Michelle Rempel knows how to spot a good bottle of wine, but the Member of Parliament wants her fellow wine lovers to know they’re actually getting a Canadian wine when they buy a bottle that’s branded that way.
Thanks to a federal government provision, not all wines have to be made with grapes grown in Canada in order to be sold as Canadian. Rempel said it’s time for that to change.
The Conservative MP wants to see a government committee re-examine the “Cellared in Canada” label. It’s a designation that allows wine producers to sell product made from imported grapes alongside 100 per cent Canadian wines.
“If we’re looking at growing the industry long term… there is room for the price point that ‘Cellared in Canada’ wine is,” she said in a phone interview. But she’s concerned the impact that label has on the “Product of Canada” brand.
“That’s why we need to have the discussion around ‘Cellared in Canada’ wines.”
What does “Cellared in Canada” mean?
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s “Cellared in Canada” designation was meant to help wine producers keep the vino flowing during a period of time, from the late 1980s through the ‘90s, when growers replanted their vineyards with “wine quality” — including chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and pinot noir — instead of grapes that are native to Canada and not as popular on the international wine market.
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It was only supposed to be an interim measure, Rempel pointed out, put in place in 1994.
More than two decades later, she said, Canada has a much more robust and respected industry that thrives in six provinces and brings in about $7 billion a year.
And critics of the “Cellared in Canada” labeling — sometimes labeled as “International-Canada Blended” wine — believe the Canadian wineries that are collecting prizes and gaining global recognition shouldn’t be lumped in with those that aren’t truly Canadian.
Rempel has garnered a lot of support for the move via her always active Twitter account.
Vancouver-based sommelier and wine educator DJ Kearney said if the wine is good enough, it can stand up to other bottles and consumers won’t be bothered by where the grapes came from.
“There’s nothing wrong with importing wine from other countries in bulk. There’s nothing wrong with selling at a reasonable price,” Kearney said. But having Canada on a label for an essentially foreign wine is deceitful, she added. “To suggest that 100 per cent foreign content wine is in any way Canadian is just wrong.”
How much foreign wine can be in a “Cellared in Canada” wine?
The amount of foreign grape content allowed in a wine depends on where in Canada it comes from.
In Ontario, for example, wines only have to contain 25 per cent Ontario-grown grapes. In British Columbia, a wine can be 100 per cent imported grape juice.
Wines that are labeled VQA (Vintners Quality Alliance) are assured to be made with 100 per cent Canadian (specifically Ontario or B.C.) grapes. Although that label features prominently on bottles that are designated VQA, the “Cellared in Canada” wines can be sold alongside them and that “dilutes the brands,” Rempel said.
That’s not entirely the case, according to John Peller, president of one of Canada’s leading wine producers — Andrew Peller Ltd.
His Grimsby, Ont. company is responsible for products ranging from the low-cost Baby Duck to the wines of Peller Estates — the 2014 WineAline Canadian Winery of the Year.
“No one cares more about truth in labeling than we do,” he said, explaining that blended wines are good value and “don’t pretend” to be anything they’re not.
The labels on the low-cost blended wines his company produces, ones around the $10 price point, state they are a mix of imported and domestic wines and “Cellared in Canada” by a “Canadian-owned company.” And the wines that are blended or just “Cellared in Canada” are separated in the stores, while VQA wines are marked in their own section.
As far as Rempel’s move is concerned, Peller said he applauds her interest in the industry but feels she is “uninformed” about the issue and that she has made some “erroneous statements.”
“Consumers understand what’s in our bottles,” Peller attested. “They don’t try to look at a blended wine and say, ‘Should I have the $9 blended chardonnay or should I have the $45 pinot noir from the Okanagan?'”
He pointed out his family has award-winning, VQA brands produced in both the Niagara-on-the-Lake wine region and the Okanagan Valley.
Peller told Global News Canadian wine producers that blend and cellar foreign wines are hardly an “anomaly” in the world wine scene, citing France and Italy as two of the biggest wine-producing countries that also use foreign grapes in blends.