Newsletter : Don't Criticize the System (vol. 23-03)28 Mar 2023
- Category: Newsletter Archives
End of March ... And spring is finally here? I guess that awaits to be seen as the weather begins to warm up. I have noticed a backlog of wine since I moved back to a monthly newsletter; especially wines from the same producer. Going forward you might see some other wines, from the same producer, linked under their main feature - I highlight one, but those other wines aren't too shabby either. This week there are two from Rosehall Runs.
My commentary today deals with our broken system here in Ontario, and how if you criticize it, you get in some trouble - as I have done in the past. Guess I'm about to do it again.
As for what else is below: there are the usual wine reviews, plus videos, podcast links and all the other good stuff you've come to expect.
Thanks for reading.
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Musings from a Wine Soaked Mind ...
Don't Criticize the System
I have always suffered from calling out injustice, but I think that was beaten out of me early on in my wine writing career. And repeatedly. I was once asked, by the person who designed my first website: “Do you want to talk about the politics of wine or you just want to talk about the wine?” And I naively said, “there’s no politics in wine, it’s wine - I just want to talk about the wine.” But when you live in Ontario, you can't help but get drawn into the politics, whether you like it or not. Let’s face it, it's a terrible system we are under, not just the monopoly, but what they are doing to make it worse; but don't criticize the LCBO, or they'll take away your livelihood. This is something I learned firsthand.
I allegedly lost my gig at WineAlign because of the LCBO. I was one of the first writers to join the organization, led by Brian McCaw. He took me out to lunch at the Pickle Barrel on Leslie Street in Toronto to discuss his vision, and I was fully on board. His mission was to bring a diverse group of wine writers and critics together to publish in one place. People could see their scores and decide who they wanted to follow. Brilliant in theory.
But I was dismissed. Why? Because I wrote an article about the LCBO and its shady past. (I would like to thank Ottawa Life for publishing and standing behind the article, when the LCBO threatened them with a lawsuit they said go right ahead – no lawsuit was ever brought).
WineAlign took a different approach. Because WineAlign needed to have close ties with the LCBO to create what they intended - So they let me go. The official reason they gave me was "my scores didn't match the other critics" - but given the timing, and the vision that was told to me by the company’s owner - I believe it had more to do with my criticism of the LCBO than my scores.
Lesson: Don't criticize the system.
That was back in 2010. It seems like a lifetime ago. What happens when you blow the lid off the major wine retail in the province and expose their “evil” ways. They make sure they stand in your way.
During the pandemic, the LCBO determined that they could not have local journalists in for tastings. Granted, there was a health scare, and getting a bunch of mostly geriatric writers in a room was not really the best call.
Good on the LCBO for thinking of public health.
But post pandemic, they have not invited local journalists back. This makes it extra difficult to create content for articles and other content. The onus falls on the writer to know what is coming in, and to the agent to shoulder the cost of the bottle. Back three years pre-pandemic, the LCBO would put out every bottle coming through vintages, a writer would taste through and cobble together their best of list, or which wines to write about for which publication - My Toronto Life lists were written using my notes from these tastings.
In 2019 the LCBO started to curate the wines that they were allowing journalists to taste. They were dictating to the local media what they should be covering. When I pressed the LCBO for an explanation nothing was provided. (Did money play a part?). And now, no local, independent journalist tastes any kind of extensive line-up of LCBO wines. So how do you really know what’s good and fits the Ontario palate? Today the LCBO saves even more money by "borrowing" notes from international journalists to sell the wines on their shelves; how does that benefit their ultimate consumer? Ontarians. What I find even more offensive is of late they use their own product consultants as “experts” to review wines.
Isn’t that like the banks policing themselves for risk?
Or trusting the notes on the back of the bottle to tell you what you’ll taste. We’ve all been there. Those back labels are not supposed to be unbiased, they are written by the winery to help sell the wine. A consultant’s opinion is far from unbiased, they work for the company trying to sell you those bottles. I’m not saying they are uneducated about wine, and that we shouldn’t trust them; But, I am asking about their credentials. What do they do other than working as an LCBO consultant? Sure you ask in-store. But, how can I ask the pages of a magazine?
Due to this current environment, there are few local tasters that you can depend on. Our friends at WineAlign are currently taking money for tasting wine, so how reliable are those? (see their FAQ here). Instagrammers don’t have to flag their posts as paid-for content; so how do you know if the influencer you follow really liked that International-Canadian blend wine-product, or was paid for it?
The bottom line is, the LCBO is actively trying to cause the death of local, independent wine journalism. Hell, don’t get me started on how they helped kill off two of the three wine magazines in Canada (Wine Access and Vines) by siphoning all the marketing dollars via their free Food and Drink magazine. If I were looking for a place to put my ad dollars to sell my product, why wouldn't I buy ads from the LCBO - a magazine that they give away for free - who can compete with that?
Plus, there are all those advertorial “articles”; so they are killing two birds with one stone. Say goodbye to the journalism part of it too. But hey, Don't criticize the system.
The problem is, we should criticize this system, or else we’ll be stuck with the same crappy system. Damn it, we need more of you to criticize the system. Find it within yourself to raise your voice and do just that.
Click on any wine name to see the full review:
Trius 2020 Red – The Icon ... (**** ½+)
Sue-Ann Staff 2016 Cabernet Franc, Knockout ... (**** ½)
Rosehall Run 2020 Pinot Noir, JCR Vineyard ... (****)
Rosehall Run 2019 Pinot Noir, JCR Rosehall Vineyard ... (****+)
Peninsula Ridge 2020 Merlot ... (****)
Niagara College Teaching Winery 2020 Shiraz, Gastronomy ... (****+)
Icellars 2019 Pinot Noir ... (****+)
The Non-Ontario Selection ...
La Crema 2019 Monterey Pinot Noir ... (****) - California
--- Highlighted Videos This Week ---
Ontario Wines ...
Closson Chase 2019 Chardonnay, Churchside Vineyard
Vineland 2020 Cabernet Franc
"International Wines" ...
Querceto di Castellina 2018 SEI Chianti Classico, Gran Selezione
Domaine Merceron-(Martin) 2019 Gamay Parcelles
See the full newsletter with video, side bar links and more - click below:
Ontario Reviews: The Wines You Need to Get (vol. 23-03)