The 2000’s: Challenge and Change

GGO remains focused on growth of the Ontario industry and creating an environment that allows both wineries and growers to prosper.

The new century begins with a deep dive into the industry’s market conditions. John Neufeld, multi-year chairman of the Marketing Board, contracted agricultural consultants George Morris Centre, in combination with accounting giant KPMG, to do an in depth examination of the grape and wine industries. Highlights from their joint report include:

  • each acre of wine grape vineyard generates $12,000 a year in government taxes.
  • conversely, income for the grower, per acre, averages $3,500.
  • growers have invested $100 million in new field cultivation and planting over the last five years.
  • vineyard development costs are $15,000 per acre (excluding land value).
  • winery retail stores have generated 1,861 jobs.

The study results illustrate that by the year 2000 the once fledgling Ontario grape and wine industries had become key components in the province’s economic well being, supporting in particular the Niagara region’s tourism and hospitality industry.

In spite of this inspiring news, the industry still faced a high hurdle with the retail sector. Specifically, since 1988 Ontario wine listings had decreased by 178 items at LCBO stores, while imported wines had gained 366 listings. 

In specific harvest terms the year 2000 saw an 80% increase in rainfall over the previous several years. This moisture created new and uncommon problems for growers with powdery leaf mildew and leaf mould. However, a sunny summer and fall season saved the harvest which came in at 50,599 tonnes and still represented a 13% decline from the previous year. The farmgate value of the harvest was $42.4 million.

Vinifera cultivation continued its decade-long growth trend with a 12% jump over the previous year to reach 20,450 tonnes. 

The 2000 harvest year also saw the Marketing Board successfully introduce minimum prices for late harvest juices and Icewine grapes with over 70% support of growers and processors.

Contrasting the positive developments, the retail market share of Ontario wines in Ontario dropped to 40% while imported wines reaped a hefty 60% market share. This decline would need to be confronted. 

Finally, in 2000 the Ontario government established the regulatory authority, VQA Ontario (VQAO), to administer the VQA Act of 1999. VQA wines are to be made from 100% Ontario grape content and must adhere to labelling and production standards as set out in the VQA Act.

“We had an appellation so that a consumer could pick up a bottle in a retail setting and look at a label and feel confident that there was a government authority standing behind the guarantees that are stated on that label. That it says Ontario, if it says VQA Ontario, that means every drop of juice in that bottle was grown in Ontario. If it says Niagara Peninsula or Beamsville Bench or Prince Edward County, that’s also 100%, if it says Icewine, it was made in accordance with the rules that are clearly defined and government approved.” – Len Pennachetti

In addition, the Wine Content Act was due to sunset on December 31, 2000. It was replaced by the Wine Content and Labelling Act, 2000 (WCLA). The minimum Ontario grape content per bottle was set at 30% (measured before the addition of water) and 70% imported.

By this time Ontario had grown to 80 wineries.

The story of 2001 was the weather: hot and dry. Between April and August just four inches of rain fell on the Niagara region. Concerns about the effects of this draught were somewhat lessened by the ability of many growers to irrigate their vineyards. In the end, the harvest was a healthy 56,686 tonnes.

Viniferas now accounted for 56.5% of the grapes sold to wineries, continuing and confirming the Vinifera domination of the harvest. 

In 2001 it became clear that the Niagara region’s increased production of high quality grapes was not being accompanied by a corresponding increased market share at the retail level. In fact, despite recent awards and accolades, Ontario wines were steadily losing domestic retail market share. 

In response to this, the Marketing Board completed two studies in 2001 that examined the potential of new alternative marketplaces. In particular, these studies identified two target markets; homemade wine market and 100% Ontario-grown and produced wines. On October 16, 2001, the Honourable Brian Coburn, Minister of Agriculture, formally announced a $10 million grant to the industry for Vintners’ Quality Alliance (VQA) promotion. It was determined that only through growth in the 100% Ontario wine category that growers will have a secure future, realistic pricing structures and a market for their product. The GGO committed $100,000 to this initiative.

Internally at the Marketing Board, Brian Leyden retired and Board Secretary/Manager Elizabeth Andreen stepped down. She was replaced by Art Smith. 

In a final and successful development on the year, the Marketing Board and processors established a minimum price for several grape classes and Icewine through arbitration; the arbitrator selected the growers’ position. This represented in excess of $1.5 million in additional revenue for growers. 

In summary, 2001 was an active and positive year, with processors purchasing roughly 18% more grapes than they had originally planned. The initiatives taken by the growers, the marketing board and their supporters over the past decade were beginning to bear fruit.

The year 2002 began with the retirement of chairman John Neufeld after a long and successful tenure steering the organization. Stepping into his shoes was Pelham grape grower Wayne Lockey, who had been active with the GGO for many years. He was well known and liked by all sectors of the industry.  

Wayne Lockey, a grape grower of 92 acres in Pelham, Ontario, south of the Niagara escarpment, has soils and climate suitable for labrusca juice grapes and hybrid grape varieties. Having shipped to the juice plant in Ontario since 1963, he and his wife Linda, at one time were the biggest juice grape growers in Canada.

Grape Growers of Ontario Chair, Wayne Lockey

 

2002 also marked the change of the Marketing Board’s name from the Ontario Grape Growers’ Marketing Board to the Grape Growers of Ontario (“GGO” moving forward), as recommended by the Strive report. Also, in response to this report the GGO evolved from a working Board directly involved in day-to-day operations to a Governance Board and established a position of President/CEO; a CEO was hired and subsequently replaced with Art Smith.

The Horticulture Research Institute of Ontario in Vineland was downsized and GGO picked up the research program formerly done by the government affiliated organization.

Finally, GGO funded VQA Ontario $75,000 ($225,000 in the past three years) and put $100,000 in the Wines of Ontario Promotion Campaign.

In harvest terms, 2002 was yet another year in which climate wreaked havoc with the growing season. After a warm and mild winter there were five early season heavy frosts in April and May, damaging many of the buds at a crucial time in their harvest cycle.  Despite five early season heavy frosts and concern of crop loss, the crop came in at a healthy 59,186 tonnes, including sales through the Fresh Grape Growers’ Marketing Board and sales of fresh grapes to the homemade wine trade. A further 296 tonnes were sold for export. The frost at a crucial time in the growth cycle set the stage for what was to come in 2003.

2002 Grape King Daniel Lenko

 

A look back at the GGO’s recent production records reveals several significant growth trends since the 1996 harvest:

  • There was a 60% increase in grapes left for Icewine and late harvest to 3,699 tonnes.
  • Red hybrid growth increased 47% to 4,224 tonnes.
  • White hybrids had decreased 14% over the same time period to 13,500.
  • Conversely, white Viniferas had increased 131% to 13,197 tonnes.
  • Red Viniferas increased by an astonishing 377% to 13,349 tonnes.
  • In total, these numbers represent a 27% increase in grape production and sales. At 43,700 tonnes, the 2002 wine grape harvest was amongst the largest on record.

“I liked being Chair, if only for one year. I gave what I could. I always figured if I was on a board, I was going to take an active interest in that board. But that year, I was vice chair of the Grape and Wine Festival, I was on the directors of the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers and I was on about six different committees. I just got up in the morning and ran all day, every day. I was out of the wine industry, and everything was concentrated on the wine industry then. It made sense to transition to leadership that was still growing grapes.” – Wayne Lockey

The year 2003 continued the challenge and change that the new century had thus far offered.

At the government level, the Liberal Party took over the Ontario Legislature from the Progressive Conservatives, and within the GGO, chairman Wayne Lockey stepped down with Ray Duc taking over the gavel. In addition, the GGO added Debbie Zimmerman to the team as CEO. A former two-term Chair of the Region of Niagara, Debbie’s addition signalled new strength to the organization.

“I can’t see a better way to raise a family. I have one son that stayed on the farm. The other one didn’t – but they both had that growing up on a farm influence on them, and you can see it in them. That is very good. I took the farm over from my father-in-law. I’m getting ready to pass it over to my son. He’s got a son that’s just itching to drive a tractor. He’s got every toy tractor in the world, I think. I think it will continue. There’s a lot of pride in that, too.” – Ray Duc

Ray Duc served on the Grape Growers of Ontario Grower’s Committee and Board of Directors for 14 years including 4 years as Chair.

