Thursday, November 30, 2006

Free the vines!

Susan’s Warning:

Okay, so I have to admit sometimes – just once in a while mind you – Frank becomes a little bit, shall we say “focused.” Sure some might call it “obsessive,” the more diplomatic suggest “tunnel vision,” but I’d argue there is a fine, although distinct line between soapbox oratory and a good, get it off your chest rant.

Truth be known, I love them both but the latter are usually way more fun. Today’s missive, judging by the length of Frank’s run-on sentences and total lack of paragraphing (at least in the original draft he showed me) are the clearest indications this is a soapbox rant par excellence.

So here’s a bit of history for our more civilized neighbours who can actually purchase their favourite vintages through a variety of suppliers including – imagine that – the local grocery store. Here in BC, we have long suffered a stifling monopoly known as the LCB (Liquor Control Board). One supplier? You read it right – one supplier.

It’s changing, but not quickly enough for either one of us. Still we take heart in the fact some truly outstanding wines now grace the shelves of stores like Marquis Wines ( and the Kitsilano Wine Cellar (no website yet but an interesting hot sheet by signing up at

Frank’s Rant:

I have just spent the morning reading wine reviews. The good news: I found over a dozen wines that look interesting. The bad news: it took less than 15 minutes with the LCB listing book before it became apparent our government monopoly imports not a single one of them.

Time for a little more research. Do you know those evil bastards only list 115 wines from Burgundy? One hundred and fifteen wines, total – including all the reds and all the whites. Most are from the general appellations, basic everyday table wines.

Burgundy has over 400 AOCs and thousands of producers. We get 115 wines to choose from? Four bottom end Meursaults? Four out of 29 premier crus and over a hundred domaine bottlers in Meursault alone? Just thinking of other examples where we only get the bottom one or two out of a rich range of products available could absolutely send me over the edge.

Now here’s where it gets even more entertaining. Why don’t I import some of these wines myself? They’ve already thought of that. By the time I add duties, taxes, and miscellaneous other charges from our provincial monopoly and some extra assistance from the Canadian government, the price doubles.

I also have to buy a full case of each wine. No mixing and matching – it’s a full case of each wine or nothing. Adding insult to injury, I have to pay half up front, and it’s going to take up to three months with no guarantee the wine will even still be available by the time the peons process their masses of paperwork – we are, after all, talking about vineyards that sometimes produce as little as a couple of hundred cases in a given vintage. Somehow I doubt these winemakers are going to wait around while our Canadian government processes the requisite forms, files, and registries.

The Australians will not even ship to a private address in Canada. I talked to two distributors – Victoria Wine Cellar and Vintage Direct – both firmly established, well-respected producers of Australian collectable wines. Neither one will even think about shipping to Canada. So much for that bottle of Penfold’s Grange.

I did an online search for American wine distributors. As soon as I entered “Canada” into the address alarms bells go off, red lights flash, and it’s basically an instantaneous “No Go.” I even called one of these companies and talked to a very nice young man about buying some wine – a limited production Amarone.

We were trucking right along until the word “Canada” came up. No way. Too much trouble, too much time filling out forms, not worth the cost. In short, no wine. He did suggest he had some Canadian customers who had a box number somewhere in the US, and, as he put it, “made their own arrangements for bringing it home.”

Off to visit some English websites. I found the same Amarone at a shop in the UK. It was a little cheaper than in the US, but it still carried a hefty price tag of £160. I sat down with the trusty calculator.

By the time I’d added duties, shipping, and currency exchange, I could fly to London on a commercial jet, spend a night at the opera or threatre, pick up two bottles of wine, bring them home, and be completely legal with Canada customs for less money than shipping them to Canada. Am I missing something here?

Susan’s note:

Actually, there is something to be said for flying to London and checking out Agatha Christie’s the Mousetrap. You buy three bottles, drink one in the hotel that night and come back with two that have just cost you less than staying home. You probably don’t even need to pack more than carry on baggage. Seems like there’s an opportunity here, although I will likely need to cultivate the attention of every single shirt-tail relative in the general London area as it also sounds quite deliciously habit forming.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Grange is $190 USD at Costco in the US of A. We actually did have it here in Vancouver for $310 CDN. Ouch!