“We’re all small businesses. We’re farmers. We grow an agricultural product. That part of our identity is lost on policy makers because they view us through one lens, which is alcohol, which is bad and therefore an easy target for punitive tax.” – Len Pennachetti
The 2000’s: Challenge and Change
The 2010’s: A Decade of Growth and Consolidation
A hot, dry 2010 saw a return to a more civil working relationship between the GGO, Winery & Alliance of Ontario (WGAO) and Wine Council of Ontario (WCO), with a smooth negotiation of a two year price agreement that added a 1% increase to each year for all white varieties (red varietals remained at 2009 pricing). The 2010 harvest came in at 53,747 tonnes with a farm gate value of $69 million (compared to $56 million in 2009).
The GGO worked with the Ontario Government to develop a series of industry support programs.
The Wine Content and Labelling Act was amended to 25% Ontario grape content per bottle and overall winery average of 40% Ontario content.
In April 2010 Ontario government funding was announced for the Ontario Wine Strategy which was designed to enhance the growth of Vintners Quality Alliance wines for long-term sustainability. The key elements were; a VQA wine support program of $6 million per year from 2010 to 2014; a Marketing and Tourism support program (including the formation of the Wine Marketing Association of Ontario) of $3 million per year from 2010 to 2014 ($15 M); and a Grape Sector Support Program of $3 million per year starting in 2011.
As part of grower transitional support, a grape Varietal Plan was completed. It identified the cool climate varietals that the industry grows well and that have strong market potential. The GGO, working with the George Morris Centre was able to contribute vital information from its VITIS mapping system, including factual aggregate data on grape varieties and yields by appellation, as a basis for the Varietal plan.
The GGO, in partnership with CCOVI, secured $1.9 million in DIAP funding (Developing Innovative Agri Products) to directly support the following activities:
DIAP Funding Announcement at CCOVI: Jack Lightstone, President Brock University: Debbie Inglis, CCOVI Director: Rick Dykstra MP; Matthias Oppenlaender, Chair GGO; Debbie Zimmerman, CEO GGO; Michael Metson, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada
The result of these and other public/private partnerships and development programs was displayed by VQA wine sales, which, while increasing at a slower rate than projections had called for, did reach 24% of “Ontario wine” sales.
GGO Director Bill Jansenberger and friends at the Shores of Erie Wine Festival
In a final, further 2010 partnership, the GGO worked with Scotiabank and the Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation to stage the 27th Annual Celebrity Luncheon. The event was again a roaring success and featured Canada’s figure skating Olympic bronze medalist, Joannie Rochette, as the celebrity speaker. This annual event has gained prominence and importance to the industry every year. 2010 was no exception to this trend.
The 2011 growing season was unseasonably cold and wet, the summer was unusually hot and dry, with the fall cold and wet but all the new management techniques developed over the last decade resulted in the province’s grape growers coming in at a near record harvest of 64,495 tonnes, up 20% from 2010, with a farm gate value of $78.7 million. The vintage was also of the highest quality, with good acidity, high sugars and exceptional flavours.
In terms of industry stability, the two-year pricing agreement reached in 2010 between the GGO and Wine Council of Ontario (WCO) and Winery & Grower Alliance of Ontario (WGAO), allowed all parties involved to concentrate on other initiatives, as pricing stability was ensured.
First on the list of initiatives that all three organizations concentrated on was working with the LCBO to address the seemingly stalled VQA sales of Ontario wines.
Drilling into these numbers revealed that 2011 sales volume of Ontario wine (VQA and International Domestic Blends (IDB)) grew by just 0.9% in 2011, with VQA sales growing by 2.4%, and IDB sales (representing 74% of Ontario wine sales) grew by just 0.5%. Contrasting these weak numbers, imported wine sales increased by 2.7%. All parties involved, including the LCBO, discussed ways of addressing this imbalance. Certainly, these numbers came nowhere near the projections for 2011 from the Ontario Government’s 2009 Five-Year plan to expand and strengthen the industry.