 

Debbie Zimmerman, CEO Grape Growers of Ontario

 

The 2003 harvest was yet again affected by changes to the climate. Specifically, southern Ontario experienced an unusually cold winter followed by a cool, wet spring and summer, which resulted in a 40% reduction in the grape crop from the previous year.

In light of the short crop, the GGO entered into an agreement with the Wine Council of Ontario, the Ministry of Consumer and Business Services and the Liquor Control Board of Ontario to temporarily amend the Wine Content and Labelling Act to lower the minimum Ontario grown grape content in wine to 10% until January 31, 2005. The Wine Council of Ontario agreed to purchase the entire grape short crop and the crop in the following year, and the Winery Retail Store legislation was adjusted to temporarily allow wineries established post-1993 to use imported wine.

Compounding the climate-based challenges, the 2003 growing season was also adversely affected by an invasion of the Multi-Coloured Asian Lady Beetle (MALB) which proved to be a $10 million problem. GGO and Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI) at Brock University responded rapidly to search for effective solutions to this invasive pest. 

In response to these sizable challenges – and the ongoing anemic market share that Ontario wines have at the retail level the GGO began exploring with the provincial government the possibility of VQA-only wine stores, but without conclusion due to regulatory restrictions related to trade agreements.

At the growers end of the industry the GGO initiated the implementation of an internet-based Geographic Information System, VITIS. This system would map Ontario vineyards by grower, accomplished with the full co-operation of growers in permitting vineyard mapping on a confidential basis. VITIS was the catalyst as the GGO began to improve database management. 

For juice grape growers the Juice Grape Task Force was established to develop new strategies and actions for this challenged segment of the industry.

Despite a second harsh winter and cool, wet spring, the harvest was a successful 56,787 tonnes, with 46,179 tonnes produced for wineries, and 10,608 labrusca juice grapes. The farmgate value of this harvest was $50,029,172. 

The GGO continued operating under the leadership of Chair Ray Duc and CEO Debbie Zimmerman, with a newly established mission of achieving “sustainable growth and profitability by creating an improved environment of Ontario grown grape products.” 

In 2004, Grape Growers of Ontario held the first of many Media Days at Queen’s Park: Debbie Zimmerman, CEO; Bill George, Vice Chair; Ray Duc, Chair

 

Both the GGO board and CEO worked with the Ontario Farm Products Marketing Commission (OFPMC) to create an updated and revised governance structure model moving forward. This governance model facilitated representation from across the province, and opened up the GGO’s support efforts for the emerging grape growing regions. 

“I can’t see a better way to raise a family. I have one son that stayed on the farm. The other one didn’t – but they both had that growing up on a farm influence on them, and you can see it in them. That is very good. I took the farm over from my father-in-law. I’m getting ready to pass it over to my son. He’s got a son that’s just itching to drive a tractor. He’s got every toy tractor in the world, I think. I think it will continue. There’s a lot of pride in that, too.”  - Ray Duc

The McGuinty government initiated the development of Greenbelt legislation to protect the agricultural land base from urban development.  Chair Ray Duc and CEO Debbie Zimmerman were actively involved in consultations advocating to protect the sustainability and viability of the growers and the industry.

GGO also introduced grower vineyard signs to build the image of the grape growing industry across Ontario and to signal the collective importance of growers in the community.

In summary, 2004 was a busy and effective year for growers and the GGO.  The weather was a concern that never materialized in a harmful manner, the yield was strong and continued the ongoing trends toward Viniferas. After several years of challenging weather and price uncertainty, this businesslike year was welcomed by all parties.

Climate irregularities continued to challenge growers, with a harsh and cold late winter and spring season.  The result was significant crop damage and a diminished yield of 26,198 tonnes – among the shortest crops in GGO’s history of record keeping (to date) This was significant, and further drove investment in research and cold mitigation strategies.

