We caught up with Annette Bruley, Wine Director and Manager of Midfield Wine Bar in Toronto’s Little Portugal district, to discuss some of the changes to their business model. More wine bars are getting into the bottle sale business. The industry as a whole is going through a shakeup in the wake of COVID-19, with lost revenue. Suddenly, even art galleries who bare liquor licenses have become to-go bottle shops.
Midfield has been a neighbourhood staple since 2012, and is now transitioning into a specialty wine shop. Midfield’s wine program focuses on organic, biodynamic, minimal intervention, and natural wine styles. Their selection is both old and new world, pleasing all sorts of sophisticated palates across the Toronto wine scene.
Annette and her team, owners Guiseppe Anile, and Chef Mark Redman, get great pleasure in finding the perfect sip for their dynamic, eclectic boutique wine lovers in the GTA.
Are wine bars turning into private bottle shops?
Interesting question, because it seemed like everyone who had a liquor license, whether they were a wine bar or not, became some kind of bottle shop. Necessity and survival breed transformation. The level of commitment of course varies from business to business.
Midfield Wine Bar
How have private wine sales been so far?
“The moment we decided to take advantage of AGCO’s changing laws on liquor sales, we had immediate support from our customer base (which was thankfully big enough at the time to help us move some product we had in-house.)”
It started out with pre-ordering/pick-up only. Once the first week passed by with success, Annette and her team decided to help the supply chain keep moving by buying new product from their loyal wine agencies. Things haven’t stopped rolling since.
“We are now doing online orders for delivery and contactless pick-up as well as the walk-in wine store format.”
Since March, Mindfield’s customer base has surprisingly grown despite the quarantine measure in place. This is largely due to word-of-mouth, and online media coverage. People are eager to find something other than the usual ho-hum fare
Will this be a game changer for resto-bars and wine agencies in Ontario?
“Many of us believe opening up the market, getting rid of the monopoly, can only create a larger market of wine drinkers. No one can lose. North Americans are still a bit “green” when it comes to wine consumption, compared to other markets (e.g. Europe). We are more comfortable with beer and spirits. It’s time to expand the market by sharing it.
“It would be a shame to have our governing bodies loosen regulations to give us some options to survive through this strange time, only to have them turn around in 2021 and go backwards. We hope that we’ll all survive this trying time and keep taking steps forward that help strengthen the survival of small business while opening up the market to more opportunities.”
Is this a trend that is being well-received by patrons?
“Our patrons love it! They are constantly walking in and commenting on how great it is to not be lined up at the LCBO let alone have an entirely different selection of wine to choose from than the usual stuff offered at the LCBO. I think they enjoy the intimacy of it as well … the atmosphere and the service.”
Do you foresee a freer market in Ontario, promoting local and international boutique wine sales?
“The dream is to be able to keep this “bodegas/wine shop” style as well as get back to being a full wine bar/restaurant. We keep hearing different things about whether or not this will continue into 2021, but the only way that option will truly be sustainable is if the pricing structure for retailers is altered.
We can’t keep paying the current prices we are charged and then turn around and price our wines in a way that is desirable to our customers and allow us to operate with proper margins. Hopefully the LCBO follows the lead of other provinces and installs a tiered pricing system for licensees. Lower prices can only benefit us all.”
What are some of your in-house sommelier recommendations for Torontonians?
2018 La Resistancia, Microbio Wines $54
This wine is the perfect mind-blowing example of incredibly beautiful minimal intervention wine that is made by a highly skilled winemaker…the wine was made in the vineyard! (Find it here online.)
2018 3 Miradas, Montilla-Moriles DO, Alvear & Envinate $43
A collaborative project between one of our favourite winemakers, and one of our favourite sherry producers. It’s a delicious white wine that is fresh and satiating with all the right savoury notes, and textural elements you get from sherry. A perfect food wine! (Find it here.)
2019 Nat’Cool! Tinto, Niepoort (1L) $38
A favourite varietal of ours (grape: baga), because it shows itself in so many different way, this example of it is the epitome of crushable summer red. It can be served as a chilled red, and it’s a one litre bottle…wouldn’t want to waste time having to open extra bottles! (Get it here.)
2018 Dialogo Branco, Niepoort $28
This cheap and cheerful white from Portugal defines bang for your buck! (Order it here.)
TOP IMAGE: DOMENIILE BLAGA, PEXELS