Another area of ongoing concern was the juice grape sector. Juice growers faced challenges shipping grapes into the USA due to Federal Drug Administration regulations. Since the closure if the Cadbury/Schweppes juice plant, the majority of remaining juice grapes were shipped to National Grape in New York State, but faced unexpected challenges at the border. The GGO moved to examine and rectify these challenges going forward.
In public relations terms, “We Grow the Wines You Love” was adopted as the GGO’s promotional tag line and the GGO expanded its marketing efforts into social media.
Honourable Carol Mitchell, Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs announces the OVIP program at Lakeview Harvesters in Niagara-on-the-Lake.
The GGO was able to support a number of projects through the Ontario Vineyard Improvement Program (OVIP) including improved access to weather data through Weather Innovations Network, workshops, quality and industry assessment and standards, winter injury bud sampling and the effect of post-harvest abscisic acid applications on cold hardiness.
OVIP also provided cost share funding for growers to invest in vineyard improvements. (wind machines, innovative technologies, etc.). Finally, in yet another busy and effective year, the GGO amicably parted with its long-time partner Scotiabank on the Annual Celebrity Luncheon. New event sponsor, Meridian Credit Union, was welcomed by the GGO and the Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation. For the 28th year of this annual celebration the featured guest was award-winning Canadian national affairs writer, political commentator and author, Chantal Hebert. A terrific luncheon was had by all.
The Grape Growers of Ontario celebrated their 65th anniversary in 2012, and there was much within the year to celebrate including the weather, the successful adoption of wind machines and a new agreement for grape pricing.
Coming off the successful 2011 harvest and finishing a stability-producing two-year pricing agreement, the first order of priority for the new year was to negotiate a new, hopefully multi-year, pricing agreement. Both the Wine Council of Ontario and Winery & Alliance of Ontario were able to work with the GGO and come to an arrangement acceptable to all. This agreement provided price increases for Red Hybrids of 1% in 2012 and 1% in 2013; White Hybrids of 2% in 2012 and 1% in 2013; and White Vinifera of 1.5% in 2012 and 1% in 2013. All other varieties remained at 2011 prices. Plateau pricing was also extended for a further two years for four varieties: Chardonnay, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc. The result was an early and amicable win-win-win to start the year.
The spring of 2012 saw an early start to the growing season. It was not without the threat of damaging frosts, of which there were several in April and early May, but those conditions were combatted by the successful deployment of wind machines. The summer proved to be sunny, hot and dry. The result was a stellar harvest of 66,014 tonnes with a farm gate value of $88.63 million dollars. The grape quality was universally superb.
In October 2012, the Government of Ontario released its decision on extending the Wine Content and Labeling Act to maintain a minimum 25% domestic content per bottle for Cellared in Canada wines beyond 2014 (when it was due to expire). This came after intense industry lobbying to eliminate all regulated content in a bottle of wine blended with domestic and imported wine. 40% overall company average was also retained until 2014.
The VITIS system continued to develop with the addition of a spray recording module and improved functionality for wineries to view, edit and submit weigh bills.
The third party on-site sugar testing programs were extended to Prince Edward County and Essex Pelee Island Coast growers.
On the lighter side, the GGO worked with it’s partners Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation and Meridian Credit Union to stage the 29th Annual Celebrity Luncheon. Always a highlight toward the end of the growing season, 2012’s luncheon welcomed writer, actor and comedian, Steve Smith, known to most Canadians as the character “Red Green” from the show of the same name. As always, the event was a roaring promotional success for its guests and sponsors.
While the new growing techniques and management systems had resulted in the last several growing seasons being strong, profitable harvests, the 2013 harvest saw another significant step up. The growing season was wet, with above average rainfall, mild temperatures with an unseasonably warm fall. All combined, this produced an enormous, high-quality harvest of 80,548 tonnes with a farm gate value of more than $100 million.
Adding to this success was the second year of a two-year guaranteed pricing agreement. This agreement added a stability to pricing that protected all parties from direct market forces.
