20060118

Feb 1: WBW vs SAQ

wbw wine blogging wednesday logoIn this corner, wearing the mono-colour magenta shorts, province-wide controller of wine supplies...saq Société des alcools du Québec logo the SAQ (Société des alcools du Québec). And in this corner, wearing the good ol' red, white and blue, with a hint of purple around the rim, in its 18th bout on the circuit, champion of the blogosphere ... WBW (Wine Blogging Wednesday).

On February 1, 2006, these two title-holders duke it out in a metaphysical fight. It will be then that the SAQ retail monopoly will uniformly roll out to each of its stores across the land its new discounted prices on European wines, potentially easing the recent spate of calls for the agency to privatize. Meanwhile, the current installment of WBW encourages wine lovers everywhere to publish reviews of their preferred local wine merchants who with their uniqueness and individual flair make wine shopping a rich and personable experience.

It's hard to think of this as a simple coincidence. For the past month, Quebec vinophiles and economists alike have been railing against the state-controlled management of the SAQ, specifically in regards to reports of attempted price fixing. Many Quebeckers want a merchant with more vivacity, a business that competes in a unregulated market for the customer's dollar (as well as his loyal WBW affection). Many of these people desperately want a chance try on WBW 18 and see how nice choice feels.

Dr Vino, host of this upcoming blogging event, has aimed for inclusiveness in the way he has organized this freedom-to-choose theme. (It's great having him around because he does do nice work, like this fair and balanced monopoly forum he houses on his site.) He couches the WBW topic, which revolves around the fruits of the free-market system, in idioms like "feelin' the love". I think that's quaint. I could nominate some wonderful SAQ wine counsellors who have assisted me more than once and I probably will; I can patronize whatever SAQ location I want to encourage their traffic within the province-wide network and I routinely value that decision. I guess that's called feeling the love. Except because there's no real consumer choice involved -- not in cellar selection, not in price policy, not in client relations, and not in management style -- a lot of folks around here are feeling the love like they feel a hot hate. They're pissed, even when the SAQ actually offers them plenty good on a day-to-day basis.

So sure, I could blog about the positive experience I had when I procured my favourite bottle at the Cours Mont-Royal SAQ. But ultimately, I'm out in right field waiting for a ball drop near me as the other winebloggers show off at shortstop and score a triple play. Viewed from Quebec, WBW 18 will be just be fuel for the fire in our ongoing debate.

Speaking of, last week I said I would follow developments arising from the initial story of alleged SAQ corruption. For most part, the outrage has passed and shoppers in Quebec have been assuaged by the promise of reduced prices for the bottles they most often purchase. Yet another price cut has been announced this week by the SAQ -- about 5% more shaved off prices on American wines as a result of the strong Canadian dollar. This will certainly continue to placate shoppers to the point of forgetting all about the contentious control with which this agency governs.

As I promised, here is what people have been saying lately. It's a bit of an anti-WBW 18 in tone -- a collection of articles from the last week that explain a bit about what it means to not have the ability to shop at the merchant of your choice:

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