Ontario Report

Wine Access, November 2005

Hubs to cap urban encroachment
Renato Romanin of the Niagara Economic Development Corporation is taking a Wine Council vision and running with it - and their "Communities as Hubs" plan should be good news for the Niagara. The grape-growing lands of Niagara are not only small in area, they also face intense development pressure from both population growth and the boom in wine tourism. Romanin would like to see ancillary tourist services concentrated in existing town centres. The 50 kilometre Wine Route, from Grimsby to Niagara on the Lake, passes through a number of towns which, with their dollar stores, diners and lacklustre shops, could certainly be made more tourist-friendly. "We want to take advantage of the visitors to the wineries and encourage them to stay longer and enjoy other experiences - more boutiques, restaurants, sightseeing and cultural activities," said Romanin. "We will research to find the most viable locations, including specific sites or redevelopment opportunities, and then take that to prospective developers." This "will take the pressure off the agricultural and escarpment lands by focusing new developments in the urban areas, where it should be," said Romanin. "The Jordan Village model is exactly what we'd like to see happen. We think we can create similar hubs along the route." The project is supported by Niagara Region, the Ministry of Tourism, the Wine Council, the Grape Growers of Ontario, and the municipalities of Grimsby, Lincoln, St. Catharines and Niagara on the Lake. Consultants are currently preparing their bids to take the project forward. If successful, the plan will mean wine enthusiasts can look forward to better food, shopping, and cultural events in the towns they now drive through on the way to the next winery. Most importantly, however, the plan will deflect development from the precious acreage that must be preserved for the grapes.

Council Creates Environmental Strategy
The Wine Council of Ontario is creating a one-stop environmental guide designed specifically for wineries and grape growers. The guide will detail requirements from different government ministries and agencies, and advise on best practice. "Quite a few of our wineries now, like Stratus, Flat Rock and East Dell are already environmentally forward, and we want to take the whole wine industry to a place where they can evaluate their winery, based on a set of criteria, and compare other wineries' progress on environmental issues and look at how they can move their own winery to a higher level," said Wine Council president Linda Franklin. No environmental disaster looms over Niagara, but the council's initiative aims to pre-empt environmental problems and ensure that wineries and vineyards are sustainable. "The wine industry worldwide is looking at this - New Zealand and California have both released sustainable winemaking plans. It's about looking at wineries as stewards of the land. There's also a view that this is where consumer concerns will be in a few years - they'll be looking at environmental issues when they choose wines." The initial report was completed in the early fall, and the council is currently "workshopping" the recommendations with growers, viticulturalists and others. Narelle Martin, an environmental consultant, is expected to complete the revisions and release the final document in time for next year's growing season.

Consolidation of the Nation
Boutique wineries continue to sprout, but some operators believe bigger is better. Industry giant Andrés Wines, with annual sales of around $170 million and brands like Peller, Hillebrand and Trius, took over the prestigious Thirty Bench winery, which hasn't been making much of a splash at awards lately. Small wineries are often hampered by lack of money - and Andrés can offer much better access to capital, said Greg Berti, Vice President of Estate Wines for the Andrés Group. "Our intention is to invest significantly in the winemaking equipment and facilities. Plans have been commissioned for additional buildings and cellars, and this year, we installed new cooling jackets for the riesling tanks and some smaller fermentation vessels for red wines." Andrés will help with distribution too, through their retail stores and network of licencees. Total production capacity at Thirty Bench is around 10,000 cases. In the past, Thirty Bench would sell grapes to other wineries, but once capacity is boosted, they will use all the grapes themselves. Thirty Bench will continue to operate independently and winemakers Tom Muckle and Yorgos Papageorgiou have stayed on. At the other end of the consolidation spectrum, Niagara Cellars (EastDell Estates and Thomas & Vaughan) merged with Diamond Wines (Lakeview Cellars and Birchwood Estates), to become Ontario's ninth largest wine producer under the Niagara Cellars name. Murray Marshall, co-founder of Diamond Estates, is Chief Operating Officer of Niagara Cellars. The wineries are within six miles of each other, which means achieving synergies is that much easier. "We've increased the traffic in every one of the properties through cross-promotion and collaborative marketing. "However, the most important piece of the puzzle is greater distribution for the East Dell, Lakeview and Diamond brands through the expanded sales and marketing network at Diamond Estates. "We have two consignment wine licences and we are now able to introduce these brands to some of our 'white table cloth' clientele, who can be reluctant to take domestic wines." Marshall, who is a board director for the Wine Council of Ontario, has worked in the Niagara industry for nearly 20 years and he is sure that there's more consolidation on the way, "sooner rather than later," he said.

Earth to Art
Globe-trotting German artist Ekkeland Goetze was scheduled to spend a month in Prince Edward County collecting two to three kilogram soil samples from 20 vineyards, from which he created around 50 of his quirky "terragraphics," - silkscreen prints using, um, soil. Blizzmax Gallery in Picton sponsored the show. See his work at www.ekkeland.de.

New Sticker for PEC Wine
Some producers in Prince Edward County, Ontario's newest wine area, are now ready to step out on their own, and they want you to know it. In previous years, producers in the region had been granted a special exemption to use grapes from other areas as its wineries developed. The Prince Edward County Winegrowers Association is promoting authenticity with this new "made in the County" seal. Look for it on the bottle if you want to be sure that 100 per cent of the grapes used were grown in the county.

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