Behind the Lines - March 2009

Ontario’s wine industry has earned a considerable reputation, and deservedly so.

Inspired growers and winemakers plant and nurture the right grape vines on those special soils in the Niagara Peninsula and other mild-weathered parts in the south of the province. Years later, the fruits of their labours grace tables in homes and restaurants. There is an air of sophistication associated with grapes and wine. There are also overtones of nationalistic pride, and consumers drinking a glass feel a connection to local farmers. What’s not to like?

The complex public relations campaign that is involved in communicating this story to the consumer hides the turmoil lying behind this highly regulated and, surprisingly, largely foreign-owned, wine industry.

The collapse a year ago of Niagara Vintners, a highly promising producer-owned consortium selling wine under the 20 Bees appellation, garnered widespread attention. Then, last fall, the province paid millions of dollars in a short-term solution to help growers dumping thousands of tonnes of grapes on the ground. In spite of growing wine consumption, there were no buyers for those grapes.

In our story, beginning on page 16, writer Don Stoneman looks at the issues and possible solutions. Independent growers and wine makers said time and time again that their biggest challenge is getting wine into the hands of consumers. There are few legal avenues, one of them being the provincially-run liquor stores. In the opinion of growers, there’s confusion as to which wines are made from grapes grown in Ontario, and which are not.

As this story was being finished, Premier Dalton McGuinty was publicizing one of his solutions to the growing economic crisis in Ontario; do away with the red tape and bureaucratic rules that prevent businesses from doing business. The wine industry would be a good place to start.

We’ve reported on biochar before, but we feel it’s worth tracking this technology carefully because of its potential for yield enhancement and carbon absorption. See our latest report by Peter Ion on page 28.

And don’t forget to check out our annual listing of soybean varieties. This year, to allow for last-minute developments with new varieties, and to make the chart searchable, we’ve moved things online. You can find this year’s chart, along with the day’s breaking news, at: BF

Robert Irwin & Don Stoneman


Better Farming - March 2009