Pass the VQA wine please

Posted Oct 12th, 2009

Pass the VQA wine please

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Food, wine, meat jokes at my expense — it was a typical Thanksgiving for me again this year.

But what wasn't typical was the bottle of wine sitting on my mom's counter this weekend.

It was a Naked Grape Shiraz.

Now, my mom is by no means a locavore. One need only open her fridge to find every kind of sauce, juice or condiment from all corners of the globe. And I'm certain that, though I occasionally cause her enough guilt, she doesn't really look at country of origin labelling when she's in the produce section at the grocery store.

Heck, two years ago, when I attempted the 100-Mile diet, she was living in Kelowna — BC's Niagara. When I told her I was coming for a visit and I was doing the 100-Mile diet, there was no happy dance. I'm sure she thought that two years after my becoming a vegetarian, this was just another attempt by me to make her life difficult. See, when I visit my mom, I revert to child mode and there's the unspoken expectation that she'll do all the cooking and take care of me. So more constraints on how she could care for me weren't welcome.

Still, there is one thing my mom does read the labels of, and she scrutinizes them very closely. That's wine. When she moved back to Ontario last year, I'd bet half her moving truck was filled with vintages from the Okanagan — wine that could only be replenished in her collection by a trip out west. When it comes to Canadian wine, which she drinks a lot of, it's VQA or bust.

So the Naked Grape, dressed up in its Cellared in Canada label, was surprising, to say the least.

Cellared in Canada has been getting a lot of press lately and not just in The Standard, which covers the grape and wine industry thoroughly. It's getting attention in national papers like some dirty little secret of the wine industry has suddenly been let out of the bag.

Truth is, it's something the local press in Niagara has been on for ages but with a grassroots movement spearheaded by The Ontario Greenbelt Alliance to draw consumer attention to the dubious Cellared in Canada concoctions and the second fall in a row where tonnes of grapes will rot on the vines because they have no buyer, suddenly more people are paying attention. Good thing.

For those who don't know, Cellared in Canada means that the wine is a mix of 70 per cent foreign grape juice, usually from South America, and only 30 per cent domestic juice. Hardly Canadian, save for the blending process that happens here. Hardly something that also makes sense, given this year, 8,000 tonnes of grapes, at least, will not find a home in any wine bottles destined for store shelves. Meanwhile, many of the large wineries will import tens of thousands of litres of South American grape juice for their cheaper CIC brands.

My mom is well-versed in the CIC issue. The wine, it turns out, was a gift from a friend of mine who lives in Toronto and joined us for T'giving dinner. Now I'm feeling a bit of pressure to have the CIC conversation with her with the hope that she'll care or not be insulted because I've been told I can be a tad self-righteous sounding when it comes to stuff that strikes a moral chord within me...

Anyway, good on the Wine Council of Ontario for its Think Global Drink Local campaign encouraging people to take the 30-Day challenge and try out a new VQA vintage every day for a month. The hope is it will expose people to the variety and quality of Ontario wine — both of which this novice wine drinker thinks is pretty tremendous. My hope is it will instill some pride into Canadian wine drinkers about the tipple that's topping up our wine glasses — a far cry from the Baby Duck of yesteryear.

That pride is just one small piece of the puzzle, I think, to help grape growers find and secure a market for their crop and to help wineries change their approach to CIC wines by, at the very least, upping the domestic juice content. Sounds simplistic, I'm sure, but I truly believe if people took more pride in what's being produced in their own backyard, sought it out in stores and read labels closely, it would do a lot for our wine industry. Wine doesn't have to be from overseas to be good.

I'm hopeful the Wine Council will keep that pride alive by encouraging people to drink local even after their 30-Day challenge is up.

For more on the issues facing the wine industry and growers right now, check out the following:

Two-tier pricing system needed for grapes: growers chairman

Wineries strive for clarity in cellared-in-Canada labels

Taking the good with the bad for Vintage 2009 

Cellared in Canada: changes in the stores and labels, but no help for Ontario growers

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