Remembering The Wine Cop

By / Magazine / February 1st, 2018 / 8

Alex Eberspaecher, my friend and fellow wine scribe, passed away in May. He was known as “the Wine Cop.” I knew him as a wine writer but he was also a member of the Metro Toronto Police Force for 28 years. He once turned up at one of our Wine Writers’ Circle tastings in uniform — complete with side arm.

Alex was a great storyteller, evidenced by his book Vino Veritas “In Wine the Truth”: Adventures of a Travelling Wine Writer. In 1980 he recounted to me this anecdote which he had witnessed.

In 1965, a group of 20 French officers from the International Police Association were visiting Toronto. While being shown around a local station they were much intrigued by a large cell area known as the “drunk tank.”

Through an interpreter they asked why there were so many men inside. The station sergeant replied that they had been incarcerated because they had been found inebriated in a public place.

The French police went into a huddle and asked the interpreter to inform their host that they thought it was a terrible thing to lock people up for drinking.

As they left the area they passed the liquor cabinet where all the confiscated booze was kept. One of the French policemen grabbed a bottle of 75-cent Ontario wine and took a swig. He handed the bottle around to his compatriots who immediately proceeded to huddle again. After an animated discussion, they instructed the interpreter to pass on the message: “Anyone who drinks this stuff ought to be locked up.”

In those days, apart from a few wines made from hybrid grapes, Canadian wines were virtually all “sherries” and “ports,” sweet as candy and highly alcoholic. They attracted the trade of people who did most of their social drinking in doorways, out of brown paper decanters.

These products were known as “block & tackle wines” — you drank one, you walked a block and you could tackle anyone.

I recall my first taste of Canadian wine. It was at a Canada Day lunch in 1975 at Macdonald House in London. I was seated next to a British diplomat. When it came time for the loyal toast to the Queen, we were served Chateau-Gai “Champagne.” I asked my lunch companion what he thought of the wine. “Fine, dear boy,” he replied, “for launching enemy submarines.”

In the late 1960s, the table wine boom happened and the nation’s wineries switched gears to satisfy the taste for drier, less heady products. Since those days the local wine industry — in British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia — has made monumental strides in crafting wines from the noble grapes of Europe to compete with the rest of the world without a blush. And that goes beyond Icewine.

In April of this year I was chairing the Canadian panel at the Decanter World Wine Awards in London. This week-long competition — the largest in the world — received 17,429 entries from 58 countries. These wines were judged by 219 wine professionals from all over the world.

Canadian wineries entered 281 wines of which 12 won gold medals, five won silver and 111 won bronze. An Adamo Riesling 2016 from Ontario won a Platinum Best in Show award as the Best Value Dry Riesling in the competition. (Click here for complete results of the Decanter World Wine Awards)

I’m sure Alex Eberspaecher would have been pleased by this result as he was born in Heilbronn, Germany, and grew up during the war surrounded by Riesling vineyards. His first job when he emigrated to Canada was as a game warden. I guess he became a poacher when he became a wine writer.


Tony Aspler, Order of Canada recipient, has been writing about wine since 1975. He is the author of 18 wine books, including The Wine Atlas of Canada and three wine murder mystery novels. The best concert he ever attended was Rush with the Tragically Hip as the opening band. His favourite comfort food is milk chocolate and his cocktail of choice is a Kir Royale. At home, he drinks wine (lots of wine).

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