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A Wine Lover's Diary, part 13 (December 13, 2004)

Monday, December 6: It's been snowing all day – but we won't get as much snow as I saw around Quebec City this past weekend. I flew there on Friday with Steve Elphick, the photographer who's working on the wine atlas with me, and his wife Paula, to tour the wineries in the area. Alain Breault and his wife Mariette met us at the airport with their van. We stayed in a motel in Ste. Anne de Beaupré run by a Hong Kong couple. Alain was wearing the same open-toed sandals he wore when I visited him in September; the only concession to winter was a pair of heavy socks... but back to today. I spoke with an importing agent who tells me that Vintages is making it even harder for the small agents to carry on business. They are demanding that wine producers sign a contract that states that any order that does not sell 75% of the stock within a two-month period will be charged back to the producer at 20% of the selling price. The idea is to have a 100% sell-through within three months. If the money has already been paid then the sum will be deducted from the next order or will be charged to the importing agent. Now, the LCBO says they pay in 60 days from the time the wine arrives in their warehouse. But in practice it's more like 90–120 days, from most importers' experience. Since the LCBO is the only game in town, the agents put up or are shut out.

A meeting with Arlene Willis to discuss future wine dinners and events for Grapes for Humanity. We're trying to get Marchese Leonardo de Frescobaldi to come to Toronto next October for a gala dinner. Following the meeting I was to go over to Luce on Mercer Street to meet Stanislaus Henriot with his agent Russ Woodman. But unfortunately he had been taken ill in Montreal.

Tuesday, December 7: One of those messy days when nothing much gets accomplished. Tried to get my high speed working but it seems I have to buy routers and such. Bell makes it sound so easy to install but it's a nightmare. The technician I spoke to (in India) gave up after three tries and said I should get a technician in. Can't wait to get away to Spain. One bright piece of news: the Washington State tasting in Toronto will donate some funds to Grapes for Humanity. Spent the evening tasting wines from EastDell and Thomas and Vaughan. The new vintage of Yellow Tail Shiraz arrived on my doorstep in a black bag with orange tissue paper. It looked like a Hallowe'en offering. Actually, it's not bad – it's the Krispy Kreme of red wines, sweet and jammy, easy drinking and the kind of product that people who don't like red wine will drink. So, if it introduces new consumers to wine, so much the better. A latter-day Mateus Rosé.

Wednesday, December 8: Spent the morning and afternoon working on the atlas, then drove to Guelph to participate in a video conference that hooked up Ottawa, Vancouver and Toronto with Shanghai for a live seminar and tasting of Canadian Icewines for an invited group of buyers, restaurateurs and press in Shaghai. The Canadian wine industry is deeply concerned with the effect of counterfeit Icewines on the sales and reputation of their products. In a room at the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture we sat at a table – Murray Marshall representing the VQA, Linda Watts from The Ontario Wine Council and an interpreter. We had one quarter of the screen; the rest was divided among John Chang of Blossom Winery in Vancouver, Blair Gowan of Agriculture Canada in Ottawa and the participants in Shanghai. There was some confusion getting our line established but eventually we got connected. Murray Marshall spoke about the VQA's role in protecting the integrity of Icewine; John Chang spoke in Chinese about the production of Icewine. Just before it was my turn to conduct a tasting of four Icewines the lights in the room went out and our quadrant of the screen went black. At 10 pm the lights turn out automatically in the building. A woman security guard came in and, in a loud voice, said, "That's what happens when you bring alcohol into the building." We impressed upon her the urgency of her getting the lights turned on again.

I told the interpreter I wanted to begin with a joke – a line I often use at tastings: "Hands up who has never been to a wine tasting before?...Hands up who hasn't been to one since breakfast?" It went over like a lead balloon. But at least the wines showed well:

  • Blossom Winery Cabernet Franc Icewine 2003
  • Strewn Riesling Icewine 2003
  • Mission Hill Vidal Icewine 2993
  • Pillitteri Estates Vidal Icewine 2003

It's pretty weird doing a virtual wine tasting, having your words translated into Chinese and watching the participants a world away (13 hours ahead) sampling the same wines.

Thursday, December 9: Today is a Vintages tasting day because of Christmas and the new year. There were sixty-odd wines all New World. Some good wines there and a spectacular value in Boekenhoutskloof Syrah 2003 from South Africa at $12.95 – smoky, tarry, blackberry, richly extracted with sweet fruit. The afternoon spent writing the editorial material for Tom Stevenson's Wine Report 2006. Interrupted by the front door bell – usually at this time of the year it's wine but no – it's my favourite fishing rod. I broke the tip casting from the shore for Arctic char in Ungava Bay this summer. I sent the rod – a Fenwick – back to Pure Fishing Canada on Portage la Prairie and they sent me a new rod! That's amazing.

Friday, December 10: The tasting of the second half of the Vintages January release, Old World wines this time. Some really good value wines in this release The car to take me to the airport is coming at 3:45 pm so I'll have to pack soon. (There will be a hiatus in the publication of this diary while I'm in Spain – but you'll get a full report on my return.)




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