“When you have all these different vintages that are really packed with challenges at times, whether that’s political or environmental, or just a bad week of weather that can really take things for a turn and you’re committed to it, and you stay positive and you work your way through it, it’s really beautiful when the wine comes through.” – Lydia Tomek

In response to this short harvest the GGO, along with the Wine Council of Ontario (WCO), negotiated a short crop Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Province of Ontario and the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO). This agreement allowed the wineries to temporarily reduce the percentage of Ontario grapes in their blended wine production from 30% to 1% Ontario content until January 31, 2007, with an import usage cap for each winery based on a formula. This agreement permitted on-site winery retail stores that came into existence after 1993 to again use imports in the production of their wine. It also called for the convening the Wine and Grape Strategy Steering Committee to be chaired by an Associate Secretary of Cabinet comprised of the MOU signatories and relevant ministries. The parties agreed to a three year price agreement and to phase in a new category of wine by the end of 2010 that would contain at least 85% Ontario grape content, with a mid-term benchmark of 50% by the end of 2007. For both the growers and the wineries an improved Ontario wines signage and promotional plan was developed for LCBO stores across the province, and at winery retail stores. 

While these efforts by the GGO and other industry partners were important steps, they could not obscure the resulting harvest statistics. In specific terms, grapes sold to wineries was just 18,162 tonnes, a reduction of 60% from the previous year. Similar decreases applied to grapes for jams and juices, and to grapes for Icewine.

The resultant farmgate value of the harvest was just $22,700,086, amongst the lowest farmgate values of the previous decade.

Juice grape growers met to explore alternative markets for Concord and Niagara grapes.

As a strategic response to combat the devastating effects of frost on the harvest, the GGO sponsored a study into the effectiveness of wind machines. This study entitled “Reducing Cold Injury to Grapes Through the Use of Wind Machines,” was prepared with the input of agricultural engineers Hugh Fraser and Ken Slingerland, Tender Fruit & Grape Specialist OMAFRA; Kevin Ker CCOVI, Helen Fisher University of Guelph, and Ryan Brewster, KCMS Applied Research and Consulting. The report was to be completed in 2009.

Growers began investing in wind machines to protect vineyards from winter injury.

 

Helen Fisher and Kevin Ker explain wind machine research to grape grower Bert Ediger at an Open House hosted by GGO. 

 

Growers began to invest an estimated $5 million on wind machine equipment to protect their crops. Although not a total solution, it was a significant turning point for the industry in its struggle against frost damage and winter injury.

Honourable Steve Peters, Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs toured Niagara vineyards in June 2005. Pictured with Chair Ray Duc and grape grower Marty Byl.

 

In a further turning point, the GGO together with Canadian Horticultural Council, the governments of PEI, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec, and British Columbia lobbied for a “National Replant Program,” which was presented to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance by CEO Debbie Zimmerman, October 27, 2005.

Late in the year, for its efforts, the GGO received the Spirit of Niagara Award from the Niagara-on-the-Lake Chamber of Commerce as the company of the year.

“You don’t make wine, you grow it. I mean, you cannot make good wine from bad grapes. It’s that simple. If what arrives at the crush pad is of low quality, there’s no magic. No winemaker is a magician who can turn that sow’s ear into a silk purse. It’s really that simple. So, it’s all about grape growing, and there I’m proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish.” – Len Pennachetti

In 2006 the harvest rebounded beyond expectation, with a total yield of 64,178 tonnes – a remarkable increase over the previous year’s frost damaged harvest. It was the second largest crop since 1971. 

Due to import restrictions on vines from France, GGO partnered with Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), nurseries and growers to implement a 3-year monitoring program for phytoplasmas in grapevines using its Vitis Vine Management System. As a result of research into hot water treatment of vines, CFIA regulations changed to allow vines into Canada from France if they are hot water treated.

Minister of Government Services met with growers in 2006, pictured with Debbie Zimmerman, CEO, Juan Neumann, Director and Vice Chair Bill George.

