I've been thinking about how VQA accreditation has contributed to my enjoyment of Canadian wines over the past years. I have to admit that I have rated VQA wines higher than nonVQA wines and overall I have a leaning to wines that are accredited in some form in other countries (although I don't make a point of verifying these 'accreditations').
A more fundamental question given our monopoly's eagerness to control is, are Niagara wineries so locked into VQA accreditation they can't break free individually or collectively? and would consumers be better off without this oversight? My answers are Yes! and No! and I'll tell you why.
I'm aware of only two cases where VQA accreditation was refused. One was based on an unacceptable onion skin coloration of a Pinot Gris and the other is the more recent case of a Riesling that was 'atypical' of an Ontario varietal. The first I was in disbelief since some quality PGs have an onion skin tone - but I thought no more of it and bought offshore. The latter I pledged to followup and, after visiting the winery, I purchased several of the Rieslings to find out more. (Results are in last month's notes - May 2014)
Both cases included subjective opinions of what is a relationship between a consumer and his winemaker. As in 'church and state' a monopoly has no business repealing a wine strictly on taste. Tell me if a wine has a harmful level of manganese or sulphite. Does it have microbial virus levels - and if I make a wine out of cucumbers it shouldn't wear the VQA crest pure and simple. Now if I make a wine made from 100% Ontario grapes but tastes like cucumber it's up to consumers to vote with their dollars, definitely not LCBO Product Consultants depriving consumers their right of choice and winemakers access to a market, although I wouldn't expect the LCBO to stock the wine. As well there's a Machiavellian side to a VQA rejection. A VQA accredited wine comes with a significant 'kickback', a 'comply and your income doubles'. That answers the first question - wineries are suppressed and are likely cautious to explore new grapes or innovative techniques even if these have proven to be successful in other wine growing regions. The financial impact is too imposing to oppose and everyone loses. In the Riesling case I found there were extenuating circumstances that led to the rejection.
Recent developments of gene and DNA manipulation are now complicating grape varietals. Sophisticated equipment (Ref 1) separates must elements for augmentation or elimination. In the interest of consumers and for their protection I believe it has become crucial to not only support VQA testing but expand it by adopting a lexicon of technological descriptors. Who else but a panel of independent analysts to filter and selectively eliminate incredulous sometimes harmful gimmickry.
How often have we purchased fruit and vegetables, imported or local - strawberries, blueberries, cantaloupes, watermelons, lettuce, celery, herbs, etc. etc. to find unacceptable flavours? How quickly has 'organic' become the preferred choice? Consumers recognize the term and pay a premium for 'organic'. Open markets and food fairs are inspected for their hygiene. Consumers assume there's someone behind scenes inspecting the produce they buy and feed to their families - is the inspection done by store 'buyers' or by an independent third party acting on our behalf? It's the customer doing the 'final' inspection determining whether the broccoli is the right green, has a 'typical' aroma, or has the tactile texture of freshness.
Back to wine: There are alternatives without upsetting the VQA tradition. 'RAW' is gaining support in eastern countries and represents a well thought out regimen for ensuring a wine, from terroir to bottle, has never been manipulated unnaturally. Other terms such as biodynamic, sustainable, natural vineyard management... each has a defined level of 'intervention' independent of VQA and managed by associations dedicated to natural viticulture. Would it be sufficient for the LCBO to say that a wine made from 100% Canadian grapes and having 'RAW' (or some such) on the label is acceptable, a rubber stamp to their approval? Another way of saying this would be if 'natural' winemaking terms became partners of VQA. With this one identifier a consumer will know the VQA wine inside the bottle was based on grapes grown without -cides, picked and processed without heavy-manipulation, cone spinning or chemical enhancements and fermented with indigenous yeasts.
But what to do with GMO vines (Ref 2)? and is 'blow over' a concern in our wine regions (Ref 3)?
VQA with an identifier could still be used to include standard agricultural practices: foreign yeasts, -cides and chemical earth nutrients, etc. as well as new technologies: cone spinning, reverse osmosis, etc. - perhaps VQA:AGR. If for legal reasons identifiers can't be used colour code the VQA symbol. There must be a better way of supporting the growing diversity of customers and of wineries. (Ref 4)
Now why is my skin itching so much? and why do I sneeze after a glass of red? and how can I tell what to avoid? Unfortunately the way it is now VQA is colour blind!
Think about it! Prepare for the future because it's now!
"The nation that destroys its soil destroys itself" (Franklin D. Roosevelt)