Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Creeping Commercialism

I’m trying to assemble a picture of Wine and Grape organizations in Ontario. You know, the governing bodies that form the vision, set the direction then promote a maturing wine industry in Ontario. I’m prompted to do this as a result of seeing the CIC debacle develop into prosperity for some at the expense of others and wonder how this could possibly happen with so many interested in the development of this cornerstone business. I’ve called it ‘Creeping Commercialism’ as a bottom line conclusion.

Every time I travel the Niagara Wine Route there are new wineries. During these visits I sometimes hear restrained criticism and sense a hidden frustration and a reluctance to openly comment on support, or lack of, for the small to medium sized wineries of the region. And yet I’m firmly convinced it’s these craft or artisan wineries that will set the standard earning a reputation for excellence that ultimately leads to international recognition.

But now, as well as CICs and Corporate entities, I’m beginning to see products from faux wineries on LCBO shelves. Wineries not having vineyards, winemakers nor production facilities often poaching off another winery’s facilities - wineries themselves struggling to keep afloat in a sea of commercial plonk.

Below I’ve summarized salient points from the associations I found by googling. I’ve included part of their statement of ‘purpose’ and encourage you to investigate further on their websites. It’s best to be informed every time you enter an LCBO outlet or listen to a someone who says they represent Ontario’s wine interests. You’re not just buying wine. You're taking part in shaping the Ontario wine industry.

Ontario Viniculture Association

“… a group looking to improve the political climate for small to mid-size wineries in Ontario… “

The following are excerpts from the OVA Information Release #14. This is a clear indication of the ‘on the ground’ status of the Ontario wine industry. The full text is online.

“As Ontario vineyards head toward the 2009 harvest, it is with considerable disappointment and distress that OVA would like to bring you up to date on the state of the industry. As wine growers, as wine makers, as consumers, and as Ontarians, we at OVA regret to report that:

  • Many Ontario grape growers will have no market for their grapes again this year, which for some may lead to bankruptcy.
  • The Wine Council Ontario (WCO) and the Grape Growers of Ontario (GGO) were unable to resolve the issue of foreign content versus Ontario grape content in Cellared in Canada (CIC) wines.
  • Many Ontario wineries will continue to face bureaucratic restrictions on the amount of Ontario-grown grapes they may buy.
  • The LCBO has failed to achieve its promised sales target of 50% Ontario wine.
  • The WCO, the GGO, the LCBO, and the Government of Ontario all believe that what is good for a small number of wineries that produce CIC wines is good for the industry as a whole.
  • Wineries selling Quality Certified but non-VQA 100% Ontario-grown wines face discriminatory policies when trying to sell to the LCBO or direct to licensees.
  • Many Ontario wineries that produce 100% Ontario-grown, quality wine are not able to use the word Ontario on their wine labels.
  • The “Official Guide to Ontario Wineries” again excludes wineries that do not belong to the Wine Council of Ontario -- some 50% of Ontario wineries.
  • OVA is appalled that Ontario continues to maintain a highly profitable alcohol sales system which, in concert with government policy, discriminates against the majority of Ontario’s wineries…
  • Etc.”
My notes: It’s a surprise to me that, in April 2008, 100 members (of 160 licensed wineries in Ontario) felt obliged to form an association to have a voice in an industry represented by so many regulatory and business steering bodies.

So my question is: What has (past tense) each one of the following done for our craft or boutique wineries?

Canadian Vintners Association

“… encourages the growth and development of a vibrant, competitive, and economically viable Canadian wine industry through focused leadership. It does this through effective representation of its members’ interests to government and to the public, the advocacy of supportive government policy and programs, and the provision of information to members and to the public, so as to enhance the business environment in which the wine sector operates.”

My notes: The Board of Directors listed has a majority of Corporation members.

Grape Growers of Ontario

“… the advocate of all processing grape growers in Ontario working on their behalf to ensure their grape growing needs are met. We will see the markets for Ontario grapes and wines expand domestically and internationally, on a continuous basis - always finding new markets for our products. Ontario-grown grape products will be demanded at home and recognized internationally.”

My notes: Seems as though this group is fighting a losing battle with CIC and Government revenue interests.

Wine Council of Ontario

“… a non-profit trade association with a leadership role in marketing and establishing policy and future directions for the wine industry in Ontario. It acts as a liaison and coordinating body between Ontario wineries, grape growers, and government groups. Membership in the WCO is open to all commercial producers of wine in Ontario, with the criteria that a member must be an Ontario resident and the winery must be located in the province. The Wine Council represents 81 winery properties in Ontario.”

My notes: A list of WCO executives was not available at their website but from the documentation appears to be mainly composed of Government Ministeries with some representation from a selected segment of the Ontario wine industry. Of 160 licensed wineries in Ontario only half are members of the WCO, weighted to corporately owned or affiliated wineries. A review of the ‘strategic plan’ (Poised for Greatness, undated) concluded it’s neither ‘strategic’ nor a ‘plan’ but a collection of platitudes, wishful thinking and self adulation. The vision sets a date of 2020 for: ‘More than 60 percent of their [Ontario people who love wines] purchases will be rich Ontario reds and crisp fruity whites’. It appeared to me that CIC volumes, largely offshore blending wines, would need to be included to attain this projection.

Ontario Wine Producers Association

“… founded in May 2005 by a group of quality minded producers of wine made with 100 percent Ontario grown grapes. Our members are dedicated to making authentic wines from Ontario vineyards. Our member wineries share a passion for making quality wines that represent Ontario’s terroir. Our purpose is to ensure that the policies, regulations and actions of the Government of Ontario are consistent with what needs to be done to earn Ontario due recognition as one of the world’s great wine regions both domestically and abroad.”

My notes: Links to this website and various affiliated sites are not working. It may be defunct?

VQA Ontario

My notes: A provincial Food & Drug and labelling regulatory body rather than an organization promoting the interests of small and medium wineries. There’s little if any representation of small to mid-size wineries on the Board of Directors for 2009.

Hey, It's not hard to understand what’s gone wrong!
Cheers, Ww

Related articles:

No comments: