Sardines and Icewine (December 9, 2002)
There is an old joke about sardines. A guy purchases a container-load
of sardines for 5 cents a can. He sells them for 10 cents a can to a broker
who passes them on to a jobber for 15 cents. The jobber turns a quick
profit by flogging them to a wholesaler for 20 cents a can. The wholesaler
offers them at 30 cents to a retailer, who puts them on his shelf at 98
cents a can.
A customer buys two cans and returns them both, complaining that the
sardines are off. The shopkeeper goes back to the wholesaler and demands
his money back. The wholesaler is indignant. "You didn't open them,
did you! Those sardines were not for eating. They were for selling."
The same phenomenon appears to be happening to Canadian Icewine. Consumers
are buying Icewine but they're not actually opening the bottles they've
purchased. They're hanging on to them in order to say they have Icewine
in their cellar. They may well be waiting for the perfect moment to open
them (which, as we all know, will never come.) Or they are giving Icewine
as gifts and the recipients are passing these presents on to others in
the same spirit of giving. So you have this endless chain of Icewine circulating
among the consuming public that will never get drunk.
Daniel Lenko tells me that his Ontario winery is seriously thinking about
getting out of the Icewine business and concentrating on Late Harvest
dessert wines instead. The reason: late harvest is less stressful and
risky to make and, at less than half the price of Icewine, it's easier
Price in a different context is becoming a factor in Canadian wines.
Seeing Canadian Chardonnays, Cabernets and Meritages with price tags over
$40 a bottle is routine these days. Wine lovers who have previously supported
the local industry out of patriotism rather than palate preference are
beginning to suffer sticker shock. Old habits die hard: the idea that
wines made in your own backyard must be cheaper than those that come from
a different hemisphere is difficult to change and it's a concept that
the industry has to address.
If wineries want to put up their prices because they are dropping half
the fruit to get more concentration of flavour and are buying expensive
French oak barrels, they will have to ensure the quality is there in the
bottle. And they'll have to explain to the consumer that what they are
doing in the vineyard and the cellar that justifies the expense of their
For many years our wineries have told us, "Don't compare our wines
with California or Australia because we don't get the ripeness of fruit
those regions do." But when we see California prices for an Ontario
or BC Chardonnay, the expectation is that we will be buying a wine that
will taste as good as, if not better than, a similarly priced California
Chard. (One that stands the test , incidentally, is Malivoire Chardonnay
Moira Vineyard 1999.)
And then there is the vintage factor. Not all years are equal in quality,
and if you establish a price for a wine in a great vintage (like Ontario's
1998 red Bordeaux varietals, for example), you should not charge the same
price for the wine in lesser vintages.
What impressed me recently is Inniskillin's pricing policy for its 1999
Chardonnays five single-vineyard wines all ticketed at $16.95 a
bottle. Perhaps it's the influence from head office at Vincor, where Jackson-Triggs
is currently offering its very creditable Chardonnay Grand Reserve 2000
for that very same price.
Pricing, too, should play a factor in those wines from the 2001 vintage
in Niagara particularly Riesling which were affected by
the infestation of the multi-coloured Asian ladybug in the vineyard. When
these insects get crushed with grape bunches, they impart a bitter peanut
flavour to the wine which is discernible to the experienced palate. But
as with Retsina, there may be consumers who actually enjoy that taste.
Oh, and as to the title of this article, please don't try that particular
combination unless, of course, you're partial to anchovies in your