From FCC Express, by Owen Roberts
Quality wines crafted entirely from homegrown grapes are the focus of a two-year pilot program that will see farmers markets sell Ontario wine alongside local food.
The program, started earlier this week, has about two dozen wineries with approval from the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario to sell VQA wine at farmers markets. Special licensing, called an occasional extension of their on-site winery retail stores, is required.
Farmers markets in Grand Bend, London, St. Thomas, Hamilton and two in Prince Edward County will feature VQA wine sales.
Ontario is home to more than 200 farmers markets and 140 wineries that make VQA wine. Officials from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food have no estimate for the anticipated number of approvals, but say they expect more shortly.
“It will be a widespread pilot,” said a spokesperson.
The farmers market program addresses the province’s desire to stimulate the economy by further promoting local food and beverages. VQA wine sales in Ontario reached $268 million last year, up $100 million since 2008. Ontario’s wine and grape industry contributed $3.3 billion to the province’s economy in 2011.
Despite this growth, the wine industry has worked for increased exposure to consumers to expand even further. Selling wine in farmers markets is a step towards making that connection.
“Sales of VQA wines at farmers markets create another needed opportunity for Ontario’s wineries to connect with consumers –in this case closer to home — side-by-side with our farmers,” says Hillary Dawson, president of the Wine Council of Ontario.
“We encourage Ontarians to use the opportunity of matching their local food with local wines crafted from 100 per cent Ontario grapes. What grows together, goes together.”
The farmers market program is the latest addition to the renewed Ontario Wine and Grape Strategy, an initiative that’s been buoyed by the local food movement. The province says the strategy has supported significant growth in the sector, including doubling the number of VQA wineries, creating 2,000 direct jobs, record grape production, and the development of prime tourist destinations, from the Niagara Peninsula to Prince Edward County and Lake Erie North Shore.
Should the farmers market pilot project prove successful with VQA wine, officials will consider bringing more products into the program, such as fruit wines and craft beer.