ANDRE PROULX, GUEST COLUMNIST
On Tuesday morning I watched Premier Kathleen Wynne pat herself on the back and purchase the first six-pack of beer at a grocery store in Ontario.
I watch social media fill up with cheers and applause that we can finally — in late 2015 — get beer in a grocery store like so many civilized jurisdictions on the planet.
I do need to tip my hat to the province for allocating 50% of the shelf space to craft beers.
But I am still scratching my head figuring out how craft beer leapfrogged over our local wine producers to be put on such a pedestal.
It would appear that the provincial government is still in the process of giving the middle finger to small local producers of wine.
Don’t get me wrong I’m a huge fan of craft beer.
But it strikes me as odd that as a craft beer producer I could set up in any city or town in the province and have a shop within the city limits.
I can use ingredients that could largely be sourced from outside the province and produce it in the city.
Meanwhile, we are forcing our wineries to sell wine out of their cellar doors, largely located an hour or two outside of major urban centres.
If I don’t make enough wine I don’t even have access to the LCBO’s shelves and have to rely on word of mouth and people making the trek to my winery to taste my product.
Not to mention that VQA wines are made using 100% locally grown grapes while your favourite craft beer may well be sourcing their hops from outside the province.
As a producer of local wines, I am being denied access to the largest markets in the province.
What about Wine Rack and Wine Shop stores?
Both of these publicly-traded companies have grandfathered licences from pre-NAFTA times allowing them to carry wines from a handful of wineries.
Much of the wine sold in the Wine Rack is bulk wine made mostly from imported grapes, with some Canadian grapes.
In terms of the quality, I don’t feel they are a fair representation of wines produced in Ontario.
There are dozens of world-class wineries that don’t have access to the market solely because they aren’t producing enough wine to be listed at the LCBO.
When the Ontario government is asked why it’s taking so long to make the shift to selling wine in grocery stores the answer is invariably, “it’s complicated”.
I have a hard time taking that at face value given that in B.C. there are already a large number of private stores and even government-run ones that sell B.C. wines exclusively.
There is no excuse for Ontario to be so far behind.
There is no way that B.C. is so different from Ontario that it can serve as an excuse for hindering progress.
I’m looking forward to buying my first six-pack of beer from a grocery store. It’s a step in the right direction.
But don’t think for one minute I am going to raise my pint while thinking this is good enough.
It’s been 90 years since the end of prohibition and I’m sorry, Premier Wynne, but this is not good enough.
The fact it has taken 90 years to make this small change is not something to be celebrated. It’s a reminder of how our government continues to fail us.
— Proulx is a wine writer and has appeared on Global and CTV