by SUSAN MANN
Fruit wine makers still want to be included in the Ontario government’s plans to launch wine sales at farmers’ markets this year but so far they continue to be shut out.
Bert Andrews, who produces fruit wines at his Scotch Block Country Winery in Halton Region and is on the Fruit Wines of Ontario board, says their preferred option would be that fruit wine, cider, mead and non-VQA (Vintners Quality Alliance) wines be permitted to be sold at farmers’ markets along with the VQA wines. But under the current proposal, the government will allow only VQA wine sales at farmers markets as part of a two-year pilot project beginning this year.
That means fruit wine, cider and non-VQA wines won’t be included until two or three years from now, Andrews says. If fruit wine sales can’t begin this year, he notes they should be started after one year into the pilot project and not two to three years from now.
Fruit wineries, cider, mead and non-VQA wine makers “want the same equal opportunity as VQA wine at farmers’ markets,” he says. “Small farm wineries no matter the type need the same support as VQA wineries.”
It has been seven years since fruit wine makers first proposed that their products be sold at farmers’ markets and while the government appeared back then to support the idea, the government’s latest proposals has fruit wineries wondering how the idea fell off track.
Meanwhile, the provincial government has on the Ontario Regulatory Registry posted a summary of the proposed changes to the Liquor Licence Act that would allow VQA wine sales at farmers markets.
The summary will be up until March 21 and “all interested parties are encouraged to provide input,” Ontario agriculture ministry spokesperson Susan Murray says by email. The government will also be consulting with the wine and grape industry, farmers’ market operators, other interested organizations and social responsibility groups in the coming weeks, she adds.
The government’s plans call for the launch of VQA wine sales at farmers markets to begin on May 1 as the target starting date. The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario will have oversight over the program. Sales will be treated as occasional extensions of on-site winery retail stores with the same taxes and fees, it says in a joint update from Grape Growers of Ontario, the Wine Council of Ontario and the Winery & Grower Alliance of Ontario.
All VQA wineries are eligible to sell at farmers’ markets. They must give the commission advance notice of their intention to sell VQA wines at specific farmers’ markets, the update says. Municipalities can opt out of participating in the pilot project.
Debbie Zimmerman, CEO of Grape Growers of Ontario, says she can’t say how many wineries will want to participate. “There are some limitations that need to be worked out,” such as the warehousing of wines so “you’re not dragging your product around with you.”
Off-site warehousing of wine won’t be permitted so wineries will have to return their unsold products to their premises each day after the market is closed, the updates says.
“I think the government wants to take a go slow approach and they’re using social responsibility as an important element, as well,” she says, adding “we’re quite happy with the first leg of this journey.”
The pilot project will give customers an opportunity to buy wine at farmers’ markets “so it’s a really great first step. It’s just going to take some time to see how it all works out,’ she says.
In December, the provincial government announced it would launch a program for sales of VQA wines at farmers’ markets as part of the renewed Grape and Wine Strategy. BF