Toronto – Today, the Ontario government released a new plan for Ontario’s wine industry that will give more support to VQA wines which are made from 100% Ontario grapes. The new plan sets a direction that would more clearly identify and market VQA wines and create a larger market for Ontario’s beleaguered grape growers, many of whom are in the Greenbelt.  
Every year foreign grapes are imported into the province in the magnitude of tens of thousands of tonnes to produce ‘Cellared in Canada’ wines. This practice has continued in spite of the fact that it is forecasted that the equivalent of 9,000 tonnes of quality Ontario grapes will rot on the vine this harvesting season and over 25 local vineyards will be forced to close or sell their land due to a lack of market for their grapes.
While the government’s new plan may be too late to save farmers whose current crops have no buyers, the long term strategy will ensure that there are more VQA wines, with a greater presence in LCBO stores across the province. The new direction also involves essentially phasing out the highly contested ‘Cellared in Canada’ wines by 2014.
“This issue reaches far beyond the vineyards,” said Dr. Rick Smith, Executive Director, Environmental Defence, a member group of the Ontario Greenbelt Alliance.  “It is about supporting a healthy agricultural sector, and making sure that Ontarians have access to local foods that are appropriately labeled, competitively priced and readily available. We support this new direction the government is taking.”
The Ontario Greenbelt Alliance, coordinated by Environmental Defence, has been working with community groups and farmers to raise public and political concern for Ontario’s troubled grape industry.  In June, the Alliance launched the ‘Put the ‘O’ back in LCBO’ campaign that has resulted in a thousand individuals contacting the Premier’s office about this issue.
“Importing cheap foreign grape juice, misleading labels, and a lack of VQA marketing efforts at the LCBO have all contributed to a threat to one of Ontario’s most important and iconic crops,” said Jamie Kirkpatrick, Campaigner with the Toronto Environmental Alliance.  “This plan is a strong step towards what is necessary to sustain a healthy Greenbelt, and keep Ontario’s prime agricultural land in the hands of farmers.”
About the Ontario Greenbelt Alliance (www.greenbeltalliance.ca): The Ontario Greenbelt Alliance is a diverse multi-stakeholder coalition of more than 80 organizations who share a common vision for protecting and expanding the Golden Horseshoe Greenbelt. Environmental Defence is the coordinator of the Ontario Greenbelt Alliance.
 
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For more information, or to arrange interviews, please contact:
Jennifer Foulds, Environmental Defence, (416) 323-9521 ext. 232; (647) 280-9521 (cell)