Sour Deal for Ontario Grape Farmers

By / Magazine / June 15th, 2009 / 2

Urgent government action needed to protect Ontario Grape Growers

Ontarians who think they are supporting Ontario farmers by buying wine sold as “Cellared in Canada” are unknowingly supporting foreign grapes or grape products, the Ontario Greenbelt Alliance warned today. Under the current Ontario law, Cellared in Canada wines can contain up to 70% foreign grapes or grape product. “In a time when there is tremendous support for local food and farmers, our province’s grape growers are getting the short end of the vine,” said Dr. Rick Smith, Executive Director, Environmental Defence, a member group of the Ontario Greenbelt Alliance.

Under the Wine Content and Labeling Act, Ontario wineries are able to buy inexpensive finished wine from off-shore vendors and create a product labeled as “Cellared in Canada” by blending in a minimum amount of locally grown wine. The required amount of Ontario fruit, initially fixed at 85%, has been repeatedly lowered and now stands at a mere 30%. The program, originally established in 1972 and renewed in 2001 as a measure to give Ontario growers time to upgrade their vineyards, has become a permanent part of how non-VQA wine is made in Ontario.

“When we have wineries literally driving past vineyards full of Ontario grapes to pick up imported grape juice to make a blend, it is clear there is an issue,” said Jim Warren, President of the Ontario Viniculture Association and Executive Director of Fruit Wines of Ontario.

“We need a system that is more flexible and fair so that everyone involved – the wineries, and the grape growers – have a fair deal that will support all of Ontario’s wine making industry.”

Last year, the equivalent of more than 30,000 tonnes of grapes were imported, while Ontario farmers with high quality crops of the very same variety were left without buyers and with local grapes rotting. With growers on the brink of bankruptcy, the Ontario government had to step in with a $ 4 million bailout program. Even now, at the beginning of the 2009 growing season, the Ontario government has still made no movement to amend the labeling act, or to support local grape growers through increasing marketing efforts of VQA 100% Ontario grape wines sold at the provincially owned LCBO.

“By supporting local agricultural groups like Ontario’s Grape Growers, we are working towards a greener Ontario and helping farmers to ensure our prime rural land remains economically viable and ecologically sustainable,” said Anne Bell, Senior Director of Conservation and Science, Ontario Nature. Supporting our local growers is not just about secure farms and a healthy local environment it is also about a healthy economy. For every bottle of 100% Ontario grape wine sold in Ontario the economic spin-off to Ontario is $11.50, as compared to $7.72 when the wine is “Cellared in Canada”, and only $0.67 for foreign wines. “Ontario’s vineyards are not only an important and iconic part of the province’s rural landscape; they are also an import part of our economy, which is why we need to ensure that our grape industry remains viable,” said Chris McLaughlin, CEO of the Niagara Escarpment Foundation.

The Ontario Greenbelt Alliance calls on the Ontario government to support Ontario’s Grape Growers by:

• Increasing the Ontario Content in “Cellared in Canada” immediately to 50%
• Increasing the Ontario wine market share to 51% at LCBO stores throughout Ontario
• Increasing access to more retail stores across Ontario to sell more 100% grown Ontario wine.


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