Access Denied

La Dolce Vita is a column by Lorne Eckersley, publisher of the Creston Valley Advance, a Black Press publication

Last week I went searching for the latest issue of Wine Access (Canada’s Wine Magazine), which I usually just pick it up if and went it grabs my attention on the store shelf. The search was because I had just learned from a reliable source that the magazine had folded.

I’m not going to get all weepy here and mourn for the loss of a Canadian publication because the fact is that I always had mixed feelings about the magazine. But no matter how you slice it, the closure of a national mag that focuses on one of my favourite subjects is a shame.

I use the word “focus” loosely, because it that exact word that has come to mind each and every time I have picked up an issue and been frustrated that WA has never seemed to figure out exactly what it wanted to be.

The February/March edition—the last—is a prime example. The cover features a photo to illustrate the big story: “Celebrity Chef Daniel Boulud on wine, food, friends”. Had I not know this was the last issue I might have skipped the purchase, wondering why a Canadian wine magazine needs to feature a celebrity chef in New York, who has written about, ad nauseum, in every other food and wine magazine on the continent.

Below Boulud’s photo are two more story headlines: “Rock Star Vintners Maynard James Keenan and Dave Matthews” and “Mario Andretti: race car driver-turned-vintner”. Two more stories with an American focus, and not likely to be of interest to the average Canadian wine drinker. Also promised on the cover are stories featuring “5 Top Canadian hotel restaurants”, a hoary and ultimately pointless theme, and finally, the most alluring story of all, in my opinion, “China’s thirst for Canadian wine”.

Inside the cover are 58 pages of magazine content, with what appears to be a healthy percentage of advertising, and another 30-page advertising insert about California Wines. If killing the magazine was strictly a revenue decision by Redpoint Media and Marketing Solutions, the publisher, it’s not apparent by this issue.

Perhaps it was a circulation issue. Maybe readers just don’t feel a need to read a 14-page (“Exclusive”) spread about “Wine Stars”. Maybe they expect better journalism than they got in the story about Chinese wine imports and investments in the wine business.

“In France, Chinese interests have been buying up Bordeaux chateaux at a feverish pace, at least 20 at last count…” the story says.

Then, in a sidebar to the story, an attentive reader will notice a quote from a article: “Out of the 11,000 chateaux sitting on the Garonne river in Bordeaux (France), between 15 and 20 have been sold to Chinese investors since 2008.”

I don’t think you have to be very picky to wonder how the sale of four or five wineries, out of a total of 11,000, annually adds up to “feverish pace”.

Other stories in the winter issue talk about blended Scotch whisky, caviar and a Japanese wine import business. Not one is about a Canadian winery or winemaker or retailer. For a national magazine I think that’s a shame.

But if Wine Access can be accused of not having a clear mission as a magazine, it certainly can’t be faulted for the value of its annual Canadian Wine Awards, which have been very popular with wineries that were recognized by an elite panel of Canadian experts. The loss of those awards will be huge. In my work, I am in regular contact with a lot of wineries, and the owners and winemakers who receive CWA recognition are genuinely excited when they get the news.

Also, since 2006 a special publication, The Canadian Wine Annual, has become a most valuable resource for wine enthusiasts, being a comprehensive listing of wineries across the country.

I hope that another steps up and sees an opportunity here. Our Canadian wine industry is growing in quality and importance and it deserves a national publication that recognizes that.