The GGO continued to work with government at all levels as well as its industry partners to add more retail access for consumers, securing an agreement for two new store formats: LCBO express stores located in large grocery stores, and LCBO VQA destination stores that offer customers an expanded selection of exclusively Ontario VQA wines.
The GGO negotiated with the province to renew the 2009 Wine and Grape Strategy for a second five-year term. This injected $75 million in industry support for expanding access of Ontario wines to the marketplace. A further provincial program renewal was negotiated for the Ontario Vineyard Improvement Program, providing $24.1 million in funding for innovation to growing practices and vineyard management, with the aim to standardize and improve techniques for irrigation, frost and pest control, and improved vine management. As part of this effort, the GGO initiated preliminary survey through Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food (OMAF) and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) to determine the incidence of Leafroll and Red Blotch in Ontario vineyards.
In Federal terms, the excise duty exemption on wines containing 100% Ontario grown fruit rose from 14.4 million litres in 2007 (the first full year of the exemption) to 41.9 million litres.
Premier Kathleen Wynne and Chair Bill George toast the 2013 grape harvest with Icewine at a media event held at the Queens Quay LCBO.
In summary, 2013 was a big, impactful year in every way. It was particularly rewarding for the GGO to see its ongoing efforts pay off in so many aspects of the industry. In particular, total wine sales in Ontario grew by 4.7% to 167 million litres in 2013. Ontario VQA & NON-VQA wine sales increased by 6.1% to 64.8 million litres. These sales figures were still a distance behind imported wine sales, which increased by 3.9% to 101.8 million litres, but the gap was clearly closing.
Howard Staff and Curtis Fielding aboard the newly designed Grape King float at Niagara Grape and Wine Festival Parade
The 30th Annual Celebrity Luncheon, hosted by the GGO, in partnership with Meridian Credit Union and the Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation, opened the 62nd Annual Niagara Grape and Wine Festival. The GGO and the Niagara Grape and Wine Festival were pleased to feature celebrity HGTV host and renowned Do-It-Yourselfer, Bryan Baeumler as the luncheon’s keynote speaker. The luncheon as well as the festival itself were roaring successes – a fitting tribute to a truly big year in every other way.
The winter of 2013/2014 was marked by the longitudinal descent of the artic polar vortex deep into southern Ontario. Winter temperatures were three degrees lower than seasonal averages, and several killer frosts damaged vines throughout the region. Fortunately, the multi-year Ontario Vineyard Improvement Program, continued to inject significant funds into protection programs for improved vineyard management, including the deployment of wind machines to limit frost damage. The eventual harvest was a modest in comparison to recent years at 52,716 tonnes, with a total farm gate value of $62.3 million. Considering the severe winter conditions, this was seen as a victory.
The completion of a successful two-year pricing agreement prompted the GGO, the Wine Council of Ontario, and the Winery & Alliance of Ontario to negotiate and reach another two-year pricing arrangement. The new agreement locked in price increases for both White and Red Hybrids, White Vinifera and most Red Vinifera. In addition, Plateau Pricing was continued. It became increasingly clear that these two-year pricing agreements create a level of stability for all parties.
Expanding access to the Ontario market for Ontario wine continued to be a clear focus of the GGO and its industry partners. This is best illustrated by the negotiated launch of a new program for the sale of VQA Wines at Farmers’ Markets across the province. This two-year pilot program covered in excess of 100 Farmers’ Markets and 67 local wineries.
In other developments, 2014 was the final year for OVIP program. This successful partnership between the Government of Ontario and growers (as represented by the GGO) was an overall investment of $31 million into the Ontario grape industry.
The WCO, WGAO, GGO and government collaborated on setting measurable targets for various shared initiatives over the next 5 years. In particular, $358 million and 18 million litres in VQA wine sales and $129 million and 88,000 tonnes of grape sales by fiscal year 2019-2020 were the key targets.
The Premier’s Advisory Council on Government Assets’ stated objective was to “make Ontario’s assets work better for taxpayers and consumers.” The GGO’s contribution to this had reliably been to encourage Ontario-grown product and focus on growth targets for the Ontario grape and wine sector.
