I think the Ontario wine industry is going through some growing pains.
Last week an article was published about wine in Ontario generally and about the province’s appellation system specifically. It was… not kind. The article was hard hitting in its critique of how wines are evaluated and forceful in its push for change.
I was impressed and intrigued.
Fast forward to Monday and I wake up to a direct message on Twitter from a good friend of mine, alerting me to a disdainful tweet about the article written by one of Canada’s few Masters of Wine. He was really not pleased by the article and called the writer out for, among other things, some pretty glaring inaccuracies. Later that day he published a great thread of messages on Twitter about it, including a link to a great article he wrote last year about this very issue.
The plot thickens!
So who’s right, and what is really the state of Ontario wine? Not being an investigative journalist or someone who works in the wine industry, I’m not sure – but here’s what I’ve learned over the last few days.
Back in the 70’s the Ontario wine industry was made up of less than 10 vineyards and there wasn’t much of an ‘industry’ to speak of. As more wineries came into existence the VQA (the Vintner’s Quality Alliance of Ontario) was created to establish and regulate a burgeoning appellation system in the province. It acted as a wine authority (and still does) and to educate people inside and outside of Ontario about the wines made here.
My guess is the VQA was created to do the same job that bodies in France and Spain and Italy all do – they set and enforce the rules about who gets to make what, who gets to call themselves special, and what wines from certain places should taste like.
All fine and dandy… until people start experimenting.
This is exactly what some Ontario winemakers are doing, which can put a wrench in their desires to get VQA designation. Unsurprisingly, the really out there stuff doesn’t always meet the standards sought by VQA the tasting panels which means no fancy VQA stamp on their bottles.
It kind of sucks because VQA wines in the LCBO have a higher profit margin. But it also doesn’t suck because non-VQA wines can still be sold in the LCBO, and at least this way you get the freedom you want when making the wine. So, you know, it’s complicated.
I feel bad that not getting VQA designation can put a winery in financial danger and I also believe that appellation systems should take care to make sure their rules encourage excellence in a region and not stifle imagination or innovation.
I truly believe that evolution is the way forward for Ontario wines (and all wines, really). More than anything I would love to see the wine industry here foster more financial stability for more wineries. We know the wine is great, so let’s make it less difficult to make and sell here.
No brainer, right?
Fingers crossed, anyway.