I had an interesting conversation with a journalist earlier this week where we discussed many things related to non-VQA wines in Ontario.
He asked me how I felt about operating a winery in Ontario. My response was that I was an idiot for investing in a jurisdiction that clearly had no interest in offering any real support to my business.
My answer caught him off-guard.
I do not believe in corporate welfare. I believe that a well thought-out business plan, executed in a prudent and focused manner is the key to success... that, and a lot of hard work. A level playing field would also be beneficial.
I climbed up on my soapbox and complained about the obvious bias the Government of Ontario has in favour of VQA wines, such as a tax subsidy, preferred access to marketing assistance programs, exclusive access to Farmers' Markets, and so on. In fact, our current when our Government refers to Ontario wine, they are speaking exclusively about VQA wines. Wines made from cold-hardy grapes, fruit, and honey wines do not merit mention. It is a drum I have been beating for years, along with my colleagues that make up the Eastern Ontario Wine Producers association.
I must be honest. After a while, I sound like a broken record (corrupted digital download for you Millennials...). However, the matter is no closer to being resolved since the Premier Wynne and Minister Sousa (Finance Minister) are seemingly not interested in listening to opinions that differ from their ideology. I recently penned a letter to Premier Wynne and Minister Sousa asking directly why tax subsidies continued to be offered to one group of wine producers in Ontario, but not the other, continued to be in place. The response I received was clearly a form letter and did not even come close to addressing the question. I joked that it was as if I had asked for the time and received the bus schedule in response.
It is hard not to be cynical about the Government machine when it becomes so difficult to get a simple answer.
So here we sit, two years into a one year pilot project which allows VQA wines to be sold at farmers' markets with no public report on the results and no affirmation that the program will be expanded or discontinued.
I estimated that I could increase my sales volume by at least 25% and provide part-time employment to at least 4 people if I was allowed to sell my wine at Farmers' markets in the Ottawa region.
Those sales (net of the 42% tax and fees I pay to the Treasury) would be enough money for me to possibly expand my business, invest in marketing, and possibly attend seminars that would help me improve our production methods. I asked for this in lieu of hand-outs.
Instead, I received the equivalent of a bus schedule. I was told that Ontario regulations were in place to ensure that citizens consumed alcohol in a responsible manner and that statistically, Ontario had one of the lowest DUI convictions in North America (I am paraphrasing).
Perhaps, and it is a long shot, the Government could take a moment to get out of the way of people trying to succeed. Perhaps it is time for the pilot project to expand, disappear, or come clean and say that it was always meant to favour one group over another.
Another subject that came up during our conversation had to do with the ability of non-VQA wines to succeed at local wine competitions. We joked (there was a lot of laughing during the conversation) about how non-VQA wines from Ottawa and Muskoka Lakes were winning prizes in other jurisdictions such as the Finger Lakes in New York, but could barely muster an honourable mention in Ontario.
OK, I sound like a broken record, but these are real concerns for those of us who took leave of our senses and decided to enter the wine business in Ontario. In retrospect, I sometimes wonder if I should not have simply taken my investment and set up shop in a jurisdiction that operates on principles not based in the 1800s; one such as British Columbia, Quebec or any of the Maritime provinces.
Perhaps I need to look to exporting our wine to foreign countries; to do so would require the involvement of the Federal Government and they are genuinely interested in helping. I wonder if my wine was to sell in a foreign Country, would the Premier's office call to ask if they could participate in a photo-op?
Perhaps I should just wait the 2 years for my American-born daughter to reach 18 and make her the President of a winery 15 minutes away in Ogdensburg, New York. The equipment can easily be moved; the land and buildings sold for profit. I also understand that the State Government and City Council actually welcomes new wineries. That may prove easier than getting anyone in Queen’s Park to pay attention; after all, it’s not like we produce real wine anyway, is it Premier Wynne?
I commend you for reading this far. Yes, you may be shaking your head, but if you walk away with the slightest interest in learning more about the non-VQA wines of Ontario, in the very least you will be rewarded with a discovery of hidden treasures. It will make it all worthwhile.