 

The GGO continued its research initiatives, including the wind machine research for vine protection from frost damage, partnering with Weather Innovations Network to enhance weather stations, and introducing electronic weigh bills to the VITIS system to improve harvest efficiency for growers and processors. to.  

The GGO’s consultant’s report, “Recommendations for the Establishment of an Ontario Grape and Wine Research Foundation,” recommended the creation of a Research Foundation with stable funding based on fair division of industry contributions. This was the beginning of Ontario Grape and Wine Research Inc. (OGWR).

Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty introduced an excise duty exemption for wine made of 100% Canadian-grown agriculture product, which proved to be a valuable catalyst for growth of the authentic Ontario grape and wine industry. 

The year ended on another upbeat note when the GGO, through its sponsorship of the Grape and Wine Festival, refocused its long-standing festival kick-off luncheon with Canadian celebrities as keynote speakers. With the help of the newly established Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation and Scotiabank, the GGO attracted the largest Luncheon attendance to that date with guest speaker and new Niagara winery owner, Dan Aykroyd.

A toast to Ontario’s grape and wine harvest between Chair Ray Duc and Celebrity Luncheon guest speaker Dan Aykroyd.

 

In summary, 2006 was a year of recuperation for the industry after the damage done by the weather in 2003 and 2005. Growers and winemakers were able to somewhat refill their coffers, and everyone was able to exhale and recover. In short, 2006 was a relief to all.

The year 2007 began with change at the at the Board level, as Ray Duc stepped down as Chair of the GGO, after several years of high-level service on behalf of grape growers in all regions of the province. New Chair, Bill George, teamed up with CEO Debbie Zimmerman to ensure the continued growth and development of the sector and management of the organization. 

Bill’s family has a long history in Beamsville, with the home farm granted to the family in 1796. An active member, Bill was first elected to the Growers’ Committee in 1994, and to the Board of Directors in 1995 where he served as Vice Chair from 2003 to 2007.  He was also selected by his peers for viticulture excellence to represent the industry as Grape King in 2001. 

Newly elected Board Chair Bill George from Beamsville, Ontario

 

The spring and summer of 2007 were hot and dry with drought-like conditions. The unusually warm fall extended the growing season and the harvest itself resulted in a crop of 56,315 tonnes. Of this decent harvest 46,287 tons of grapes were sold to Wineries, with a contracted 2% increase in the price per tonne as part of the 2005 three-year agreement entered with the Wine Council of Ontario. The Icewine and late harvest grapes came in at a solid 5,942 tonnes, a slight dip from 2006, but a 60% increase over 2005. 

Prince Edward County receives Designated Viticulture Area (DVA).

 

Conversely, 2007 saw the end of an era with the closure of the Cadbury Schweppes Beverages plant in St. Catharines, after decades of partnership with the grape growers of the region. This closure adversely affected the labrusca juice grape harvest and sell through, which fell from 10,231 tonnes in 2006 to 3,755 tonnes in 2007. This closing impacted approximately 2,000 acres of Ontario’s vineyards and about 105 grape growers who actively and annually supplied juice grapes to Cadbury Schweppes, the single largest juice processor in Ontario. In responding to this closure, GGO negotiated with the Government of Ontario a $3.8 million Ontario Juice Grape Transition Program for juice grape growers, which offered temporary support for this segment of the industry to remove labrusca grapes. 

The Ontario juice grape era came to an end with the closure of the Cadbury Schweppes plant in St. Catharines.

 

In addition, GGO worked with the Government of Canada to establish a $22.3 million Transition Program for the grape growing industry. GGO chair Bill George publicly stated: “Today’s announcement by the federal government provides assistance to our beleaguered juice grape growers and supports our wine grape growers over the next four years. We are also provided with an opportunity to work with the Government of Ontario to develop future strategic directions and market initiatives for our industry such as a varietal plan and Canadian Agriculture Income Stabilization (CAIS) program changes.”  This program paid growers $1618.74 per acre towards stock removal and disposal costs for tender fruit, apples and grapes to help Producers adapt to industry pressures and changing markets.

