Here is an interesting update on the "Cellared in Canada" labels controversy which has had so much media attention lately. At the recent wine law conference in Vancouver, Arnold Schwisberg of Toronto provided a comprehensive history of the genesis of this labelling. Arnold pointed out that, in law, there is no regulatory or statutory authority for the use of the term "Cellared in Canada" (or CIC for short). Rather, it is the product of a voluntary industry committee on wine standards which met many years ago (and of which Arnold was a member).

At the time, the large wineries that wanted to produce CIC wines (wines blended from international and domestic juice) could not label them as "Product of Canada" because they did not meet the legal requirements for sufficient Canadian content. As such, a proposal was put forward that an alternative descriptor be created. The committee eventually settled on "Cellared in Canada" albeit to the chagrin of some committee members who put forward concerns that this description was misleading to consumers and may not satisfy the legal requirements of the federal Food and Drug Act (FDA). The latter concern is based on Regulation B.02.108 of the FDA which reads as follows:

B.02.108 A clear indication of the country of origin shall be shown on the principal display panel of a wine.

At a later date, the LCBO then advised the trade that it would accept the Cellared in Canada wording recommended by the committee and specifically noted that it would accept this labelling as "a replacement for the country of origin declaration".

As Arnold pointed out, the phrase "cellared in Canada" on its own does not indicate the "country of origin" of the wine. However, the wording that the committee intended be used was, in fact, "Cellared in Canada from imported and domestic wine/grapes/grape juice". Nevertheless, even on that expanded wording, it is not clear how the Regulation is satisfied since only one country of origin (Canada through the word "domestic") is identified. In B.C., that would seem to be problematic as CIC wines do not, in fact, have to contain any domestic content.

It may well be that the argument was that CIC wines do not have a single "country of origin" and thus, cannot satisfy the Regulation. However, it would seem that the better interpretation of the Regulation would be that all countries of origin have to be identified. This may be difficult practically since the blend may change from time to time but that would appear to be the best interpretation of the law.

As Arnold also pointed out, the recommendations of the committee do not have any force in law. It is the provisions of the FDA and other relevant legislation that are, in fact, binding upon the wineries.