Drinker beware: Canadian wine label controversey holds lessons for China

By Jim Boyce

Most consumers are unaware that many of the “Chinese” wines they find in supermarkets, restaurants, and elsewhere include imported bulk wine. The amount of bulk wine in the market in recent years is somewhere between 10 percent and 40 percent, with those numbers ranging from official statistics to estimates based on the double-counting of local wine production.

To be fair, blending imported wines with Chinese ones tends to improve overall quality (see some reasons here). To be even fairer, producers should note on the label if a bottle includes imported wine, something that is rarely done. Unfortunately, my homeland of Canada also has label issues when it comes to wine. This story in the Vancouver Sun – which comes via Campbell Thompson via the Jancis Robinson Web site –  explains:

Low-cost bulk wines from places like California and South Africa are being sold in government liquor stores as B.C. wines, raising a storm of protest among winemakers and wine lovers who say the imposters are damaging the reputation of this province’s industry.

The wines are sold by Canada’s three biggest winemakers as though they are British Columbia wines, and only a keen-eyed consumer can tell the difference, said David Bond, executive director of the Association of Wine Growers of British Columbia….

“They are getting a free ride off the reputation everyone else has developed,” Bond said in an interview. “They are selling it in the B.C. wine section, and it’s atrocious. I think it’s scandalous. This is a very calculated form of consumer deception.”

Wines made from local grapes carry the designation VQA, while those with imported wine are labeled “Cellared in Canada“, though the article notes,  “It’s only in the fine print at the bottom of the back label that the wineries identify their product as being “Cellared in Canada from domestic and imported wines.”” The situation is less transparent in China, where – except for one case of which I have heard – there is no such indication on the label.

Producing and selling “Cellared in Canada” wines might be highly profitable. But it deceives consumers and has a negative effect on the reputation of those making good wines with local grapes. Ultimately, the companies producing these “Cellared in Canada” wines may feel a backlash. The same holds true in China and hopefully this issue gets the kind of media attention it is receiving in Canada.

See also: This post on the Jancis Robinson site includes comments by the Liquor Control Board of Ontario on the different situations of Ontario and British Columbia, and on efforts being made to distinguish and promote wines made with local grapes.

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