Recognizing the industry’s need to reduce its dependence on grapevines from France and the potential to import grapevine viruses into Ontario’s vineyards, the GGO applied for and received funding from the Agricultural Adaptation Council to begin research into a domestic vine certification program to ensure that growers in Ontario are able to obtain locally certified clean plant material in the future. 

 In 2007 the Ontario Grape and Wine Research Foundation was created with Matthias Oppenlaender named Chair of the Foundation. Pictured with him are Paul Speck, Bruce Walker, Kevin Watson and Jim Morrison.

 

Amongst all of these changes the MOU on wine content from 2005 expired with Ontario grape content in wine returning to 30% Ontario (70% imported).

The farmgate value of the crop came in at an extraordinary $74,936,000 – amongst the largest farmgate values in the GGO’s sixty years of record keeping. 

2007 also marked the GGO’s 60th anniversary since its establishment in 1947. To celebrate this anniversary the GGO held a successful industry party during the 2007 Niagara Grape and Wine Festival. The GGO again partnered with Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation and Scotiabank, to present the Scotiabank luncheon with the highly acclaimed guest speaker and CBC broadcaster Rex Murphy.

MPP Jim Bradley has been a long time advocate and supporter of the Ontario grape and wine industry;

 

Grape growers gathered at Montebello Park in St. Catharines to celebrate the GGO’s 60th Anniversary.

 

CBC broadcaster Rex Murphy entertained at the Celebrity Luncheon to kick off the Niagara Grape and Wine Festival.

 

In summary, 2007 proved to be a productive year with many positive developments, balanced with the devastating impact of the closure of the Cadbury Schweppes juice plant. Lobbying on the growers’ behalf by the GGO and other industry supporters resulted in the speedy creation of transition programs for juice grape growers.

2008 marked the return to more turbulent times after relative stability for the past 3 years. Agreement could not be reached between GGO and Wine Council of Ontario on grape prices, following the previous three-year agreement, and prices needed to be settled through arbitration.  The GGO’s position was to increase the prices of grape in demand and slightly reduce the prices of grape varieties where an oversupply was anticipated.

Following a spring with slightly above average temperatures and an average amount of rainfall, the summer proved to be unusually hot and wet resulting in disease pressure in the vineyards. Compounding this, the fall was above average rainfall, delaying the maturation of the grapes, increasing crop weight, and continuing the threat of disease. 

The harvest came in at 60,780 tonnes and farmgate value of $79.5 million – a healthy total considering the conditions. 

As part of GGOs lobbying efforts, the provincial government provided $4 million for a Grape and Wine Industry Stabilization and Restructuring Strategy. This program allowed the GGO to purchase approximately 2,300 tonnes of eligible un-contracted grapes from 79 growers. The funding also provided for a detailed structural change strategy to create and support a shared strategy and vision for the province’s grape and wine sectors in an effort to resolve growing tensions between GGO and the Wine Council of Ontario.

This industry strategy was a primary focus of the GGO, and included the active support of the Province of Ontario. Honourable Jim Bradley, MPP St Catharines was appointed Chair of the Ontario Wine Secretariat, bringing industry and the government ministries that impact the grape and wine industry together. In addition, a feasibility study for a domestic vine certification program was completed. 

In response to decades of efforts that are highly supportive of the industry from vineyard through to finished wine, the GGO was honoured to receive the Premier’s Award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence for the VITIS web-based vine management system. 

A second highlight for the GGO in 2008 was the Scotiabank Luncheon with guest speaker Don Cherry, which was again successful and continued the joint sponsorship with Friends of the Greenbelt and Scotiabank.

 

Don Cherry received an honourary Grape King jacket at the 2008 Celebrity Luncheon; pictured with Grape Kings Bill George, Matthias Oppenlaender, Doug Hernder and Kevin Watson.

 

2008 will be remembered as a year of challenges for the Grape Growers of Ontario.  It was a year of triumph over adverse weather conditions and the threat of disease, and one in which the GGO’s successful interactions with helped produce positive results for the grape growers. GGO remains hopeful that the Structural Change negotiations will yield favourable results by creating an environment that allows both wineries and growers to prosper.

