VQA winemakers win after a year of confusing labels, plonk peddlers and 9,000 tonnes of rotting grapes

VQA winemakers win after a year of confusing labels, plonk peddlers and 9,000 tonnes of rotting grapes

VQA wines, like these from Ontario's Henry of Pelham, use 100 per cent Canadian grapes (Photo by Danielle Scott)

The local wine industry just got a helping hand from the Ontario government, but it signals the end of the too-good-too-be-true myth that local wine can be bought on a shoestring.

Last week, Queen’s Park announced a plan to bolster VQA wine at the expense of the not-quite-Canadian plonk that’s shelved in the Ontario sections of LCBO stores. Part of the problem is the confusion created by the wines’ “Cellared in Canada” label. Contrary to the misleading moniker, buying Cellared in Canada doesn’t equate buying local.

“How it’s presented is the real issue,” says Toronto Life wine reviewer David Lawrason. “Consumers probably assumed for the most part that it was Ontario wine, because it’s sold in the Ontario section of the LCBO.”

Those wines usually contain only about 30 per cent domestic grapes—that’s the legal minimum they are mandated to include—which is why they’re cheaper. Canada’s fickle weather often means that local farmers can’t produce grapes as cost-effectively as, say, South America. “We will never be able to compete with the Fuzions of the world,” says Debbie Zimmerman, CEO of Grape Growers of Ontario, referring to a blended Argentine wine that retails for $7.45. “We grow grapes in a cold climate.”

True though that may be, there is a disconnect between the popularity of buying local and the fact that Ontario grape growers left about 9,000 tonnes of grapes rotting on the vine this year, according to Grape Growers of Ontario. The waste, in part, is related to consumer confusion.

The government wants to clear up any ambiguities by mandating clearer labelling and signage. “Everything’s on the table, from design to font style to wording,” Douglas Tindal, a government spokesperson, told the Globe. VQA wines will also become more accessible in liquor stores, and to further cement the push, there will also be a tax on blended wines sold in wine retail stores.

By 2014, Cellared in Canada wine will probably be made entirely from foreign grapes, as the requirement for domestic content in them will be done away with by then. No more confusion, but the label will be in dire need of a name change.