In September, the AGCO announced a number of reforms affecting the wine industry that included post-1993 wineries being able to blend wine (with imports) for sale through the LCBO or via direct delivery to licensees.
After two years of development the eGrape portal went live for the harvest of 2014. This was the next generation of VITIS, providing additional functionality and detail to growers and wineries.
The Wine Content and Labelling Act was revised to 25% Ontario grape content in the bottle with elimination of the 40% overall company average.
The GGO introduced a Viticulture Sustainability Certification program as a companion to the Winery Sustainability Certification. In September, GGO received a Premier’s Award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence for its creation and successful launch. It was built as a module of eGrape, adding to its features.
Celebrity Luncheon speaker Rick Hansen presents John Howard with the Rick Hansen difference maker certificate of recognition; pictured with Debbie Zimmerman and Bill George.
In promotional terms, the 64th annual Grape and Wine Festival opened with the Annual Celebrity Luncheon, produced by the GGO in partnership with Meridian Credit Union and the Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation. The keynote speaker was celebrated Canadian athlete and charity spokesperson Rick Hansen.
After another harsh winter, the 2015 growing season had an above normal growing degree day accumulation and above normal seasonal rainfall. Despite colder temperatures for longer periods than in the previous 2003 and 2005 cold injury years, the vineyards continued to fare better due to growers’ extensive investment in wind machines.
The growing season was characterized by a warm spring, cool summer and warm autumn. 2015 produced another short harvest of 53,252 tonnes, comprised of 1,862 tonnes of juice grapes and 51,390 tonnes of wine grapes, with a farmgate value of $63.58 million. 4,303 tonnes were left hanging for Icewine, which produced in excess of 650,000 litres.
The GGO, the Wine Council of Ontario (WCO), and the Winery & Grower Alliance of Ontario (WGAO) continued with their negotiated two-year price agreement for the 2014 and 2015 crops. This agreement successfully stabilized grape price increases for both white and red hybrids, white vinifera and most red vinifera grapes.
The GGO was represented by CEO Debbie Zimmerman as a member of the advisory panel led by former Toronto mayor David Crombie on the Coordinated Review of the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, the Greenbelt Plan, the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan and the Niagara Escarpment Plan. Many agricultural issues were captured in the final report including recognition of need for economic viability by changing the focus from “protected countryside” in the original Greenbelt Plan to “productive farmland.”
In another key upgrade to the VITIS program, an Irrigation Cost Calculator was added to eGrape for growers to analyze capital and operating costs for irrigation.
Late in 2014, the provincial government announced the renewal of the five-year, $75 million Wine and Grape Strategy. The renewed program included funding for Marketing and Vineyard Improvements (MVIP). Growers’ commitment to innovate and improve their vineyards was demonstrated by the strong demand for MVIP funding, which included $4 million for this purpose. The GGO was an active participant on the Wine and Grape Industry Government Steering Committee that ensured that funding for MVIP continued. The result was an unqualified success for the industry as a whole.
On a lighter note, the GGO, in partnership with Meridian Credit Union, and the Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation featured Canadian country music’s hottest new star, Tim Hicks as the speaker at the Annual Celebrity Luncheon. This event kicked off the 64th Annual Niagara Grape and Wine Festival. The event rounded out yet another tough but impressive year for the industry.
The year 2016 is remembered for both change and consolidation. The most obvious example of each of these characteristics was the departure of the GGO’s Chair, Bill George and the arrival of new Chair, Matthias Oppenlaender.
Matthias was born in Germany where he studied agriculture and viticulture before immigrating to Canada in 1984. Matthias, his wife Monica and their five children live in Niagara-on-the-Lake and own and operate Country Tyme Vineyards and Huebel Grape Estates, farming 800 acres of certified sustainable vineyards. In 2006 Matthias was elected Grape King by his fellow grape growers, and the following year was elected to the Grape Growers of Ontario’s (GGO) Growers’ Committee and to the Board of Directors. In 2009 Matthias was elected Vice Chair of the Board and he held this position until he was elected Chair in 2016. In addition to the GGO Board of Directors, Matthias serves as the Chair of Ontario Grape and Wine Research Inc. (OGWRI), and Treasurer of the Canadian Grapevine Certification Network.
