Selling fruit wines at market a sweet idea

By: MONIQUE BEECH

Interesting twist this week in the three-year battle waged by many fruit wineries to allow them to sell their products at farmers’ markets.

Ontario Agriculture Minister Leona Dombrowski said she’s willing to entertain the idea of a trial run to see if selling fruit wines at market would work.

This came after Progressive Conservative leadership hopeful MPP Randy Hillier

exploded this week at Queen’s Park, calling on the Liberals to do something for small wineries that are struggling to stay in business during the recession.

Though Niagara has only a few fruit wineries — Niagara-on- the-Lake’s Sunnybrook Farm Estate Winery and Beamsville’s Rosewood Estates Winery & Meadery come to mind — this pilot project could have larger implications for the Ontario wine industry at large.

Jim Warren, chairman of the Fruit Wines of Ontario association, said the idea would be to start off by allowing fruit wineries to sell their products at about a dozen markets. Eventually, the plan is to expand it to include small craft grape wineries, he said.

“We don’t want exclusivity on this. We felt it’s the best way to get the process started,” said Warren, who’s also the general manager of Vineland’s Stoney Ridge Estate Winery.

“Let’s get fruit wines to start it and see what happens.”

But Hillary Dawson, president of the Wine Council of Ontario, said her members would rather the government consider other forums for selling wine — such as fine wine boutiques.

The fear is if the province allows wine sales at farmers’ markets, it may close the door on other ways of selling wine, Dawson said.

But Warren hopes the fruit wine market issue doesn’t become a political football that divides parties but ends up doing nothing for wineries.

He’s not forgetting a recent letter sent to fruit wineries by Ontario Minister of Government Services Ted McMeekin. The Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough- Westdale MPP said the government has no plans to allow fruit wine sales at farmers’ markets. McMeekin also said allowing that to happen would be unfair to grape wineries.

Many fruit wineries argue they’re the ones at a disadvantage. The LCBO carries only four or five fruit wines compared with hundreds of grape wines.

Vintners Quality Alliance wine producers can sell directly to restaurants as if they were selling off their farm without paying LCBO fees. Not true for fruit wineries.

There are other obstacles to the fruit wines market plan.

The government has expressed concerns about selling alcohol in a venue other than the controlled LCBO.

“There aren’t going to be any concerns affecting public morality,” Warren said.

“This is all controlled by wineries that are very professional and all their people have the Smart Serve requirements. It’s an extension of their retail store licence; it’s all done well.”

Gerald Goertz, owner of Sunnybrook, said he gets enough traffic at his Lakeshore Road winery and doesn’t need to sell his wines at market. But he supports the idea for other small fruit and grape wineries that are off the well-worn wine route track.

In December, Leeds- Grenville MPP Bob Runciman introduced Bill 132, an act to amend the Liquor License Act for Fruit Wines to expand the marketing reach of Ontario’s fruit wineries.

It passed second reading in the provincial legislature, but still needs to pass a third and final reading.

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