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Local stores left off grocery wine list
Nov. 6, 2016
By Don Fraser

It’s the first rollout of wine inside grocery store aisles.

But you’ll be hard-pressed to find them in a Canadian wine-making heartland.

As of Oct. 28, 67 grocery stores across Ontario are able to stock bottles of wine, beer and cider.

If you happen to be in Toronto or Mississuaga and looking for some Niagara vino along with a cheese purchase, you’ll find 11 of those stores such as Metro, Sobeys and FreshCo carrying it.

The City of Vaughan, with a population 288,000, has four stores alone.

But in Niagara, only FreshCo on Kalar Road and Food Basics on Montrose Road in Niagara Falls are among stores on the list.

Grimsby, Beamsville, Niagara-on-the-Lake and the region’s largest city of St. Catharines - all along the Wine Route - did not make the wine list.

It’s a situation that mystifies Paul Speck, president of Henry of Pelham Winery in St. Catharines.

“I just had this conversation this morning, wondering why isn’t there one in St. Catharines,” Speck said. “I don’t think anyone knows.”

Speck’s winery is part of that first move, with his vintages found in “most if not all” of those stores he’s visited.

“We’re aggressively trying to be a part of this rollout whether it’s the chains or the independents,” Speck said. “I don’t pretend to understand why these decisions were made,” he said.

That said, Speck pointed out many more stores will be featuring wine in coming years, and he has hope locals will get more of that grocery-store representation.

“It’s very early stages yet ... and even Walmart has yet to come on board,” he said. “I’m sure they’ll fill them in where there’s fair representation in all of Ontario.”

Across Ontario, locations now include 20 independent grocery stores and 47 stores owned by large grocers.

These are in addition to 57 stores across the province already allowed to sell beer and cider.

According to a Ministry of Finance backgrounder, criteria for the new stores were set to ensure fairness and geographic distribution.

In addition, up to 150 existing Wine Rack and Wine Shop winery retail stores, already located next to grocery stores, will be able to move inside the sales floor and use the checkout of that supermarket.

These new wine boutiques will broaden their current assortment to sell wines made by other Ontario producers and will be located at grocery stores that also sell beer and cider.

Friday’s announcement signalled the first wave of wine to hit supermarkets, with plans to have wine available in 300 of Ontario’s 1,500 grocery stores, and beer in 450 of them, by 2025.

Grocers selling beer or wine must have designated sales areas and standard hours of sale, abide by limitations on package size and alcohol content, as well as follow staffing and social responsibility training requirements.

Depending on the type of authorization awarded to the grocer, a minimum of 10 or 20 per cent of shelf space is reserved for products from small producers.

“There’s no conspiracy,” said Duncan Gibson, director of finance for Wine Council of Ontario.

“The stores that were able to bid for licences did so and they were awarded (licences for) not necessarily all the ones that they bid for,” said Gibson.

The chains “made the decision internally about where they were going to place them.”

“There is an exact timetable and they will be rolling them out,” Gibson added. “So it could well be that a store (or stores) elsewhere in Niagara will happen as soon as next year.”

Supermarket giant Metro - which owns Food Basics, representing several stores in the St. Catharines area - offered a brief e-mail comment about the local wine sales shutout.

“We are starting to sell wine in a few markets and we will consider future opportunities going forward,” said spokesman Michelle Rowland.

Sobeys communications manager Vicki Leung said based on the three wine licences Sobeys Inc. won for western Ontario, “it chose to expand our liquor offering to the selected stores based on customer preferences - in Niagara Falls, London and Kincardine.”

Leung said in St. Catharines, there is a Wine Shop at the FreshCo on Ontario Street.

“In addition to offering liquor in our stores, we will stay committed to supporting local wineries and craft breweries, including those in the St. Catharines/Niagara area,” she said in an e-mail.

A list of grocery stores selling wine can be found at

with files from Postmedia Network