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Debate Over Wine Labeling Continues in Canada

August 2017
by Peter Mitham

Ottawa, Ontario—A long-running battle over how Canada’s major vintners label wines bottled in Canada from a blend of imported and domestic juice is a centimeter closer to a conclusion.

A survey the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) conducted throughout June promises to usher in final approval of new wording that will clearly identify what is (and isn’t) a domestic wine. CFIA sought feedback on a new rule that would replace the existing “Cellared in Canada” designation with “International blend from imported and domestic wines” for wines made primarily with imported juice, and “International blend from domestic and imported wines” for those made primarily with domestic juice.

According to a study St. Helena, Calif.-based Frank, Rimerman & Co. LLP produced earlier this year for the Canadian Vintners Association, Canadians drink 1.2 billion glasses of “Canadian” wine each year. Of those, 985 million glasses are domestic and international blends. Comparatively, just 251 million glasses’ worth of wine are from 100% grapes grown in Canada.

The blends sell for less than $10 per bottle Canadian (about $7.50 U.S.), and at that price many in the industry don’t think most buyers are reading the labels carefully enough to know what’s in the wine. However, few people want those wines identified with Canada, which is working hard to highlight the award-winning work of its premium producers.

“People that are drinking premium wines are very interested in appellation. People that are drinking under a $10 price point aren’t,” said Dan Paszkowski, president and CEO of the Canadian Vintners Association. “How important this is becomes is a good question. I think for consumers of 100% Canadian wines and producers of 100% Canadian wines, this adds that additional clarity.”

“CFIA has heard that the statement ‘Cellared in Canada’ is not informative and potentially misleading to consumers,” the federal agency explained in preface to the online survey that ran June 1-30. The survey simply asked respondents to say whether or not they’re in favor of the change. “These statements are intended to provide consumers with the information they need to make an informed purchasing decision.”

CFIA staff told Wines & Vines that it expects to release survey results, including a summary report of all comments received, by the end of July. Its labeling-modernization initiative wraps up in 2018.

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