Just before the holiday break, our class had the extraordinary opportunity to try some very old wines from Bordeaux that Chef Ian Middleton, an SCS Alumnus, generously shared from his father George’s collection. The collection was part of an inheritance, and the oldest of the bottles we tasted was from 1969!
Our wine teacher, Bob Latham, gave a terrific talk throughout the tasting. As interesting as the wine was in flavours and complexity, for me, the most fascinating part of the afternoon came with the stories and the history they illustrated.
Our wine collector, George Henry Middleton, was born in 1929 and immigrated to Canada from London in 1961. The family was established in Fort William* by 1963. Chef Ian, the youngest of Ann and George’s three children, grew up in Thunder Bay, Ontario. The wine collection (pictured below) was kept in the basement cellar of their home, the bottles properly stored horizontally with the labels facing up.
The liquor laws at the time were considerably more restrictive thanks to World War 1 emergency legislation brought in 1914 to stifle liquor sales**. Although prohibition was enacted in 1916 as a temporary wartime measure, its reach was pretty severe (whisky by prescription only, for example). It came with a sanctimonious social stigma and took almost fifty years to untangle. So, as you might imagine, the LCBO was a very different establishment then. Bottles were kept out of sight so wine collectors like George couldn’t just peruse the shelves. Shops provided a list of available inventory he could choose from, and then he would have to fill out a form to hand to the clerk. The clerk would then retrieve the bottle and bring it to the counter. In fact, according to the CBC archives, buyers in most provinces also had to buy a permit that had to be presented with each purchase. Additionally, individual municipalities had the ability to stay dry or add restrictions to hours of operation. Many drinking establishments would open just on the outskirts of city limits to avoid the extra regulations (or as it was known in Thunder Bay: Uncle Frank’s Supper Club).
Thanks again to Chef Middleton; this was a fantastic educational experience! It’s not often people get to try wine older than they are… at least, not at my age; the odds are better for some of my classmates.
*Fort William and Port Arthur amalgamated in 1970 to form Thunder Bay.
** www.cbc.ca/archives/entry/a-1969-survey-of-provincial-drinking-laws (The clip at this link is really worth a listen).