Early this week the Ontario government announced its new New Opportunities for Ontario Wine Growers policy paper. It has gone almost unnoticed in the Canadian media, but for the provincial wine industry, Santa has come early and is finally delivering on a wish list that has been gone unanswered for years.
Among the changes will be a program to allow Wineries to sell locally grown wines at the Farmers' Markets; a Wine Fund for key investments in winery equipment and innovation; and a Wine Secretariat to work directly with the wine industry to increase competition and cut red tape.
The provision about selling wine through Farmers Markets alone will be a major game changer. The majority of Ontario wineries do not sell their wines through the provincially run Liquor Control Board Outlet stores because they don't produce sufficient quantity or because the LCBO cuts so deeply into their profits that they lose money selling through it. Even those who do sell through the LCBO have small batches of specialty wines that are only sold at the winery,
Unless a tourist stumbles upon their winery travelling country roads, tastes their wine in a restaurant or hears about it by word of mouth, most people are not even aware that many Ontario wineries exist.. When the tourist season is over, sales plummet.
Large wineries like Peller Estates, Trius, Jackson Triggs, Pelée Island are well known and their wines crowd the shelves in the LCBO or specialty boutique stores next to the supermarkets but there are so many other amazing wineries that will really benefit from the opportunity to bring their wines to the public through Farmers Markets.
In Prince Edward County, wineries like Karlo Estates, Long Dog, The Old Third, Broken Stone, By Chadsey's Cairns,The Devil's Wishbone, Del Gatto Estates, Half Moon Bay and many others which don't sell through the LCBO will be able to grow their customer base far more easily.
The changes will also apply to craft breweries and craft distilleries which should be great news to Barley Days Brewery /which is barely known outside Prince Edward County, and the new 66 Gilead Distillery which is now in its third year in business with a range of interesting spirits. Hopefully cideries will also benefit from the legislation, as the Ontario Craft Cider Association has been growing in force over the last two years. While County Cider actually sold out of product this year it's in such high demand, Bergeron Estates/ Cole Point Cider will benefit from new exposure.
In Nova Scotia and other provinces where wine sales through farmers markets have been allowed for years, people who never tried their provincial wines now go to the market purposefully to buy them and sample what's new. It has inspired a huge growth in gourmet food production, restaurant and winery partnerships, wine festival events and because the demand has increased so much nearly every Nova Scotia winery now is able to afford to sell through the NSLC as well.
Santa didn't just come early to Ontario Wine Growers, Ontario wine lovers will also be enjoying the changes within the coming year.