It is with great emotion that the Société des alcools du Québec celebrates a century of discovery, sharing and ever-evolving tastes. While the anniversary would be unthinkable without the work of our employees and support of our customers, the SAQ would not be what it is today without the contributions of its valued partners and the wine and spirit import agencies in particular.
As the intermediaries between the SAQ and producers, agencies work hard, and it is partly thanks to them that there is such a wide range of wines and spirits from around the world available in Québec. Always on top of market trends, they act as representatives to help producers expand into markets by analyzing sales figures and promoting their products. Without the agencies, Québec’s wines and spirits landscape would be vastly different.
Of the 350 collaborating agencies, the following four have left their mark on the history of the SAQ through their enduring partnerships.
Dandurand: passion bears fruit
Dandurand’s story goes back to 1968 and the creation of Sogexport, which represented and imported European wines in Québec. Four years later, in 1972, Philippe Dandurand acquired the agency and took on the role of chairman and sole owner. At the time, he oversaw every aspect of the business, from administration to work on the road. Driven by passion and hard work, he quickly made a name for himself in the industry, and his agency thrived.
Dandurand is dedicated to importing wines, including the emblematic Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais and bowling pin-shaped Brouilly. Proud to represent a number of renowned French estates, Dandurand diversified its portfolio over time to offer iconic wines from around the world: Errazuriz and Trapiche from South America, KWV from South Africa and Frescobaldi from Italy, to name only a few.
Charton Hobbs: products that made their mark in Québec
Just like the SAQ, Charton Hobbs is on the cusp of celebrating its 100th anniversary. Its history dates back to 1925, when Basil D. Hobbs founded the Canada-wide agency, which specializes in spirits. In 1988, his descendant Duncan Hobbs joined forces with Jean Charton of the Québec-based agency Hertz de Charton to create the Charton Hobbs we know today.
Well-known in Québec’s wines and spirits sector, Charton Hobbs imports acclaimed champagnes Moët & Chandon, Veuve Clicquot and Dom Pérignon. Building on its vast experience, it also represents key international brands like Fireball Whiskey, Goldschlager, Hennessy and the classic De Kuyper gin—one of the biggest sellers of the past century in Québec!
Proud of the popularity of the products it offers, Charton Hobbs is about more than leading brand names. “We enjoy representing major brands, and we often work with smaller producers to help them grow. I would say we specialize in developing brands,” said Michel Veilleux, senior vice-president, Québec at Charton Hobbs.
Italvine: taste of Italy
“My aim is to promote special products from across Italy, beyond Veneto and Tuscany. We are familiar with a lot of Italian products here, but there are so many more to discover,” affirmed Tony Pasinato, executive director of Italvine.
Epicurean, gourmet cook and bon vivant Luigi Magnani had a collection of Italian wines he married with the dishes served in his Montréal restaurant, which is still open today. With the success of his pairings, he expanded his imports and founded Italvine. Magnani worked hand in hand with the SAQ from the very start to offer products from his homeland that were still unknown to Quebecers. “There was a time when Italian products weren’t well received. Over time, Quebecers’ tastes changed. Today, they embrace Italian foods and wines,” said Tony Pasinato.
The visionaries at Italvine launched a number of typically Italian products on the Québec market. Considered unusual at the time, some have even become classics, including Carpene Malvolti prosecco—the first prosecco ever sold at the SAQ. Italvine also brought grappa and amaro to Québec. Fast-forward to today, and Italvine still dedicates itself to Italian products.
Sylvestre Wines & Spirits: the importance of long-term collaborations
The ties between the SAQ and Sylvestre Wines & Spirits go all the way back to 1927, when Gabriel Boussion founded the agency in Montréal. Originally from the Pays de la Loire, he specialized in bringing products from his homeland to the Belle Province. Royal de Neuville, his first successful label, is a traditional sparkling rosé that was available on SAQ shelves from 1927 to 2017!
In 1967, the agency was acquired by the Sylvestre family and given its new name. Focused on high-end labels, Sylvestre Wines & Spirits makes it a point of honour to chiefly cooperate with family estates, with which it builds long-standing relationships. It brought us the Alsatian brand Willm over 60 years ago. Sylvestre also represents Bouchard Père & Fils in Bourgogne, which is recognized for its Grand Cru and Premier Cru labels.
“There are so many family businesses in the wine sector. When you plant a vine, it takes five years for the wine to be ready and another two for it to be made. The art of wine requires patience. It isn’t instantaneous,” explained Michel Sylvestre, president of Sylvestre Wines & Spirits.
The agencies that import wines and spirits often work in the shadows. Today, the SAQ celebrates their invaluable efforts. Let’s raise a glass to 100 more years of collaborations and discoveries that will set the course for the future.