Paul R. Masson
Canada has a small, but vibrant winemaking industry. Since the US-Canada Free Trade Agreement (FTA), which went into effect in 1987, growers have shifted to vinifera grapes and modern winemaking techniques and there has been an explosion in the number of wineries, which number about 150 in the Niagara peninsula alone. However, their share of the Ontario wine market, which fell with free trade, has continued to decline. This paper delves into the reasons for the downward trend.
Ontario provides a unique source of data on the wine market, since a single price for each wine is enforced by the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO). The paper analyses data downloaded from the LCBO’s website at the end of 2012 for all Ontario white table wines available for sale, and for wines from both “old world” (France and Italy) and “new world” (Argentina and Chile) wine producers. It is shown that after controlling for wine characteristics Ontario wines are higher priced than their competitors. This helps to explain why, despite improvements in the quality of Ontario wines, the share of imports in LCBO sales has risen. Certain wine varieties, in particular Chardonnay and Riesling, command higher prices, while in Vintages stores (but not in ordinary LCBO outlets), both the age of the wine and alcohol content have a significant positive effect on price. In terms of exports, Canada is miniscule on the world wine market, and it does not have a revealed comparative advantage in wine (except for ice wine).
In addition to the disadvantage on input costs, Ontario wine production also suffers from an industry structure that limits the extent that most wineries can exploit economies of scale. A limit in the number of off-winery stores–included in the FTA and subsequently NAFTA to prevent further protection of Canadian wines–has led to an uneven playing field in which two firms, one now American owned, operate the vast majority of those stores. Other wineries are limited to selling through the LCBO or at the winery. Further development of Ontario’s wine industry is likely to require opening up wine retailing to allow all wineries to benefit equally. In order to avoid the strictures of NAFTA, this would have to mean opening up competition to a wider range of wine retailers able to sell both domestic and imported wines.