BURNABY – When it comes to wine labels, John Skinner is all about seeking the truth. The owner of Penticton-based Painted Rock Estate Winery has been fighting to ensure wines produced in other countries are labeled accurately.
He, along with several small and medium wineries, doesn’t want those wines confused with British Columbia wines.
“If you pick up a bottle that says ‘cellared in Canada’ or ‘bottled in British Columbia’ and you don’t know that the juice came from Chile, that undermines the brand of British Columbia wines that we are trying to build on the international stage,” Skinner says.
Several wineries in B.C. say the marketing and labelling of some wines sold in our province are too similar to Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA) wines, which are made from 100 per cent B.C. grapes.
B.C. VQA certified wines must meet rigorous standards. Wines not bearing the B.C. VQA symbol and not tasted for quality may be labelled “product of British Columbia.” These wines are still made from B.C. grapes, but have not gone through the B.C. VQA certification process.
Blended wines, on the other hand, are often labelled “cellared in Canada from imported and domestic wines” or “bottled in B.C.” There is nothing to indicate the country where the grapes came from, so those same bottles often end up in the B.C. wine section of a liquor store.
Under Canadian federal law, all wine sold in Canada must contain a statement of origin on the label. However, the Canadian Food and Inspection Agency is currently allowing wineries to only say the bottle is a blend of international and domestic wines, rather than listing which countries the grapes originated from.
Wine lawyer Mark Hicken says, “From the perspective of the larger wineries that are producing those blended wines, their view is that they are compliant with the federal law because they are following what the federal agency is telling them, but the smaller wineries would like to see an actual statement of origin on the label.”
Skinner adds, “When people are producing wines and making them sound like they come from British Columbia and deceiving the consumer, the consumer has a jaundiced view of British Columbia wines and we can’t tolerate that anymore.”
Cellared in Canada wine often contains grapes bought in bulk from places like Chile, California, and Australia. Commodity wines often sell for less than $11 a bottle. About 30 per cent of the B.C. wine market is made up of this type of wine. Lesley Brown from Trialto Wine Group, a premium wine agency, says, “There’s a majority of consumers purchasing those wines [who] believe they are Canadian wines and that’s an issue.”
Skinner says, “Any other food product requires you to say where it came from – except this stuff. This is appalling.” Still, he adds, “This will be solved because the consumer will not tolerate this anymore.”