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Julia Wine wins battle over Quebec labelling laws

Wineries can now put vintage and types of grapes on the labels of wine sold in grocery and c-stores

Quebec wine distributor Alain Lord Mounir knows an injustice when he sees one.

And he swears he was ready to go to court in an effort to quash a decades-old Quebec regulation that prohibited putting the vintage and types of grapes on the labels of wine sold in grocery and c-stores.

But now Lord Mounir, founder and president of Montreal-based Julia Wine, won't need to fight.

Last Tuesday, just a day after he went public about his looming battle with the province's liquor board, the Société des Alcohols du Québec, the Quebec government waved the white flag.

"For industrial wine in the food store network we can change (the labelling) regulation, and that's what I intend to do," Quebec Finance Minister Carlos Leitão told journalists at the National Assembly.

Hours later, an opposition politician presented a motion to change the regulation.

It passed a subsequent vote with unanimous support.

The finance minister later promised to include the labelling change in Bill 88, an act that deals with the development of Quebec's small-scale alcoholic beverage industry.

The bill notably authorizes small-scale production permit holders to sell and deliver alcoholic beverages they make, other than alcohol and spirits, to grocery permit holders.

It also allows craft beer makers to sell their wares at the place they are produced, for consumption elsewhere.

Leitão said he wants to pass it during the current parliamentary session, which is expected to end late next month.

The finance minister's comments and the unanimous vote were welcome news for Lord Mounir.

"I was hoping the government would realize that Quebec is the only place in the world where you can't buy a bottle of wine and not know what you're drinking," he told Canadian Grocer from his office in Long Beach, Calif.

A lawyer and venture capitalist who has built Julia Wine into one of the few distribution companies that sell wine to Quebec food stores (his two principal clients are Couche Tard and Costco) Lord Mounir said the regulation has long been a burr under his saddle.

He hired veteran Montreal human rights lawyer Julius Grey to represent him.

Grey sent a warning letter on behalf of Lord Mounir to the SAQ, threatening to challenge the labelling regulation.

"The public is being deprived of information," Grey told CBC Montreal's Daybreak. "There's no question that this is a violation of freedom of expression."

In an email to Canadian Grocer, SAQ spokesperson Linda Bouchard said the regulation was enacted in 1978, the same year food stores were granted the right to sell wine and beer.

"The SAQ has publicly expressed its position many times in favour of the labelling of the (vintage and grapes) on bottles of wine sold in grocery stores and corner stores," wrote Bouchard.

The most recent occasion, she added, was during public hearings on Bill 88 in Feb.

U.S.-based Constellation Brands, which has several wine bottling facilities in Canada and sells to the SAQ, whose stores account for roughly 90% of the wine sold in Quebec, hired a lobby firm to state its opposition at the hearings to the labeling restrictions.

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