© AgMedia Inc.
by BETTER FARMING STAFF
Ontario Agriculture Minister Leona Dombrowsky says she would support a pilot project to sell fruit wines at farmers’ markets, as long as certain conditions are met. That support won’t extend, however, to a bill that proposes to legalize such sales province-wide and precipitated the house speaker’s decision to boot a MPP from provincial legislature this week.
“I’m not offering you today a carte-blanche that I think that fruit wine should be accessible in all farmers’ markets in Ontario,” Dombrowsky said Thursday. “It’s a new idea in Ontario; I think that the fruit wine people have some valid issues, and that I think it would be worthy of consideration on a pilot basis.”
For a Georgetown area farmer who has advocated the idea since 2006, Dombrowsky’s caution makes sense.
“I would have to see the details on how (Bill 132) would play out before I could comment on whether I’m in favour or not,” says Bert Andrews.
But Andrews scratches his head about the conditions Dombrowsky places on the pilot.
She says a proposal would need to consider factors such as special sales training and consultations with groups that might be concerned about the practice, like Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
Andrews says the conditions were addressed generally when he and others in the industry first broached the idea to the provincial government.
“The way I see it, they’re unwilling to do the research,” he says, noting that with Alberta, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia permitting the sale of some wines in farmers’ markets, the information is accessible.
Dombrowsky’s comments follow Conservative MPP Randy Hillier’s removal Tuesday, from the provincial legislature, for refusing to withdraw allegations that Liberal MPPs lied about their intentions concerning Bill 132.
The private member’s bill was introduced by interim Conservative leader Bob Runciman in November and passed its second reading in December. Since then, it has been parked at the Standing Committee on General Government for review, along with 12 other private member bills. The committee is currently reviewing Bill 167, the Toxics Reduction Act, and won’t finish until June. That leaves only a handful of days to consider other bills before the legislature’s spring session ends June 4. The committee can’t consider other bills while the legislature is on break unless it receives political direction to do so.
Such guidance is unlikely to come from Ted McMeekin, minister of Government Services. McMeekin’s ministry represents the Liquor Control Board of Ontario, and he has stated he doesn’t support the bill.
Hillier’s concerned that if the bill doesn’t pass “shortly, it’s going to be absolutely no use this season for anybody.”
He says farmers’ market sales are necessary for fruit wine makers: “We have a number of estate wineries that specialize in fruit wines that are facing severe and significant economic hardship and a number of them are facing bankruptcy because of the restrictive nature of the LCBO and the difficulty for them to get shelf space and the cost that they have to pay for it is putting them out of business.”
Andrews says the problems lie in the liquor retailer’s steep price markup. Because the wine has to be sold at the same price as he offers at his farm store, his share after the LCBO’s cut won’t cover costs, he explains.
Fifty-eight per cent is the standard markup, says LCBO spokesman Chris Layton.
Ontario grape wineries have separate display space in stores for their Vintners Quality Assurance products but Ontario fruit wines aren’t separately displayed. Each store, however, has at least one staff member who is trained to promote all Ontario wines, including fruit wines, Layton says.
The LCBO also operates a niche program to accommodate products produced at lower volumes than required for general distribution. They are placed in fewer stores.
As for whether the LCBO might consider promoting the wines in farmers’ markets, Layton says the retailer hasn’t been involved in kiosk sales and remains focused on promoting products through its store network. BF