January 22, 2014 By Marg Land
Late last year, just before that holiday mayhem known as Christmas struck, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne made an announcement that many involved in Ontario’s grape, wine and farmers’ markets sectors had been anticipating for a long time. Unfortunately, it left some other farm-based wine and alcoholic beverage makers out in the cold.
With the renewal of the province’s Wine and Grape Strategy for a further five years, $75 million will be provided to:
- create a program where VQA wines will be sold at farmers’ markets
- establish an Ontario Wine Fund to support investments in specialized equipment and technology plus enhance marketing of Ontario wines locally and globally
- create a Wine Secretariat – led by Wynne and St. Catharines MPP Jim Bradley – to provide a forum for discussions between the province and the industry plus reduce red tape
“I’m committed to supporting this innovative industry and I encourage consumers to choose Ontario wines first as they share them with family and friends,” said Wynne, who also serves as the province’s minister of agriculture. “They’re local, they’re good for the economy, and they support good jobs.”
The industry, which has lobbied for something along these lines in the past, was pleased with the announcement.
“Ontario grape growers appreciate the continued support from our premier and her government,” said Bill George, chair of the Grape Growers of Ontario. “The renewal of this program speaks volumes about the economic value each grape grower and winery brings to the Province of Ontario.”
Farmers’ Markets Ontario (FMO), which represents more than 166 farmers’ markets across the province, also was pleased with the announcement.
“This is a positive step forward in supporting FMO’s ongoing efforts to bring consumers what they want at the farmers’ markets level,” said FMO executive director Bob Chorney. “We are delighted to see farmers’ markets recognized as having the maturity and integrity to be a venue of choice for promoting the bounty of local Ontario farms and wineries.”
The program announced by Wynne will affect only VQA wines, which are crafted entirely from grapes grown in Ontario. It does not address wine produced from grapes grown in areas of the province not VQA-designated, fruit wines, meads, ciders and craft beers made on-farm – an oversight that FMO was quick to point out.
According to a press release distributed by the organization, producers of fruit wines and their products are a “perfect fit.” The FMO also points out that B.C.’s recent move toward allowing alcohol sales at farmers’ markets includes craft beer, wine and cider.
“We are committed to working with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food on the development of this exciting initiative,” said FMO chair Philip Powell. “We look forward to joining with other industry stakeholders in 2014 to define and refine the details and pave the way for expanding product offerings in the future to include a full range of local fruit wines produced by smaller farms throughout Ontario.”
He added there is still a lot of work needing be done, both at the policy level and with the logistical details of the program.
Marc Alton, co-owner of Alton Farms Estate Winery in Lambton County, told the Petrolia Topic he would love to sell his wine at farmers’ markets.
“The push should be to allow all 100 per cent Ontario content wineries to sell at the markets, not just VQA,” he told the newspaper. “This would give fruit wineries and mead producers an alternative market.”
Fruit wineries have been pushing for sales at farmers’ markets for years and it appears rather callous and shortsighted of the provincial government to exclude them from the program. While any program that assists producers with selling and marketing their products is a welcome one, the playing field should be equal for all involved, especially if they are producing product made from 100 per cent Ontario produce. Here’s hoping this issue is corrected during planning discussions for the new program. We wish FMO the best of luck having its position heard.
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