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Eat & Drink

Behind the scenes at the LCBO warehouse in Toronto

Posted by Sarah Ratchford / March 26, 2013

LCBO Warehouse TorontoSparkling rivers of beer trickle through the corridors. Women in steel blue oxford shirts tied at the waist roam around with trays of cocktails. Elves get to work on the second floor, concocting new drink recipes.

This is what I imagined dreamed the LCBO warehouse at 43 Freeland would be like. I was wrong. It looks like an Ikea. There are stacks of wine crates on skids, a few machines for moseying the products about. The building's primary use is as a way station for Vintages products, so a place where you'll find booze deigned more for pinky-raised sipping rather than abandoned-dignity chugging.

To be honest, I'm let down by the lack of party in here.

LCBO Warehouse TorontoMy tour of the building happened after quitting time for the 45 or so workers, so it was a pretty ghostly scene. But despite the dull nature of the operation, the LCBO warehouse is crucial to stocking the city's wine drinking set. Each year, two million cases pass through the 100,000 square foot warehouse. There are about 3,000 different vintages in the warehouse at any given time, and inventory is generally in the neighbourhood of 180,000 to 280,000 cases.

LCBO Warehouse TorontoGeorge Soleas is the head of logistics for the LCBO (legend has it, he coined the phrase "beer before liquor, never been sicker"). In describing the operation, he notes that the warehouse stocks over 250 stores across the city and Southern Ontario.

LCBO Warehouse TorontoThe warehouse also processes private orders. That's right: the most privileged among us can taste wine in Italy, come home, and put in a special order for their very own case. Cases can be shipped in from virtually anywhere, and members of the bourgeoisie can pick them up at their local LCBO location.

LCBO Warehouse TorontoThe majority of products destined for the warehouse arrive via boat to ports in Montreal and Vancouver and then make their way to Toronto via truck-transport. As a measure to ensure that the wine doesn't spoil along the way (it can get pretty hot in a shipping container), between April 15 and November 15 all Vintages wine is shipped in reefers. Unsurprisingly, the most expensive products are shipped this way regardless of the time of year.

Soleas says they're exploring the possibility of using the St. Lawrence and Lake Ontario as an green initiative (trucks aren't exactly a clean mode of transporting booze), but that remains at the exploratory stage. That's too bad given that the warehouse is mere steps from the harbour.

LCBO Warehouse TorontoBut that won't be a concern for long: the warehouse is for sale, and all of the stock will go to the Durham warehouse, which is the largest of Ontario's five LCBO warehouses. It's 650,000 square feet as opposed to Toronto's 100,000, and 52 million cases pass through it every year, making Toronto's two million look measly.

LCBO Warehouse TorontoThere's no word yet on what will become of the property, or what the bidding process will look like. The only thing that is clear is that the government will make $200 million from the sale. This building could make for some incredible apartments if converted to loft-space, but the likelihood is the 1950s-era structure will be demolished when the LCBO packs up shop.

Photos by Derek Flack



Fig / March 26, 2013 at 09:40 am
Good to know about the opportunity to special order wine. I'll pass that on to a world-travelling friend who loves touring wineries in every country he visits.
MC / March 26, 2013 at 09:44 am
"The majority of products arrive at the warehouse by boat to Montreal and Vancouver, and then make their way to Toronto via truck."

The warehouse?
Frankie replying to a comment from MC / March 26, 2013 at 10:00 am
Are you dense or just annoying?
jer replying to a comment from Frankie / March 26, 2013 at 10:10 am
The line doesn't make any sense, it is a valid point.

Anyway, I would like to see this building retrofitted/kept. I know it is isn't super old but still it is nicer to see than a huge condo building.

I can see why they are moving out of the building. Sure doesn't seem like efficient storage the way it is set up now (very low ceilings/etc).
Tara / March 26, 2013 at 10:29 am
I just pictured myself skipping through the aisles like Homer Simpson in chocolate land.

Do they offer tours to non-media?
Jeremy replying to a comment from Fig / March 26, 2013 at 11:29 am
It's not worth it unless you really want a very specific wine. The fees/tariffs they charge are ridiculous. There are various importers you can buy from if they happen to carry the wine you want.
BH / March 26, 2013 at 11:48 am
I know where I'm heading if the zombie apocalypse ever happens!
Queenie / March 26, 2013 at 12:41 pm
Yay more condos.. not.
Derek replying to a comment from MC / March 26, 2013 at 03:54 pm
That line has been altered for clarity. Thanks.
Alexander replying to a comment from Fig / March 26, 2013 at 04:28 pm
Don't bother...the LCBO charges like a huge "testing" fee (I think it is $300 for a case and they use 1 bottle), it takes forever...if you are ordering one case, it just isn't worth it...the LCBO has lots of pluses (great prices, lots of variety) but going outside of the stuff they normally deal with is not cost effective for an individual...
BillyO / March 26, 2013 at 04:36 pm
This site will turn into some of the biggest condos we have ever seen in TO. Look what's happening with the Toronto Star lands adjacent to this site (5 towers, 4 of which are 70 or more floors). Developers don't buy property like this for $200mil to make lofts. Expect huge buildings here
ashleigh / March 26, 2013 at 05:47 pm
I've been to a sale at the LCBO warehouse just off Viscount Road (airport area): it was like shopping for potting soil at Home Depot, only booze.

The LCBO warehouse in Whitby, next door to the Oshawa GM plant, by all accounts is huge, mostly deep below ground and heavily automated.
Romulus replying to a comment from Fig / March 26, 2013 at 06:42 pm
The LCBO used to provide the service that they called "shop the world" and would go anywhere for a single case if you could provide all the necessary information. That program was shut down many years ago despite what this article claims. There are now strictly enforced minimum shipment charges from all countries that render this service impractical. This means, for example, that if you don't order at least 22 cases (a common minimum) you will be charged freight equivalent to 22 cases. This would make the shipment of a single case of wine ridiculously expensive.
Fig replying to a comment from Jeremy / March 27, 2013 at 09:02 am
Thanks Jeremy - I was wondering about that.
Fig replying to a comment from Jeremy / March 27, 2013 at 09:04 am
Thanks also Romulus and Alexander - always good to know all the facts before offering recommendations to friends lol.
Get outta that dumpster, hobo!! / March 27, 2013 at 04:13 pm
You know what is also behind the scenes at LCBO? Mayor Ford, licking any wet empties and bottle caps. :)
Me replying to a comment from Get outta that dumpster, hobo!! / March 27, 2013 at 04:34 pm
Well, he better not touch MINE!!
Romulus replying to a comment from Alexander / March 28, 2013 at 05:45 pm
If the order is private and for personal consumption, you can sign a lab waiver so there would be no lab analysis charge.
Christine Wheeler / March 30, 2013 at 04:36 pm
I had no idea. 52 million cases a year. Very impressive. Sarah, I appreciate the great information and details. Sorry to hear Elvis was not pushing a mobile cart and creating drink concoctions. :)
Joe / April 2, 2013 at 10:28 am
This is pretty good and everything but you should do a BlogTo post on how the corporate buyers that work at the LCBO get schmoozed by the big wine companies. If you think politicians taking bribes is bad you should see what happens at the LCBO. These buyers get paid trips to Hawaii new hardware floors in their house, expensive jewelry like rolexes. Its completely disgusting because as a resident of Ontario I get some idiot bureaucrat choosing what booze goes into the store based on what kickbacks he gets from the company. I wish the LCBO would get sold off. Even a wine store in Buffalo has a 100 times better selection than the LCBO
Steven / April 15, 2013 at 01:59 am
Looks like a Costco for booze.
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