Dear Decanter Magazine

The following is a letter I wrote to the editors of Decanter Magazine last summer after reading their July, 2011 issue touting the most influential people in the world of wine.  For those who haven’t read the magazine it is one of the foremost wine magazines around, if not the absolute best.  This particular issue was their yearly evaluation of the 50 most influential people in wine.  It was actually a great list, but coming from the Ontario market I couldn’t help but notice there were no Canadian inclusions on the list.  As I thought about it more and more I became convinced that a senior member of the LCBO warranted an inclusion on the list of the most powerful and influential people in the world of wine.  Not to slam our system but let’s be honest the LCBO is a powerhouse.  Their control is mind boggling.  So I took it upon myself and wrote the following to the editors of Decanter.  It however was never published.

Dear Decanter Editor,

I just finished catching up on some recent issues of Decanter magazine
and most recently finished reading your July 2011 issue.  Most notably
I enjoyed reading the 2011 Power List.  I was pleased with the
movement from more traditional wine execs to some more liberal
figures.  I liked seeing “The Amateur Wine Blogger” on there as well
as many powerful figures from the New World.  However I was taken
aback by what I consider to be a glaring exclusion from the list.

I appreciate that Canada as a whole is not even in the top 30
countries in the world in wine production.  I also appreciate that
your magazine caters to the connoisseur, the collector, the well
educated, and often the traditionalist.  However as you examine the
Power List and those that made the cut, I strongly feel that a
representative from the LCBO (The Liquor Control Board of Ontario)
absolutely needs to be included.

I may be bias as I am a Toronto resident.  I was born and raised here
and also took all my WSET education here.  I have a soft spot in my
heart for Canadian wine and I am a very proud Canadian.  But aside
from all that, the facts speak for themselves.  In 2010 the LCBO
generated $4.55 Billion in revenue, operating 618 stores and employing
7,533 employees.  They are a strong profit arm of the Ontario
Government, reporting over $1.4 Billion in dividends to the government
in 2010, and reporting directly to the Minister of Finance.  They are
one of the largest wine buyers in the world purchasing from over 77
countries worldwide.  And finally they have virtually full control of
the wine sales in Canada’s largest market (some independent winery
owned shops are licensed to sell their own wine).  Ontario is home to
13 Million people, 39% of Canada’s entire population.  It houses our
nation’s capital (Ottawa) and our largest city (Toronto).

The power is almost absurd.  Every single resident of legal drinking
age is getting their wine from one of the 618 stores.  Whether you
want a new world Argentinean or an old World Barolo or Medoc you shop
in the same place (although a first, second or third growth would be
virtually impossible to find).  The issue also extends to the control
over what is sold in the country.  As the single largest retailer they
control buying, distribution, pricing, and thus consumption.  I was
speaking to a small wine maker when I was in Chile last year and he
informed me that his product, which was outstanding, was rarely
available in Ontario because the order fulfillment minimums imposed
by the retail giant were too high for anyone to meet.  The only way to
meet those requirements generally came through their low end, bulk
produced wine, which somewhat explains what we find in our stores
(admittedly that last part is a large generalization).

So take your pick.  Nancy Cardinal (VP, Sales and Consumer Insights),
Bob Downey (VP, Sales and Marketing), or Tom Wilson (VP, Vintages).
But I would suggest Bob Peter, President and CEO.

Please don’t read this as a bitter attack on our liquor governing
system as it most certainly is not.  As I consistently read about the
world’s most influential people in wine, I can’t help but feel the
most influential and powerful in our country deserve some recognition.

Mark Britton 

– Mark
Follow me on Twitter: @towineman 


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