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First farmers’ markets, then free my grapes?

Updated: Sep 19, 2017

There has been a timely and progressive announcement from the Ontario government on their Wine and Grape Strategy– a $75 million plan to support Ontario wineries. The program has direct, high level political support given the involvement of Premier Wynne and the new Wine Secretariat.

The aspect that has attracted the most public attention is allowing wineries sell their products at farmers markets across the province (BC has made a similar announcement too). The upside of this announcement is that it gives wineries another much needed market opportunity. It is also a boost to wine tourism and economic opportunity, all of which are good for local and regional economies. The downside of the announcement is that the provision is restricted to products made from VQA approved varietals only. This leaves small wineries that don’t grow VQA approved varietals unable to take advantage of this new market opportunity. Perhaps a way will be found to accommodate these winery products so all local wines from all parts of Ontario can be made more available to consumers. Enhanced market opportunities should be the goal.

Unfortunately, the strategy announcement was silent on the question of Ontario opening up its borders to direct delivery of Canadian wines from other provinces.This would have been a great opportunity for Ontario to demonstrate leadership and a commitment to open borders within Canada.

In making the announcement on its Wine and Grape Strategy, the Premier was quoted as saying to the industry, “You’re more than just fruit growers and winemakers, you’re catalysts for tourism and for new business.” (Ottawa Citizen, December 17, 2013).

Well, exactly Premier – it is great that you understand that, but think of how much more a catalyst the industry could be if Ontario joined the lead of BC and Manitoba, opened its borders to wines from other provinces. An Ontario lead is critical to other provinces following suit, opening their respective borders and helping wineries from every producing area of the country to act as that much needed catalyst. With open borders, all those tourists coming to Ontario’s wine country would be able to bring Ontario products home – and then order more – boosting the economic contribution of the industry to Ontario’s economy.

A majority – 82% – of Ontarians support being able to go online to order directly from Canadian wineries. It’s good for wineries, tourism and voters. With an election around the corner, these voters are calling on Premier Wynne to free my grapes!

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