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April 18, 2019

Cellared in Canada

Everything you need to know about the term and its evolution.

 

For decades, foreign wines were sold in Canada under the Cellared in Canada (CIC) label. These wines could be made from as much as 100 per cent imported juice, yet the CIC term implied that the wine was Canadian in origin. Liquor stores routinely included these wines in their Canadian sections.

As the quality of Canadian wines improved, the continued presence of CIC wines did more and more damage to the industry’s reputation. This was compounded by the fact that many of Canada’s largest wine producers had lines of CIC wines, including Mission Hill, Jackson-Triggs and Peller Estates. These producers make great wines at their mid and top tiers, but also had an ocean of cheap CIC wines bearing the same brand name.

British wine doyenne Jancis Robinson summed up the issue succinctly in 2009, after a survey of 1,000 wine drinkers revealed that over two-thirds found the CIC term misleading and confusing. “It is just so difficult to take Canadian producers seriously when they are allowed to mislead the wine-buying public to this extent,” wrote Robinson.

Robinson’s attention catalyzed the campaign to eliminate the CIC term, which Canadian producers had been fruitlessly pursuing for years earlier. As of March 12, 2018, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) banned the CIC term from wine labels.

Former CIC wines now bear one of two descriptions; for primarily imported wines; “international blend from imported and domestic wines” and for primarily domestic wines, “international blend from domestic and imported wines.”

The change may seem small but it marks a major turning point for the Canadian wine industry. It only happened because Canadian wines have attained a certain level of attention and respect in the international market.

But the issue of CIC is still present, no matter how they are actually described on the label. Many Canadian producers continue to sell blended bulk wines under their own brand names. Consider the impact this has on consumer perception: Bulk wine blends aren’t representative of the quality of Canadian wine, yet they bear the same names as the industry’s biggest players. Sure, producers may sell more of these wines by cashing in on the cachet of their names, but the reverse is also true; the reputation of that producer’s other wines – not to mention the image of the Canadian wine industry as a whole – is tarnished by sharing the same name as inferior bottles.

Abolishing the CIC term was a major step in the right direction. Hopefully producers will carry the logic behind that decision even further and change the way they market former CIC wines. This would preserve their brand integrity as well as the reputation of the Canadian wine industry.

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