VQA celebrates 30 years of Ontario wine
If you don’t already know about the VQA (that’s the Vintners Quality Alliance), perhaps you should take a moment to explore the Ontario section of your local liquor store. You’ll see on every Ontario wine label, the VQA’s distinct mark.
“VQA was created and shepherded by visionary pioneers in the Ontario wine industry who wanted a system (and a brand) to identify good quality wines from Ontario,” explains Brian Schmidt, VQA Board Chair. “A quintessentially Canadian trait, we all worked together as an industry, making VQA into a collective brand that would be the common ground for wineries to talk to consumers about origin and local quality and why it matters. We were then, and continue to be, a very small player in the wine world, so it just made sense to band together and put our efforts behind a single touchpoint for who we are.”
The creation of the VQA was big news 30 years ago. There are many in the Ontario wine industry who remember its founding. Astrid Brummer, LCBO’s Category Manager of Ontario Wines, recounts the moment when the VQA became a part of her life. “I remember my Dad showing me the newspaper story at the breakfast table when VQA was enacted,” says Brummer. “He explained to my sister and me how vital the enactment of VQA was to the legitimacy of the local industry. He was so right – it helped lead the way to a much needed higher quality standard and became the foundation for winery investment and innovation.”
“Before VQA, in the mid-1980s, there were only a handful of small estate wineries,” Schmidt says. “Imported wines were becoming more available and popular with consumers and Ontario wineries were making more sophisticated wines to compete. But the local industry was still burdened by the prohibition era baggage of not-very-good jug wine and it was hard to get wine consumers to even consider that a wine from Ontario could play in the same league as a imported wine well recognized wine regions around the world.”
That “not-very-good jug wine” perception has definitely changed. And the VQA has played a large role in that. With that one mark, consumers can easily find quality Ontario wines in the stores. “VQA changed the landscape by giving consumers a way to identify quality Ontario wines,” explains Schmidt. “It’s all about origin, quality and authenticity. VQA tracks, tests and certifies that the wine is 100% grown in Ontario and meets winemaking and labelling standards … In essence, VQA takes some of the risk out of choosing a wine and helps build consumer confidence.”
Consumer confidence is very important in the wine industry. After all, most winemakers make wine for people to enjoy. Ontario winemakers are a dedicated bunch who have banded together in the past and present, and will continue to do so in the future, in order to ensure Canadians (and international) wine lovers get to enjoy everything the province has to offer.
“By any measure, Ontario VQA wine is a success story,” Schmidt says. “There have been many contributing factors, including incredible dedication by many who took on both leadership and supporting roles. The production of high-quality wines of origin (now identified as VQA) has gone from virtually nothing to almost half a billion dollars in sales. VQA wines continue to win accolades and gain attention alongside the world’s best wines, they are sold around the world, and support a vibrant tourism industry and many jobs across Ontario.”
For 30 years, the VQA has helped promote Ontario wines. But what is the end goal? What does the future have in store? “This is a great time in our history but not the time to relax,” Schmidt cautions. “VQA Ontario is putting a lot of thought into where we need to go in the future. Working with emerging wine regions to determine a path to appellation recognition as well as considering incremental changes that keep pace with evolving wine styles and consumer expectation will make sure we stay ahead of the curve for the next 30 years.”
“There will be a time in the near future when everyone will talk about their favourite everyday wines, will tell stories about the wineries and wine events they went to on the weekend and trade recommendations about the super special bottles they’ve just discovered,” Brummer predicts. “This is what some trendsetters do now, but it is going to become much more common as wine lovers realize what a treasure we have here in our backyards. We are so lucky to live close to a great wine region!”
While the VQA may have an exciting anniversary this year, there isn’t anything on the event calendar to celebrate. “VQA Ontario will spend some time quietly reflecting on our success but as the regulatory authority, our celebrations will be low key,” Schmidt says.
Instead, Schmidt and Brummer will celebrate the VQA indirectly by raising a glass to the many other anniversaries this year. “This year is the 30th anniversary of Henry of Pelham, the 20th anniversary of 13th Street Winery and next year will be the 40th anniversary of Trius Winery.” Brummer explains. She suggests the following Ontario wines for the celebration:
Pelee Island Lola Cabernet Franc Rosé 2017
This wine is delicious and beautifully packaged. The grapes were sourced entirely from the South Islands appellation which makes it really special.
13th Street Winery Premier Cuvée
A rich and delightful sparkling wine that has recently been awarded a Gold from the UK’s influential Decanter magazine.
Revel Cab Noir Dark Red
I love the deep, rich flavours created from this blend of Cabernet Franc and Baco Noir. It is tonight’s BBQ wine.”