Subject: WORKING WITH THE LCBO TO GET OUR WINE TO YOU
Dear Arthur’s Cellar Wine Club Member:
A number of our wine club members have asked me about the availability of our wines on LCBO.com. Sometimes they are there, sometimes they’re not. It can be quite frustrating to purchase the wines that we indicate are available.
Here’s how the ordering and delivery process works:
First, I order the wine from a given supplier, say Domaine Roger Sabon, through the LCBO. I will spare you the details, but believe me it is quite the process. I estimate the number of bottles our members will want based on previous orders and what the winery has available. The quantity is also tempered by LCBO lab fees which I explain below. The LCBO then sends their purchase order to the winery and they in turn prepare the order for shipping. The LCBO’s appointed shipper picks up the wine and sends it on its way by ship across the Atlantic. It usually takes between four and six weeks for the wine to get from the winery to the LCBO’s warehouse in the GTA.
After the shipment has been logged in, a bottle of each wine is sent to the LCBO’s lab. If the wine has not previously been tested and inspected, it takes about two weeks for this to be completed. If it has gone to the lab before, it is deemed ready for sale. This is where things become challenging.
There are two warehouses involved in the process - the ‘master warehouse’ where the shipment first resides and then the ‘LCBO.com warehouse’ to which the wine must be transferred before it is available for on-line purchase. It can take anywhere from one (rare) to two (more common) months from the time the LCBO first receives the wine till some of it reaches the LCBO.com warehouse and is available for purchase.
At this point, the ‘Destination Collection’ (I call it the ‘French Boutique’) at the LCBO retail store on Rideau Street in Ottawa enters the picture. They are able to obtain any of our wines in inventory at the master warehouse. Because it takes so long to list our wines on LCBO.com, the folks at the Ottawa boutique get first dibs on our wine. They usually take some of each and sometimes our entire supply! You might think this is a good thing, but it takes away from the wines our members could have ordered. Further, because it takes the boutique so long to sell what they’ve taken, our subsequent orders of the same wines cannot be listed (different prices) till they are sold. We have tried to coordinate with the folks at the store, even visiting them in Ottawa, but to no avail.
Now then, the next issue occurs when the wine finally gets on LCBO.com. Very often it is just a case or two. That’s makes it very difficult to announce it to the wine club – some 500+ members vying for 12 or 24 bottles. And, when these quickly sell out, I have to notify the LCBO and implore them to add more, which takes another week or two at best. And so it goes.
At time of writing we had 43 bottles of wine available for sale on LCBO.com. Another 24 are slowly on their way to join them. And, 689 more are resting in the LCBO’s master warehouse. The LCBO recently moved their operations from the antiquated Freeland Street location in downtown Toronto to a new facility in the Peel Region. You would think that the processes I have described would have improved measurably. I can assure you that they haven’t.
To be fair, there are a number of senior LCBO folks who work hard to make it all work for us as well as they can. We are deeply grateful to them. Further, once the wine has been ordered via LCBO.com, with the exception of the odd lost case or broken bottle, the delivery process through the LCBO retail store network functions very well.
Now that I am on a bit of a rant, permit me a moment to comment about the ads that are currently gracing local media touting the virtues of the LCBO lab –‘Quality Assured. Did you know?’ Here’s what’s not covered in the ads.
The LCBO lab charges $225 for each and every label that they examine. It is the agent or the winery that pays that fee. And, of course, that cost is then passed on to us, the consumers. Is it worth it? Over the fifteen years we have been in business, the LCBO lab has tested more than a thousand of our products. Every single bottle, I repeat, every single bottle has met the LCBO quality standards. Not one failed. I must confess that in one case, the winery omitted ‘Contains Sulphites’ in English on the label, although it was there in French. Then there were two wines where the alcohol content declared was a half a degree higher than the LCBO tolerance limits. In all three cases I had to pay to have new, corrected labels produced and to have LCBO staff to place them on the bottles.
Now then, the LCBO lab fee is not charged on orders of 60 bottles or less. That is why we sometimes order what seems to be a small number of bottles – usually for higher-priced wines where we anticipate moderate sales. So, of the more than 1000 bottles we have had tested, let’s say the Lab fee was charged on half of them – 500 bottles. Also, because the fee keeps increasing over time, let’s assume the average fee was $200. This means that over the years those of us who have purchased Arthur’s Cellars wines have paid $100,000 in totally unnecessary lab fees! Think about that when you next see the ad.
In closing, I will continue to let you know via these bulletins when our wines become available (hopefully the Château Malijay Rosé makes it before the first snowfall). I expect to make a couple of announcements shortly (my partners at the LCBO willing).
Jim, Hélène and Kate
PS: Follow My Vinous Adventures on Gentleman’s Portion
I contribute regularly about our experiences in the wild, wacky and wonderful world of wine to a delightful lifestyle blog called Gentleman’s Portion. The latest is ‘That Château in the Luberon’. Please join me and my fellow contributors, Nigel Napier-Andrews and David Moorcroft, as we regale you with a good helping of everything great in life.