Provincial rules frustrate local winery 0
Moon Shadows Estate Winery owner Eric Thompson is frustrated by the provincial system in place, restricting the success of his business, that offers greater support for the large wineries relative to small operations like his. DARREN LUM/HALIBURTON ECHO/QMI AGENCY
Producing wines in Ontario can be frustrating.
Small producers like Eric Thompson, who founded the Haliburton-based Moon Shadows Estates Winery with wife Carol, know too well ways government regulations work against them.
That reality involves provincial restrictions imposed by the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) and the Vintners Quality Alliance of Ontario (VQA).
The LCBO controls all provincial alcohol sales and the VQA controls and certifies who can be regarded as "made in Ontario."
The 1999 VQA Act enables VQA-members to save their money while non-VQA members must pay to sell their wine to bars, restaurants and the LCBO.
"As far as I've been able to find out we all pay the same licensing fees so it doesn't matter how big your winery is in Ontario . and yet there are some privileges to some and not to all," Thompson said. He pays close to $1,500 every two years.
Thompson said the current rules dictate that he is virtually locked into selling his wine from his premises, as other options such as through restaurants and the LCBO are cost prohibitive.
He must give a 10 per cent discount to restaurants and bars, including 58 per cent for each bottle sold to the LCBO (not to mention HST and wine taxes for what is sold), whereas VQA members do not.
For a $10 bottle of wine, he said, he could make as little as $2, depending on the cost of production.
"I don't think people realize what small wineries are dealing with," he said.
Thompson produces between 4,000 and 5,000 bottles a year and would love to satisfy demand requested by restaurants out of the county such as in Ottawa. However when rules state he incur the cost of delivery himself it just doesn't make financial sense.
Wineries that produce non-grape wines are not eligible to be a VQA member, as only wineries that produce wines with grapes grown on Pelee Island, the Niagara Peninsula or in Prince Edward County will qualify. For the producers that don't qualify it means a big no to labeling a wine as "made in Ontario."
The importance of which does not escape Thompson, since other products can claim to be local even if bottled or canned in Ontario when it imports its contents.
It's been an uphill battle from the outset,he said. As the only maple syrup winery in Ontario, it took the Thompsons two years to have changes implemented so they could produce and sell their wines within the guidelines originally set. Without an official government category for a maple syrup based wine, the province dictated they should be included in fruit-based wines, except to do that they needed a minimum of five acres of fruit.
The retired teacher recalls how a meeting in 2004 with the Alcohol Gaming Commission in Toronto changed everything for them and the winery landscape.
He and his wife met and spoke for close to an hour, pleading their case.
Two weeks later the commission provided the changes and enabled the Thompsons to produce maple and fruit wines.
Unlike the giant wine producers, he said, small wineries have little influence when it comes to catching the attention of politicians.
Small wineries like his are represented by the Fruit Wines of Ontario and the Ontario Vintners Association, which have well in excess of 100 wineries.
He hopes that the provincial alcohol restrictions will relax through these two lobby groups. As of last year there were 206 licensed wineries in Ontario with 124 wineries being VQA members.
Although the rules and regulations that he must work under are a constant frustration, Thompson is appreciative of the various employees of the LCBO and the Alcohol Gaming Commission who have all been helpful and professional.
"I haven't run into one that hasn't been helpful," he said.
For all these obvious challenges, Thompson still smiles when discussing the business of making wine, as it includes interactions with the customers and endless opportunities to meet people.
Both aspects that are rewarding for a hobby they love . warts and all.