Trouble in the vineyard

Posted Jul 4th, 2009 in Eating Niagara

Trouble in the vineyard

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Sour grapes or legitimate concern?

Rogue growers or farmers finally fed up with the organization that represents them for doing what they feel is an inadequate job?

That's for you to decide. But Niagara grape growers concerned with the fate of their livelihood and the precariousness in which some say they exist are growing more vocal about the state of an industry that government and commodity groups, including the Grape Growers of Ontario and the Wine Council of Ontario are in the process of trying to fix.

The following came to me today in a Friends of the Greenbelt electronic newsletter, as growers and other agencies with an interest in what's happening in the province's agricultural preserve take action to try to change what can be described as a brow-furrowing situation.

Sour Deal for Ontario Grape Farmers

Buying local is good for our community, good for our environment and good for our economy. Often we rely on labels and marketing to identify locally produced goods. However, Ontarians who think they are supporting Ontario farmers by buying wine sold as "Cellared in Canada" are unknowingly supporting foreign grapes or grape products, warns Environmental Defence, a member of the Ontario Greenbelt Alliance.

According to Ontario law, Cellared in Canada wines can actually contain up to 70% foreign grapes or grape product. Under the Wine Content and Labeling Act, Ontario wineries are able to buy inexpensive finished wine from off-shore vendors and create a product labeled as "Cellared in Canada" by blending in a minimum amount (30%) of locally grown wine.

As a result, Ontario grape growers are suffering. Last year, the equivalent of more than 30,000 tonnes of grapes were imported, while Ontario farmers with high quality crops of the very same variety were left without buyers and with local grapes rotting.

What can you do to support Ontario Grape Growers?

Buy VQA wine (made with 100% Ontario Grown Grapes).

Let LCBO staff know that you are interested in a greater selection of VQA wines.

Visit www.environmentaldefence.ca to join the Put the "O" Back into the LCBO campaign and encourage the provincial government to support Ontario's grape farmers.

For those interested in learning more about the situation, here a few links to stories that recently appeared in the St. Catharines Standard:

Smoldering anger in the vineyard

Grape growers cultivating support with petition

Personally, I don't get why we import foreign grape juice, bottle it and slap Canada on the label. But then, I have heard that there are growers who rely on selling to wineries that blend their juice with the Chilean stuff and don't want to lose that market.

In some ways, this goes back to a previous post where I talk about honesty in the local food movement and the jeopardy it seems to be in with some. Granted, the fine print on wine bottles explains 'Cellared in Canada' wines are a mix of imported and domestic grape juice.

But for the unaware consumer thinking they're buying Canadian when they see it in the "Cellared in Canada" section at the liquor store, it's deceptive at worst and confusing, at best, no?

Is there any other wine-producing nation out there that imports grape juice to blend with their homegrown vintages?

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