The accidental bootlegger // Short Cellar

Would you break the law for a good bottle?

By Matthew Sullivan

On Thursday December 1st, 2011

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 I could go to jail. Confessing to a life of crime is usually done to a priest, or perhaps to the good cop in the interrogation room. However, I’ve always done things my own way, so I’ll spill the beans in the privacy of this magazine.
Whenever I travel to Vancouver, I bring home some wine. After all, the Okanagan Valley has some stunning wineries; with an almost Californian climate, it can perfectly ripen rich, red varieties like cabernet sauvignon or merlot, a feat that often eludes Ontario wine makers.

However, to my alarm, I’ve discovered that transporting even a single bottle across a provincial boundary violates the Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act and repeat offences carry a minimum six-month jail sentence. Only liquor boards like the LCBO are authorized to import wine into a province.

Thankfully, Mark Hicken, a Vancouver lawyer who focuses on wine law, says that he’s not aware of anyone ever being charged with this Prohibition-era offence. He also argues that it’s probably unconstitutional; not only is the punishment grossly disproportionate to the crime, but the Constitution Act explicitly states that the fruits of “growth” and “produce” are to move freely between provinces. Nevertheless, the threat of the law prevents most wineries from shipping their wares out of province.

Mark points out on his website (winelaw.ca) that this June the LCBO came out with a policy allowing individuals to transport a case of wine from another province into Ontario for “personal use.” However, neither he nor I understand how the LCBO has the authority to promulgate a policy that overrides federal criminal law.

Clearly, this is a law in need of reform, because well-meaning people must be inadvertently breaking it all the time. Doesn’t half the population of Ottawa buy their wine in Gatineau? But hey, if I am heading to the jug, at least I’ll have a lot of company.


Into the Short Cellar

 Quail’s Gate 2008 Pinot Noir
$24.95, Okanagan Valley VQA, Vintages Essential #585760

It’s a crime how few B.C. wines the LCBO has on its shelves. Thankfully, the keen eye detects some good specimens, such as this Quail’s Gate. It’s a full-bodied pinot noir, but for all its intensity, it maintains lovely elegance and a spicy bite right to the end. 89/100

 Osoyoos Larose 2006 Le Grand Vin
$45.00, Okanagan Valley VQA, Vintages Essential #626325

Osoyoos, in the southern Okanagan, is hot, dry and steep: a winemaker’s dream. It creates bottles that echo a fine Bordeaux. A good year, 2006, resulted in an Osoyoos Larose with succulent fruit, a smoky perfume and the ability to age for three to six years. 91/100


A grape too far

Mark Hicken’s three wine-related laws in need of reform:

  • Retail: London and New York have chic wine boutiques offering rarities from around the world. Toronto has a state monopoly. This monolith keeps consumers in the dark about some of the world’s most interesting wines.
  • Cellared in Canada: Ontario’s confusing laws allow some big wineries to use large amounts of foreign grapes in bottles labelled “Cellared in Canada.” For 100 percent Ontario grapes, look for the VQA stamp.
  • Shipping: The Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act makes it illegal for wineries to ship wine to a different province. This keeps some of the best craft wineries small and isolated because they can’t expand their markets.

Matthew Sullivan is a civil litigator in Toronto. He blogs once a month here on lawandstyle.ca. The Short Cellar column also appears in the print edition of Precedent. Matthew can be reached at matthew@lawandstyle.ca. Follow along on Twitter: @shortcellar

Image: Jonny Kristoffersson /iStockphoto