Council moves to support local wine growers in face of alcohol sales overhaul

(Gazette file photo)

JASON PARKS

STAFF WRITER

Prince Edward County council is calling on the Province to further support local grape growers and craft brewers as Ontario modernizes its alcohol sales.

Council passed a resolution of support at its meeting Tuesday evening at Shire Hall after Rob Peck, a winer producer and grape grower that operates Sugarbush Vineyards north of Wellington, offered a deputation on behalf of the local wine and beer industry and the Grape Growers of Ontario (GGO).

The GGO, of which Peck sits as a director, represent all of Ontario’s 500 farm families that grow processing grapes, including 180 wineries.

Peck told council Ontario is the largest grape growing province in Canada producing more than 85,000 tonnes of wine grapes in 2017 – compared to 33,000 tonnes grown in B.C. The Ontario grape and wine industry creates 18,000 jobs – and contributes $4.4 billion annually in economic impact.

The Ford government has decided to modernize alcohol sales in Ontario. In 2018, they announced plans to open the retail channel to grocery, big box and convenience stores,” Peck said. “That is the reason why I am here tonight. To ask for Council’s support for our local grape, wine , cider & beer industry.”

The GGO have been advocating to government that a successful plan needs to have a balanced approach to mitigate unintended consequences that could undermine the contribution of Ontario’s tourism, agriculture and  local economic development that comes from a strong grape & farming community — basically they need to put Ontario first.

The county-based vintner explained the GGO is calling for any new retail sales outlets to include a policy that reflects growth of VQA and 100 per cent Ontario-grown wine and that guardrails need to be in place to ensure the growth of Ontario wines in any new retail model.

Currently the minimum floor price of a wine in a grocery store is $10.95 and that guardrail needs to be extended to any new retail model. Other guardrails the GGO are advocating for include no retailer inducements, no private label brands, and allow for retailer discounts for 100 per cent  Ontario-grown wines.

Peck also illustrated that Ontario-grown wines are an Ontario product and should be treated as such. “Currently Ontario wines are taxed the same as foreign producers. We need to elevate Ontario wines rather than treating them like an import. We are not looking for a handout, just equitable treatment for Ontario wine as a domestic product. The plan to expand consumer choice should protect Ontario tax payers by creating a permanent and predictable tax program to help Ontario farm families -that plan should include the removal of the 6.1 per cent additional tax levied on wine/cider at the farm gate,” he said.

The GGO are also calling for higher Ontario content and request the province to invent a transition strategy to move ICB (International Canadian Blend) wines into 100 per cent Ontario/VQA wines. Currently, ICB wine contains a minimum of 25 per cent Ontario grapes and up to 75 per cent imported wine.

We would like to see a transition strategy to phase ICB wines into 100 per cent Ontario wines,” Peck said. “These elements need to be incorporated into a broader transition framework and action plan. This will enable a made-in-Ontario viticulture policy that supports the continued growth of Ontario’s grape and wine industry, wine tourism, and local economic development.”

Late last year, the government of Ontario announced its plan to modernize alcohol sales by expanding the sale of beer and wine to corner stores, grocery stores, and big-box stores based on market demand. It has requested public input on its plan through an online survey until Feb. 1.

Councillor Kate McNaughton said she would be supporting a form of the resolution Peck put forward Tuesday after a few amendments that made it slightly more palatable for her colleagues. She added it was her belief the speed in which the province was moving in gathering information from stakeholders like the GGO was frustrating.

Peck agreed.

We know there’s a concept the Province has in mind. Our goal and advocation is to mitigate those things and help them to be positive,” Peck said. “This is all happening extremely fast so we’ve had to move very quickly on a lot of these issues.”