Pat Konkle didn’t hesitate to peel off her socks and step into a crate of grapes Friday.
On a day that finally felt like summer, squishing the cool, plump green berries felt good on her feet.
“They put tannins in hand cream so I think we’re going to have the softest feet in town,” Konkle said.
But Konkle’s grape stomp outside the LCBO store on King Street wasn’t a newfangled pedicure.
For the former juice and table grape grower, it was an act of solidarity with other grape growers and the Ontario Greenbelt Alliance who want to see more local juice in the wine bottles lining store shelves.
The campaign, called Put the O back in LCBO, asks the province to immediately increase the Ontario content from 30 per cent to 50 per cent in wines with Cellared in Canada labels.
The plonk, which can contain a maximum 70 per cent foreign grape juice, and the labelling have been a long-standing contention for many grape growers.
It’s an issue that became even more bitter for some after 30,000 tonnes of grape juice were imported to Ontario to make wine last year, the Alliance said, while more than 4,000 tonnes of Ontario grapes were left to rot on the vines becaues they didn’t have a buyer.
The campaign, which kicked off last month, is also pushing for the Ontario wine market share to be upped to 51 per cent at LCBO stores and for the province to boost access to more retail stores selling 100 per cent Ontario wine.
The Greenbelt Alliance’s efforts were stepped up Friday as members of the group, Environmental Defence, wielded placards, trounced on grapes with Konkle and plied LCBO shoppers with literature urging them to buy VQA vintages, which are made with 100 per cent Ontario grapes.
“(The government) forces this to be fruitland for farmers, but they don’t support farmers,” said Konkle, who grew grapes in Lincoln with her husband, Ray, for 30 years before yanking vines following the 2007 closure of the Cadbury-Schweppes juice plant in St. Catharines.
“They allow other kinds of fruit in, in our season, which doesn’t help our farmers.”
The grape stomp is the second demonstration in as many days and comes on the heels of a similar protest Thursday at an LCBO outlet on Yonge Street in Toronto.
It’s a symbolic act — the grapes are foreign — to send the message “Stomp out foreign grapes.”
Heather Harding, with Environmental Defence, one of 81 groups that are part of the Greenbelt Alliance, said the campaign is gaining support with wine drinkers.
More than 700 people have written Premier Dalton McGuinty urging the changes be made, she said.
Harding, standing with grape goop-covered feet, said most people she has encountered during the campaign have been surprised by what Cellared in Canada means.
“People confuse (Cellared in Canada),” she said. “As much as we want to believe people turn over the bottle and read the fine print, they don’t.
“They think they’re buying local but they’re not. Ontarians want to buy local.”
Lincoln grape grower David Wylie, who supports the Greenbelt Alliance’s efforts, said he’s impressed with the interest consumers have had in both protests.
“Many of the people that have come by have willingly stoped and gotten information to find out about us,” Wylie said.
Earlier this year, the Wine Council of Ontario and Grape Growers of Ontario submitted a joint report to the province with suggestions of how to fix the industry, which required a $4-million bailout last year.
The province has yet to respond to the recommendations, which have not been made public.