Matthias Oppenlaender was elected Chair of the Board of Grape Growers of Ontario.
“Bill’s nine years as Board Chair will be remembered as a time of renewal for our industry, and his diplomacy coupled with his belief that partnerships build an industry will remain his legacy. In accepting the role as Chair my focus has been to continue to build on the strength of this foundation, and to grow Ontario’s grape and wine industry for the benefit of all of our members.” -Matthias Oppenlaender
Despite summer and fall drought conditions, the 2015 harvest was again large and of exceptional grape quality, with a total yield of 70,851 tonnes that reached the second highest farm gate value in GGO history (after 2013) of $95.3 million. This was a relief for much of the industry after concerns of vine damage from back-to-back harsh winters. The result was another stellar vintage.
The Icewine portion of the harvest was also large and lucrative with 3,835 tonnes of grapes that produced in excess of 600,000 litres. After the unseasonably warm growing season temperatures, the early winter was welcomed, and dipped below -8°C in December for an early Icewine harvest.
Chair Matthias Oppenlaender explains Icewine to Honourable Jeff Leal, Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs
After several years of two-year price agreements, negotiations with by the Wine Council of Ontario, and Winery & Alliance of Ontario produced a one-year pricing agreement that covered most varieties. It included an overall 2% price increase per tonne including juice grapes, as well as price increases for plateau red and white varieties. The agreement also introduced new grape classes for Frontenac and Marquette, Muscat Ottonel and Viognier varieties.
Ontario Grape and Wine Research Inc., created and supported by the GGO, WCO and WGAO, continued to provide industry-led research on issues affecting Ontario vineyards. OGWRI delivered the industry research and development portion of the Marketing and Vineyard Improvement Program (MVIP). The GGO was instrumental in the decision to provide a continuation of the MVIP program for the final three years of the Wine and Grape Strategy.
GGO continues its relationship with federal parliamentarians Chris Bittle, MP St. Catharines; Bill Schenck, Vice Chair GGO; Matthias Oppenlaender, Chair GGO; Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Lawrence MacAulay; Debbie Zimmerman GGO, CEO; and Vance Badawey MP Niagara Centre
There was significant change in the wine retail market that followed recommendations of the Premier’s Advisory Council. Specifically, 67 Ontario grocery stores began to sell domestic and imported wine with up to 300 stores to be authorized over time. This included “restricted stores” that were required, for the first three years, to sell only cider and wine that was produced by small wineries using grapes from a single country, or wineries that at any time during the three-year period is a mid-sized winery.
Grocery stores that are not “restricted” stores are required to have at least 10% of wine on display to be from small wineries and at least 50% must be produced using grapes from a single country and be quality assurance wine, produced by a small winery or from a country producing less than 150 million litres of wine annually from grapes grown in that country.
These restrictions will be changed due to an Australia WTO challenge to come: “Restricted” grocery stores were to be eliminated by August 31, 2020 and by the end of year 2 of the agreement (2022) dedicated shelf space was to be reduced from 50% to 45% and by the end of year 3 (2023) of the agreement, further reduced this number to 40%.
In addition, “Wine Boutiques” were permitted. These are off-site winery retail store licensees with a supplementary wine authorization to move inside the grocery store and use a shared check out. There were new restrictions placed on Wine Boutiques in an attempt to level the playing field for those wineries that did not have off-site store licences including minimum quotas for wine manufactured by other wineries, VQA wine, and wine manufactured by a small winery. A small winery was defined as worldwide sales not exceeding 200,000 litres of wine per year; this was increased to 375,000 litres in the WTO challenge to come.
“As the Grape Growers of Ontario celebrated our 70th Anniversary in 2017, it gave us a chance to reflect on our history, but more importantly to look to the future as we focus on growing Ontario’s grape and wine industry for the benefit of all our members.” Matthias Oppenlaender, Chair
The membership celebrated with an old-fashioned grower family picnic at the farm of H.A. Staff Limited. A photo taken by drone linked the past and present by re-creating a grape grower family picnic photo from decades earlier (1921).
