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Ontario Reforms Wine Laws for VQA & CIC Wine

The Ontario government has announced changes to their regulatory regime which affect both VQA and Cellared in Canada (CIC) wines. Supposedly, Ontario is attempting to move consumers away from CIC blends and toward VQA product made from 100% Ontario juice. There will a change to the minimum domestic content requirement for CIC wine sold in Ontario from 30% to 40% overall (and to 25% for any single bottle). By contrast, B.C. has no domestic content requirements at all for CIC wine. The Ontario changes will obviously create increased demand for Ontario grapes but not in time for this year\’s harvest for which there is a glut of unsold product. By 2014, the domestic content requirement for CIC wines will be eliminated along with the tax breaks that Ontario currently provides for this category. The government claims that during this time, VQA sales will increase and consumers will move toward true Ontario product. However, as noted, B.C. has zero domestic content requirement for CIC wines and, in fact, CIC wines far outsell VQA product. As a result, the B.C. experience would seem to suggest that the Ontario strategy will be difficult to achieve on the consumer side.

The VQA Support Program is also returning in the LCBO. This program, which was canceled a while back, is similar to BC\’s VQA rebate program for government liquor stores. In Ontario, the program will return an extra 30% \”rebate\” to the wineries in order to encourage wineries to sell through the LCBO. Generally, VQA wine sold directly from wineries is not subject to liquor board markup (in either BC or Ontario). However, wine sent through the liquor boards is subject to full liquor board markup which means that the wineries must take a substantial cut in their profit margin in order to sell through government stores. The VQA rebate programs are designed to encourage wineries to send product into government stores by rebating some of the selling price and thus increasing the wineries\’ profit margins.

However, there is a serious issue as to whether these programs are sustainable in the long term as a result of Canada\’s obligations under international trade agreements such as NAFTA and GATT (a related though less serious trade issue is discussed here). An earlier challenge under GATT by the EU regarding discriminatory liquor board markup policies was successful and resulted in a settlement agreement under which Canada pledged to eliminate such differential pricing.

This story is now also covered in Wines & Vines. A summary of the massive amounts of recent publicity on Cellared in Canada wines is on my marketing site. A full update on all of these issues will also be provided at the upcoming November conference on Winery and Wine Distribution Law. There is also a good summary of recent developments on the Wine Case Blog.

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