Long delivery times, and therefore payment times, new complicated formalities: some exasperated winegrowers are beginning to find that the Société des alcools du Québec (SAQ) is offering them poor service and prefer not to offer their wines to Quebecers anymore or are considering doing so.
Posted at 7:00 p.m.
“I serve as a banker at the SAQ,” says Jean-Christophe Comor, of the Les Terres Promises vineyard in Provence, which has an annual production of 100,000 bottles. “I gave my wine, it left and I only get paid after it arrives. It is on the port, but it is not declared as having arrived. They took four months. It is shameful. »
Reached in France, this producer, whose wines are offered in Quebec restaurants, in private imports, as well as on the shelves of SAQ branches, has a hard time hiding his exasperation. He is not the only one.
The Montreal agency Le vin dans les voiles has lost two French winegrowers, producers who have an excellent reputation and whose products are highly appreciated, but who prefer not to sell on the Quebec market. Too complicated and heavy.
David Doucet, of the Roucet agency, mentions for his part that certain producers with whom he has been doing business for several years “are really struggling now to sell in Quebec”. “For them, he says, it’s more trouble to be exported to Quebec. »
On the side of Œnopole, an agency which imports several wines intended for SAQ branches, it is assured that no producer has left the boat, but it is recognized that certain winegrowers whose bottles are sold in several markets “sometimes think of reducing the quantities allocated in Quebec”.
Several sources of irritation
Why so much grumbling?
At the top of the list of sources of irritation, the delays between the moment when the wine is ready to be picked up at the vineyard in Europe, a responsibility of the SAQ (with some exceptions), and when it can be sold to Quebecers by the representative agency, which is also often called in the jargon the private import agency.
These delays sometimes create absurd situations for winegrowers who find themselves in their cellars with cases destined for Quebec waiting to be picked up, while all the rest of the production is sold.
“The winegrowers wait, they store it,” explains Julie Audette, co-founder of the agency Le vin dans les voiles, which is currently in France.
One of the main objectives of this trip: to reassure the winegrowers, after the pandemic which was very hard for many of these small producers who found themselves isolated, and to convince them to stay in the Quebec market.
It should be understood that delays cause late payments to winegrowers. The payment process, which was traditionally an argument in favor of the SAQ, no longer holds. Winemakers are paid 30 days after their wines are available here in Quebec.
“We are in a situation where we are paid six or seven months after the order has been placed. It’s not normal, ”says Jean-Christophe Comor. “I can’t serve as everyone’s banker,” he repeats.
From now on, the producers are always sure of being paid by a public body, the SAQ, but they no longer know when their check will arrive, says Valériane Paré, co-founder of Vin dans les voiles, who specifies that some of the wines ordered in June just became available for sale.
It’s sad because they are brilliant humans who make wines full of sensitivity.
Julie Audette, co-founder of the agency Le vin dans les voiles
These delays also cause a delay for seasonal products: rosé wines are planned for spring, robust reds for winter, champagnes for the holidays. If they arrive after the period originally planned, this complicates their sale, for everyone.
The SAQ is aware that delays can be a source of irritation for some agencies, but maintains that this is a marginal phenomenon.
“We have more than 4,000 producers across the planet, in 80 countries, and 40,000 different products. It may be that, perhaps, some have experienced problems with the context in which we live”, concedes Sandrine Bourlet, vice-president of marketing at the SAQ, who did not know that some winegrowers had decided to abandon the Quebec market.
The SAQ warehouses are full. “That generated, it is true, for some winegrowers, delays, probably in the repertoire of private imports. We are aware of it, but it is very marginal. The directory of private imports is 2% at the SAQ. Sandrine Bourlet specifies that every effort is being made at the SAQ to remedy the situation.
More demanding requirements
“Winegrowers don’t respect the SAQ for several reasons,” launches Pascal Gerrits, of the Primavin agency, whose products are intended for restaurants and private customers.
According to him, the imposition of a new barcode system on each bottle has really annoyed many winemakers, because it does not fit with their personality or their work philosophy.
“It greatly complicates the lives of winegrowers, who have to put their own labels [avec des exigences spécifiques pour le marché québécois], and there, in addition, they must add a barcode. »
For this reason, a champagne producer has decided to end its relationship with Primavin. “He is a winegrower who is a poet at heart,” continues Pascal Gerrits. He makes wines that look like him. He doesn’t want barcodes on his bottles. »
Viticulture, like all agri-food production, includes huge industries with very sophisticated production systems, but also farmers who have a smaller production, often more niche and popular with a more demanding clientele.
We always ask them for more and they are small producers. The SAQ makes life difficult for them.
Pascal Gerrits, from the Primavin agency
At the Bacchus 76 agency, Omar Pengue narrowly managed to keep the great Gravner house, from Friuli, which also wanted to stop sending its precious bottles to Quebec.
Gravner’s reputation in the world of wine is well established: the Gravner family is partly responsible for the revival of macerated wine, a product that is now very popular on the shelves of the SAQ.
“I want the monopoly to stay in place,” says Omar Pengue. I’m not against the SAQ, but we have to improve several ways of doing things. »
Agencies, even those that do not sell wines intended for the SAQ shelves, do essential clearing work that then leads to greater diversity for all Quebecers, through the SAQ network. The democratization of macerated wines, known as orange wines, is a perfect example.
In Provence, at the Terres Promises vineyard, Mr. Comor also criticizes the state company for giving him a hard time. “We sell all over the world and we have to make a specific label for the SAQ. The Quebec market represents approximately 15% of its sales. Although he has many recriminations, he finds it difficult, for the moment, to abandon Quebec. His team, however, would like him to cut the cord.
“We try to be the most precise, neat artisans, and we like to be able to know that our wine is going to places that are worthy of the effort we put into its production,” explains Mr. Comor. . I am very happy to sell my wine to you. »