to search for your MPP if you're having trouble recalling his or her name
No one can tell you exactly what to write because everyone's passion for wine is individual, but here are some points we've had in mind while crafting our letters.
1. The free flow of Canadian wine across provinces will create more interest in your local provincial wine industry (each province has wineries), potentially increasing demand and therefore creating more tax revenue and stimulating job growth.
2. The free flow of Canadian wine across provinces is unlikely to hurt the LCBO significantly. Many of the small boutique wineries in other provinces simply do not have the needed quantity required to do business with the LCBO even in a lower volume situation like Vintages. You can't loose business you never had.
3. We live in a global marketplace. Wine is a fiercely competitive global industry and Canada is a young, small and growing player in it. What better way to push the Canadian market forward than by purchasing your neighbouring province's wine? Education builds demand for wine, but reading only gets you so far. You need to taste and experience to truly build a wine culture and that can only come with familiarity granted via good access.
4. The law as it's written hinders fellow Canadians from purchasing wine from each other. Doing anything, but tearing down unreasonable barriers that discourage the purchase of a legal product is unconscionable.
Whatever you choose to write in your letter, draw from your experiences as a lover of Canadian wine. We're at the cusp of something that could truly kickstart the building of a strong local wine culture, but that can't start until there's one last push. Don't you want say you were part of that revolution?
Written by Mike Di Caro
Michael Di Caro covers all things vinous at Spotlight. His lover affair with Ontario wine began over a decade ago and he’s been in front of tasting bars trying to sweet talk staff into pouring a taste of a library wine or the latest unreleased bottle ever since. Since good wine can’t be made without great grapes, you can also catch him amongst the vines trying to persuade the winemaker into revealing his/her next big thing for you on Spotlight. His epicurean tendencies don’t just stop in the glass either. During the rest of his free time you can find him searching for the perfect bowl of Dan Dan noodles, exploring the city’s best tasting menus or baking cookies and mucking about in the kitchen.