Looking to the future, GGO welcomed astronaut Chris Hadfield to the annual Celebrity Luncheon.
The $75 million five-year Ontario Wine and Grape Strategy entered its 3rd season in 2017. An important element of the Strategy’s funding was the establishment of target metrics that ensure trackable results for both grape and wine sales. The parties had agreed on a five-year target for VQA wine sales of $358 million and 18 million litres, and a same-deadline grape sales target of $129 million and 88,000 tonnes by the fiscal year 2019-2020. The 2017 season harvest and sales results were close to these targets, with sales of VQA wines hitting $350 million and 18.8 million litres, and an 87,567 tonne grape harvest with a farmgate value of $115 million (the largest on record). Despite this single year, the target of 88,000 tonnes of grape purchases proves to be elusive.
Exploring export opportunities, GGO Board Chair Matthias Oppenlaender and CEO Debbie Zimmerman embarked on a trade mission to China and Vietnam, led by Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne. This mission created the opportunity to identify and understand two potential and significant export markets. As follow up, GGO commissioned an Export Guide as a resource for wineries that is housed on the eGrape database.
Canadian Grapevine Certification Network (CGCN) spearheaded by GGO, was incorporated in 2017 to create a clean plant network for domestically certified virus-tested and pathogen free grapevines in Canada. Founding members include GGO, British Columbia Wine Grape Council, Grape Growers’ Association of Nova Scotia and Conseil des vins du Québec. The CGCN received funding through AAFC’s Canadian Agricultural Partnership AgriScience Program to lead the Canadian Grape and Wine Science Cluster to support national industry-driven research. OGWRI also provided support to the Cluster.
Grape King Jamie Quai helped consumers select VQA wines at Metro grocery stores.
Trade Agreements continue to haunt the industry with the U.S. under President Donald Trump announcing a re-negotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement. With the grape and wine industry under pressure once again, GGO contracted an international trade consultant to prepare a report for Government.
The Federal Government began to increase excise duty on wine annually, based on the Consumer Price Index (called an escalator by industry). From the federal budget: “Excise duty rates on alcohol products have not effectively changed since the mid-1980s. Over time, they have represented a smaller and smaller proportion of the total price of alcohol products, reducing their effectiveness. Budget 2017 proposes that, to maintain their effectiveness, excise duty rates on alcohol products be increased by 2 per cent effective the day after Budget Day, 2017, and that rates be automatically adjusted to the Consumer Price Index on April 1 of every year starting in 2018.” This increase may have triggered Australia’s WTO challenge.
Astronaut Chris Hadfield was guest speaker at a sold out “Looking to the Future” Celebrity Luncheon.
GGO partnered with Honourable Speaker of the Legislature Ted Arnott to host the 40th annual Legislative Wine Tasting event at Queens Park to select the official wines of the Legislative Assembly.
“My hope is that one day, hopefully one day soon, that at both levels of government they recognize what we have and what Canada has with the wine industry, and that they’re going to come up with programs. We don’t need financial handouts. We need support and the rules have to change. When you add taxes or on top of taxes, and sometimes even discriminate against, tax wise, against your own product in your own country, that’s not right to me.” – Albrecht Seeger
The provincial election in 2018 resulted in the first change of government in twelve years. The new government campaigned on a plan to open the beer and wine retail opportunities to grocery, big box and convenience store markets, representing perhaps the biggest change to our industry in 30 years. The GGO’s message to Government has been consistent and clear that new retail opportunities must reflect opportunities to grow Ontario and focus on selling more 100% Ontario wine.
GGO and OCW collaborated on Ready to Grow, a report highlighting a balanced approach to retail modernization that includes:
Honourable Ernie Hardeman, Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs met with grape growers in a roundtable discussion; pictured are Albrecht Seeger, Brock Puddicombe, Bill Schenck GGO Vice Chair, Kevin Watson, Grape King Chris Van de Laar, Minister Hardeman, Matthias Oppenlaender GGO Chair, Bill George, Debbie Zimmerman GGO CEO and Ray Duc.
