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Leveling the Playing Field in Ontario

November 2008
by Hudson Cattell
Canada wine
The Ontario Viniculture Association is open to wineries who produce fruit wines and non-VQA wines, which are popular choices in the province.
PHOTO: Southbrook Vineyards
Wines from Vintners Quality Alliance Ontario (VQA) deservedly enjoy the acclaim they are getting in the province, and they benefit from government funding for promotion and marketing. But there are also fruit wines and other high-quality wines made in Ontario that do not qualify for VQA status and have long been discriminated against by an overly restrictive system for selling wines there. Help may be forthcoming for these wineries in the form of an Ontario Viniculture Association, which was formed in April and now has 55 member wineries. The organization is dedicated to leveling the playing field for all 100% Ontario-grown wines.

When the Ontario wine industry announced the formation of the VQA system in 1988, it was intended to set high standards for Ontario's finest wines. VQA status was limited to wines made from vinifera and a few hybrid varieties. Fruit wines were excluded because in Europe, wine was defined and recognized as coming only from grapes. Native American grape varieties were decreed to be juice grapes and could no longer be classified as winegrapes.

The VQA system proved to be a huge success in raising the reputation of Ontario wines, and its ice wines in particular. Most Ontario wines were non-VQA wines because they did not meet VQA regulations, but this did not mean they wouldn't meet quality standards.

Fruit wines had no chance of being considered for VQA status, and the wineries that made them began suffering from a lack of credibility and marketing. In 1999 an organization was established called Fruit Wines of Ontario--its purpose was to seek government funding for projects that would help change the perception of fruit wines and provide assistance in marketing them. A Quality Certified program was set up and modeled on the VQA system. Jim Warren, a well-known Ontario winemaker, was named executive director.

Fruit Wines of Ontario is now Fruit Wines of Canada, and it has been a big success in promoting Canadian fruit wines. However, it has not been able to achieve its objectives of creating government opportunities and programs.

In April of this year, the Ontario Viniculture Association was formed with the goal of promoting the use of Ontario grapes, fruit, honey and other material suitable for making quality Ontario wine throughout the province, and to ensure equality of opportunities for all Ontario wineries. Jim Warren is the president of this organization, and Larry Paterson is vice president. With 55 wineries as members, leveling the playing field may be more possible than ever before.

In my opinion, this should happen--and, while they're at it, the industry would be well served if the native American varieties were reclassified under the heading of fruit wines. These wines made from native American varieties taste just like the fruit they are made from in a manner that is more similar to fruit wines than wines made from vinifera or hybrid varietals.
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