VQA wines now part of the local food movement
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VQA wines now part of the local food movement

Dan Hadwen staffs the Tawse Winery booth at the market. [scott barber / the observer]
Dan Hadwen staffs the Tawse Winery booth at the market.[scott barber / the observer]
Dan Hadwen staffs the Tawse Winery booth at the market. [scott barber / the observer]
If you want to pick up a bottle or two of wine while stocking up on dinner ingredients at the St. Jacobs Farmers’ Market, Woolwich council has no interest in stopping you.

Discussing a new provincial program allowing wineries to sell VQA wines at farmers’ markets, township councillors this week took a staff report as information only. The new policy came into effect as of May 1. The St. Jacobs location is one of the spots involved in the two-year pilot project, and there have been no issues with the rollout, council heard.

That’s also been the experience of Marcus Shantz, president of market operator Mercedes Corp.

“To my knowledge, we’ve had only positive feedback about it,” he said in an interview.

Two Niagara-based wineries – Tawse and Between the Lines – have been offering products at the market since May 8.

The change allows for the sale of Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA) wines at Ontario markets. The two-year pilot program is part of a local food strategy to increase demand for goods that are grown, made and harvested in the province. VQA wines are crafted entirely from Ontario-grown grapes and must adhere to rigorous winemaking standards.

According to an industry study, Ontario’s wine and grape industry contributed $3.3 billion to the province’s economy in 2011. VQA wine sales in Ontario have increased by $100 million since 2008 — from $168 million in 2008 to $268 million in 2013.

There are some 140 VQA wineries eligible to apply for sales at Ontario’s 200 farmers’ markets.

Shantz explained that the market is not involved in the process, as it’s up to the wineries to apply for an extension of the license needed to sell their wines from their own premises. That’s handled by the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario.

The market does, however, have control over applications for vendor space. in the case of  wineries, the market had several applications – “they apply like any other vendor” – from which they selected two, said Shantz.

That decision hinged on a couple of things: St. Jacobs sees this as something of its own pilot project and, due to the fire last year that destroyed the main building, space is at a bit of a premium in the temporary quarters.

“Really, there isn’t a ton of space,” he said

In selecting the two wineries now vending at the market, the operators wanted to go with wineries that aren’t extensively represented at the LCBO or grocery stores, in keeping with their philosophy of helping small businesses, Shantz explained.

The LCBO, for instance, isn’t always an ideal outlet for small wineries that don’t turn out large volumes. Farmers’ markets are a good outlet for those winemakers.

“There is a method to our madness when we do this stuff,” he laughed.

Shantz notes that people can buy wine at a grocery store, and because there are those who choose to buy their groceries at the market, this program offers them convenient, one-stop shopping.

While the program may not be in line with everyone’s sensibilities, the St. Jacobs market has a varied customer base, and there’s been nothing but good reports thus far.

“It’s been very positive. It’s an experiment –so far, so good,” he said, with the wineries fitting right in.

“They’re there the same as any other vendor.”

The pilot project was welcomed by the organization representing local markets, Farmers’ Markets Ontario (FMO).

“This is a positive step forward in supporting FMO’s ongoing efforts to bring consumers what they want at the farmers’ market level,” said Bob Chorney, FMO executive director, in a release.

The organization had pushed for changes to the province’s liquor laws to include the sale of all locally produced wines at farmers’ markets. Other provinces, most recently British Columbia, recognize the benefits to both fruit producers and their customers, and have allowed the sale of locally produced craft beer, wine and cider at its farmers’ markets.

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