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Beer head of the class

But Manitoba wine sales growing faster

G.J. Andrews Food & Wine Shoppe-store owner George Andrews. Wine sales that are growing at a much faster pace in Manitoba than either beer or spirits. And white wines, in particular, are enjoying a real surge in popularity.

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G.J. Andrews Food & Wine Shoppe-store owner George Andrews. Wine sales that are growing at a much faster pace in Manitoba than either beer or spirits. And white wines, in particular, are enjoying a real surge in popularity.

Beer is still king when it comes to booze sales in Manitoba, but it's wine that's racking up the most spirited market gains, new industry figures show.

Statistics Canada said Thursday liquor sales in Manitoba increased at the second-fastest pace in the country in the fiscal year ending March 31 last year, climbing 3.6 per cent to $710.1 million from $685 million in fiscal 2011-12.

Although beer retained its long-standing title as the most popular type of booze among Manitobans, accounting for $312.8 million in sales, it was wine that enjoyed the biggest gain in sales through provincial liquor marts, private beer and wine stores and licensed establishments such as bars and restaurants.

Statistics Canada said wine sales grew at more than three times the pace of beer sales -- 7.2 per cent versus 1.8 per cent -- and at more than one-and-a-half times the pace of spirits sales, which rose 3.9 per cent.

"Beer is still the drink of choice for Manitobans, although it has seen some declines," Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries spokeswoman Susan Harrison said.

Harrison noted beer sales are heavily dependent on the weather, and the weather worked in its favour in 2012.

"When we have a hot summer (as in 2012), beer sales go up," she explained. "Likewise, when the summers are cooler and wetter, we see a slow-down in beer sales."

But beer sales aren't the only thing that benefit when the weather is hot, according to the owner of one of Winnipeg's private wine stores, G.J. Andrews Food & Wine Shoppe.

George Andrews said when temperatures climb, a growing number of imbibers are turning to white wines.

"I think what's happening now is that people are saying, 'When it's hot, I want something light and cool,' " Andrews said.

He said the local wine market has been undergoing another transformation in recent years. Fifteen years ago, reds were by far the most popular type of wine, with 65 per cent of sales versus 35 per cent for white wines.

"But in the last two or three years it's been evening out more. Whites are really coming back with a vengeance. Now, I would say that overall, it's 45 per cent white and 55 per cent red."

Andrews said a variety of factors are helping to fuel the recent growth in wine sales. More young people are drinking wine and consumers in general are becoming more knowledgeable about wines and more interested in experimenting with new wines.

"The Food Network has had a huge impact, too. People are trying different types of foods... and pairing wines with those foods."

Andrews said they're willing to fork out more for a better-quality wine. The most popular price range used to be $9 to $13, but now it's $12 to $18.

"So their palates have become more sophisticated, as well."

Harrison said Manitobans are becoming more adventurous when it comes to new beers and spirits.

"The hot spirits with excellent growth are bourbon, Irish whiskey and single-malt scotches," she said.

Manitoba is seeing a lot of growth in sales of imported beer and products of local craft breweries such as Half Pints and Fort Garry.

"People like to try new things and check them out, and the Half Pints and Fort Garrys of the world are making products that people are interested in right now."

Nationally, the Statistics Canada figures show Canadians bought less beer and more wine and spirits in fiscal 2012-13. Overall, sales were up 2.2 per cent to $21.4 billion.

Beer was also Canada's top-selling booze, with sales totalling $9.1 billion. That compared to $6.8 billion in sales of wine and $5.4 billion for spirits.

murray.mcneill@freepress.mb.ca

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