After several seasons of harvests in the 55,000-64,000 tonne range the 2009 harvest dipped to 47,695 tonnes, with a similar reduction in farmgate value, which came in at $56 million. As usual, the weather was the primary factor, with the growing season being colder and wetter than previous seasons. 

The year 2009 also marks a more combative approach towards the unity of grape growers across the province’s wine regions, as the wineries, under the direction of the Wine Council of Ontario, launched repeated challenges to the growers’ collective bargaining rights. This prompted GGO chair Bill George to state: “As Chair of the Board, I feel it is important to state my frustration that despite our efforts, we could not engage our winery partners in meaningful discussions throughout 2009 because their sole focus and presentations to government have been to dismantle the collective bargaining process.”

Contrasting these negative internal industry discussions, on October 13, 2009, the Government of Ontario announced their plan to build on the successes of the grape and wine industry, with a targeted focus on growing the VQA market. At that time, VQA wines only accounted for 23% of the 56 million litres of “Ontario” wines sold in the province, the remainder being made of blends with majority imported wine. In the long term, the success of Ontario’s wine industry depends on VQA wines. In the short term, grape growers need time to transition. Ontario’s proposed plan addresses both these needs by: 

  • Renewing the successful VQA wine support program to promote sales of VQA wines through LCBO stores across the province.
  • Increasing consumer access to VQA wines at the LCBO.
  • Renewing the marketing program for Ontario VQA wines.
  • Ensuring clearer labeling and signage for all Ontario wines.
  • Increasing the levy on blended wines sold in wine retail stores to finance support for Ontario’s growing VQA sector.
  • Asking the Ontario Farm Products Marketing Commission to examine how grape pricing and marketing can be improved.
  • Requiring a short-term increase in wineries’ non-VQA wines Cellared in Canada content to be 40% Ontario grapes, with a 25% per bottle minimum.
  • Providing support to grape farmers that will encourage growth of VQA quality grapes and support a new grape varietal plan between now and 2014.
  • Putting greater emphasis on VQA wines by introducing legislation to eliminate the domestic content requirement for blended wines in the Wine Content and Labeling Act, 2000 by 2014.

As a result of the contentious sector negotiations, the manufacturers of Cellared in Canada wine (to be later rebranded International Domestic Blend) decided their interests would be better represented by creating their own association, the Winery & Alliance of Ontario, departing from the Wine Council of Ontario and adding a new price negotiating party to the table. 

“Structural Change” discussions with the wine processors continued throughout the year and the GGO put numerous options on the table with the goal of growing a more sustainable grape market. Specifically, a revised sugar schedule model was introduced as an opportunity for processors to access more grapes at lower price points. The modified sugar schedule, called Plateau Pricing was for Chardonnay, Riesling, Cabernet France and Cabernet Sauvignon.  The Farm Products Marketing Commission approved the modified sugar schedule.

In response to an internal governance review, GGO made changes to the Board and the Growers Committee to recognize the diverse new grape growing regions. The Board was expanded to 10 members, with representation from all districts including Southwestern and Eastern Ontario.  In addition, three-year terms of service for the Board of Directors were introduced in 2010 to provide continuity for the Board of Directors.

In spite of all of these lengthy and detailed government and industry negotiations, the GGO also engaged in lighter promotional activities. The 26th Annual Scotiabank Luncheon featured Peter Mansbridge, the CBC host of The National. The ongoing sponsorship of the Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation and Scotiabank in supporting this highly anticipated event was a highlight on the year, as was the grand opening of the Niagara College Wine Visitor and Education Centre by His Royal Highness Prince Charles. This visit brought distinction to the Ontario viticulture industry and helped Ontario VQA wines achieve a new level of domestic and international recognition.

Prince Charles and 2009 Grape King Lou Puglisi and Niagara College Wine Visitor and Education Centre grand opening.

 

GGO Chair Bill George and Steve Gill, Niagara College greet Prince Charles.

 

Thus, the 2000’s end on a high note, despite a decade of tumultuous weather challenges and industry changes, the GGO’s support remained strong amongst the grape growing community, and its relations with government and sponsor at every level remained strong and positively beneficial.

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