Minister Hardeman roundtable discussion with GGO directors and growers.
In other key developments, the U.S. withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership with Canada and the ten remaining countries concluding the negotiation of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement in January 2018 opening the door to markets like Vietnam, that have a long wine history because of their colonization by France.
Lawrence MacAulay, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada announced $8.4 million for Canadian Grapevine Certification Network (CGCN) under AAFC’s AgriScience Clusters program.
Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario amended policies to permit all Ontario wineries that include International Domestic Blend as part of their production to sell blended wine at their on-site retail stores.
In July, the American National Grape Co-op informed their Canadian members that they will discontinue receiving juice grapes from Canada following the 2018 crop due to declining volumes, the need to segregate Canadian grapes, and the costs and complexities associated with border crossing. The GGO met with federal and provincial ministers of agriculture for a juice grape compensation program. Since there had been juice grape removal programs in the past and current business risk management programs, there was no additional compensation from government. Growers were offered $1500 per acre for an average yield of 8.2 tons/acre, proportionally allocated based on individual yield plus $750 per acre transition allotment by the National Grape Co-op.
Over the course of the year, the GGO continued to promote VQA wines with 100% Ontario-grown fruit to raise the profile of its grape growers and their craft. GGO delivered Icewine seminars at the Twenty Valley Winter WineFest’s ‘8 Below Series and launched a “Kick the Dirt” program during the International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration and EPIC Vintage Tasting, to provide an in-the-vineyard grape growing experience.
As a founding member of the Canadian Grapevine Certification Network (CGCN), the GGO was instrumental in establishing a clean plant network that domestically certifies virus-tested and pathogen free grapevines. To assist in this task, CGCN received $2.3 million through AAFCs AgriAssurance Program to create a clean plant protocol by 2021 to achieve vineyard reviews and certification in all grape growing regions.
GGO Board Director Scott Wilkins leads a discussion on viticulture and soils in South Western Ontario.
Grape prices between the GGO, the Ontario Craft Wineries (formerly the Wine Council of Ontario), and Wine Growers Ontario (formerly Winery & Grower Alliance of Ontario) were settled through arbitration. It resulted in an overall 2.87% price increase and elimination of plateau pricing for Cabernet franc and Cabernet sauvignon grape varieties.
The expansion of alcohol retailing in the province, as promised by premier Ford in 2018, was advanced in June, when an additional 87 grocery stores and 200 new “LCBO Convenience Outlets” were announced. The GGO had pushed to ensure that the government understood the value of the Ontario grape and wine industry, and the need to support 100% Ontario-grown wines. In this effort, the Chair Matthias Oppenlaender, Vice Chair Bill Schenck, and CEO Debbie Zimmerman attended 85 meetings with government staff, politicians, and industry over the previous 18 months and aimed to continue to engage all parties moving forward.
Ontario’s Special Advisory for Beverage Alcohol Review, Ken Hughes, released his report recognizing the retail landscape for alcohol is complex and changes required a phased-in approach. In June an additional 87 grocery stores and 200 new agency stores were announced.
2019 also ushered in the legalization of Cannabis in Canada, with stores opening across Ontario. Bill 138 was passed to make changes to reorganize and modernize existing legislation related to the sale and distribution of alcohol that will give the Ontario Government the framework to move quickly on modernizing alcohol sales. GGO had a seat at the table as government developed regulations in consultation with stakeholders.
Australia challenged, through the World Trade Organization, a number of provincial and federal regulations that have supported wine made of 100% Ontario-grown wine with a final ruling expected in 2020.
These were all seen as defining moments for Ontario’s grape and wine industry and GGO was determined to see that government gets it right for the industry as a whole, working to ensure the government remained focused on supporting authentic Canadian-grown wine.
The 36th Annual Celebrity Luncheon in September kicked off the Niagara Grape and Wine Festival with comedian Brent Butt, creator of the popular Corner Gas television series, as the keynote speaker to a crowd well in excess of 500 attendees.