A local spirit-maker is frustrated with Newfoundland and Labrador Liquor Corp. rules that saw his vodka pulled briefly from local restaurants.
Lionel Rodrigues of Rodrigues Wines was surprised to find that local restaurants weren’t allowed to sell their Sedna vodka because it was listed for sale only through the Whitbourne winery itself and not through the NLC.
“We had it listed at our winery — so if we’re allowed to sell it in our winery, anybody’s allowed to purchase it for use in their establishment, their bar or restaurant. That’s what we were told,” he said.
He was dismayed to find out that an August visit by the liquor inspector to Bacalao restaurant in
St. John’s — one of a handful of locally focused establishments offering Sedna — resulted in the vodka being pulled for sale in restaurants until Rodrigues had the product listed through the NLC itself.
Rodrigues said the NLC is often supportive, but when he runs into problem she wonders if it’s partly because the corporation is focused on its own bottling contracts with companies such as Iceberg.
“I’d really like it more if there was a bit more push for local (product). Every other province has a big local industry push because the provincial governments realize that more money is generated from booze produced in your own province. The NLC hasn’t quite got to that yet.”
Andrea Maunder, Bacalao co-owner, said she was also surprised that she had to temporarily stop offering the vodka to customers.
“Yes, we need to have rules, but really what we need to do is promote local as much as we can,” she said.
“That’s what we all need to do.”
Greg Gill, the corporation’s manager of marketing and communications, said unequivocally that all products are treated equally, whether the corporation has a contract with them or not. He said products don’t have to be listed for sale in NLC outlets, but any establishment that wants to sell them to customers still have to order through the corporation and can’t buy directly from the distiller.
“If a restaurateur … becomes aware of a product, say it’s a wine, and it’s not listed at NLC, they can contact NLC and special-order it through us, and that way they’re not entirely bound to sell product that’s necessarily listed and available for sale in an NLC store. We can source that product for them and bring it in,” he said. “So whether it’s listed or not, either way, that restaurant is legally bound by the Liquor Control Act to only sell products to consumers that have gone through the NLC chain.”
The reasons are twofold, said Gill: on the regulatory side, it’s to control contraband and ensure quality.
“Anything that’s being poured out there, an alcohol beverage, has to come through NLC so we can provide the stamp of approval.”
The second reason, said Gill, is for revenue purposes from restaurants and bars.
“They have a licence through us, and a part of us granting that licence is they agree to purchase the product through NLC, and there’s a revenue stream there, obviously, that goes into NLC, into government, that goes towards to paying for public services, that type of thing.”
The issues have been ironed out now, and the vodka is on NLC shelves, said Gill.
“It’s a great package. It’s a very good vodka, and we’re happily listing it now and hope that locally restaurants and bar owners are pouring it now.”