In September of 2008, Dalton McGuinty’s Liberal government and the LCBO decided to allow wine to be sold in farmers’ markets, albeit with some restrictions. Their guidelines demanded a strict adherence to outdoor structure dimensions, latitudinal/longitudinal positioning and ethnic-appropriate choices. No, really. In 2008.
The move was heralded with great thanks, not just for the bone thrown to the wine industry, but for the significance such change might have upon the system of selling Ontario wine.
Fast forward to December 2013.
Kathleen Wynne called a news conference. On the coattails of a 2009 initiative, the Liberals boast that “the strategy has supported significant growth in the sector, including doubling the number of VQA wineries, creating 2,000 direct jobs, record grape production, and the development of prime tourist destinations, from the Niagara Peninsula to Prince Edward County and Lake Erie North Shore.”
All true and impressive stuff. VQA wines, which are made only with Ontario grapes, will be available along with seasonal vegetables and fruits at farmers’ markets, Premier Kathleen Wynne said Monday.
For the uninitiated, VQA Ontario is Ontario’s Wine Authority, a regulatory agency responsible for maintaining the integrity of local wine appellations and enforcing winemaking and labelling standards. VQA Ontario does not represent the wine industry in Ontario and is not a marketing agency.
Here are the Liberal government program’s quick facts:
- The province is investing $75 million over five years through the Ontario Wine and Grape Strategy.
- Located inside selected full-sized LCBO stores, Our Wine Country boutiques offer an expanded selection of VQA wines, helping elevate the profile of products from smaller local wineries, with more than 500 wines from across the province available.
- VQA wines are crafted entirely from Ontario grown grapes and must adhere to rigorous winemaking standards.
- Ontario’s wine and grape industry contributed an estimated $3.3 billion to the province’s economy in 2011.
- VQA wine sales in Ontario have increased by $100 million since 2008 — from $168 million in 2008 to $268 million in 2013.
- The Wine Secretariat will be led by Premier and Minister of Agriculture and Food Kathleen Wynne and Jim Bradley, MPP, St. Catharines.
To see Niagara wine writer Rick VanSickle’s thoughts and to read the full text of the press release, along with another from the Grape Grower’s of Ontario, please visit Rick’s site here.
I just have a few questions for Premier Kathleen Wynne, if she wouldn’t mind taking the time to answer them. Great ideas come out of necessity, and we certainly need this program, just as we need some level of privatization for the wine industry in Ontario. But I still have concerns:
1. Does the wine commerce plan involve issuing licences to third-party vendors wishing to sell wine at said markets or will it be restricted to wineries? Either way, what will be the cost of the licences? Will the farm market endorsement simply be an extension of a winery’s tasting room retail license? Will sales be restricted to two bottles per customer and will the license allow vendors to pour and sell by the glass or open bottle? Many markets take place in the early morning so will vendors be allowed to pour samples and sell before 11:00 am and before LCBO stores open? Will the licenses be transferable from one market to another, i.e. from Niagara-on-the-Lake to Orillia, so long as the vendor has secured and paid for spots in both markets? My apologies, that really was more like six questions.
2. You are quoted as saying “it means we can be a lot more competitive in the LCBO against import wines.” Will VQA wines be available in markets in close proximity to LCBO stores, like just down the block? I wonder what your thoughts are on points of sale simply moving from one location to another so I’d also like to know what percentage of people who frequent farmers’ markets are the same folks who make visits to Ontario wineries?
3. Will there be a restriction on which markets will be allowed to sell VQA wine? Are there plans to allow markets in Toronto and Ottawa to join in the fun, like St. Lawrence, Byward, Weston, Sorauren or Trinity Bellwoods? Will buyers be able to sample, taste and buy? The folks who attend those markets tend to shop at the LCBO so I’m wondering if the possible bite into LCBO sales has been considered? Can you say yay or nay? Oh, one more thing. Can you confirm that fruit wines, non-VQA wine, mead, craft beer and craft cider are to be excluded from the plan?
4. The initiative also creates a “Wine Secretariat” to help the province and industry find ways to make the industry more competitive. Can you tell me what that job description is and what amount from the $75 million will be allocated to that work?
5. Debbie Zimmerman, CEO of the Grape Growers of Ontario, was quoted as saying the “devil is in the details.” Is there anything else we should know about the plan? You noted that “discussions with wine stakeholders about adding VQA to farmers’ markets in the province will likely begin in the new year.” Who are the stakeholders and what does likely mean? Will the enterprise go into effect in 2014, sometime in 2015 or 2016 and if your Liberal government were to lose the next provincial election, what would happen to the plan?
Thank you so much for taking the time to consider my queries. Good luck with the initiative and happy holidays.
Great article Mike. Did you send her a copy? Mom