TORONTO — Consumers are being asked to buy “true” Ontario wine as they stock up for the holiday weekend, a move grape farmers and their supporters say will help give the industry a much-needed boost.
“At a time when local food has never been bigger, Ontario’s grape growers have never been poorer,” said Rick Smith, executive director of Environmental Defence.
“Eight thousand tonnes of Ontario grapes are going to rot on the vine this year because the LCBO is not going to buy enough Ontario wine to allow those grapes to be harvested.”
The groups want the province to get rid of the “Cellared in Canada” label or change it to make sure it truly reflects a Canadian product, like the VQA designation, a marking that ensures the wine is made of 100 per cent Ontario grapes.
They also want the province to increase marketing efforts of VQA 100 per cent Ontario grape wines sold at the LCBO.
“No other jurisdiction in the world allows wine to be sold labelled as being from that country or from that province, but yet the majority of grapes in that product are from somewhere else,” Smith said.
“Can you imagine the French government allowing wine to be labelled as Bordeaux and it’s not from Bordeaux?”
But the Wine Council of Ontario contends blended wines, which contain foreign and Ontario grapes, are good for the province’s wineries and grape growers.
WCO president Hillary Dawson said Thursday that blended wines compete with cheaper imported wines, but “still use half of Ontario’s grape crop.”
“We’re talking about lower-priced wines that are dominated by foreign imports,” said Dawson. “We can make our wines uncompetitive against imported wines that have lower input costs and that’ll devastate both growers and wineries alike.”
Grape grower David Wiley has $500,000 worth of grapes on his vines that may not find a home because under Ontario law, wines can be labelled “cellared in Canada” if they contain up to 70 per cent foreign grapes or grape product.
He wants labelling at the LCBO to be more clear so people understand when they’re really buying local product.
“If there’s nothing done to sort out this problem immediately, then I’m out $800,000 and my father and I are going to have to sell our farm that has being in our family for probably six or seven generations,” said Wiley, who grows grapes in Jordan and West St. Catharines, in the Niagara Peninsula.
“I might not even be able to sell the farm for enough to cover my costs.”
Wiley, along with the groups Environmental Defence and the Ontario Greenbelt Alliance, stomped foreign grapes outside a flagship LCBO store in Toronto on Thursday while urging consumers to make sure any Ontario wine they buy displays a VQA label on the bottle.
They were joined by several bystanders, who heeded their call to support local producers.
LCBO spokesman Chris Layton said the store has been doing all it can to educate consumers about grape contents, noting sales of VQA wines have risen by 25 per cent.
“We’ve placed a lot of emphasis on promoting 100 per cent Ontario grapes,” said Layton.
“Customers are having no problem finding 100 per cent Ontario wines at the LBCO.”