News & Notes on the Canadian Wine Industry

By: Briana Tomkinson

Across Canada, provincial governments are slowly loosening restrictions for producers and retailers of wine, beer and alcoholic craft beverages. For most in the industry, relaxing regulations on what can be produced and where it can be sold can’t happen fast enough.

  Federal and provincial governments are also investing heavily in new programs to encourage Canadian winemakers to scale up their businesses, as well as agricultural science initiatives to improve growing efficiency and reduce crop threats.

  Meanwhile, one researcher at a Canadian university has proven that wine-drinkers really can judge a bottle by its label. Read on for more on these and other stories about what’s going on in Canada’s wine industry.

B.C. to Allow Imported Wine in Grocery Stores

  In July, British Columbia amended its laws to allow licensed grocery stores to stock wine from anywhere in the world. Previously, the province had only permitted locally produced wines with a Vintners Quality Alliance designation on grocery shelves.

  The previous policy caused friction with international trade partners, including the U.S., the Eu-ropean Union and New Zealand, who have all lodged complaints with the World Trade Organi-zation.

  According to an article published in Business In Vancouver magazine, there are at least 29 gro-cery stores in the province that are permitted to sell British Columbia VQA wine. Prior to 2015, wine could not be sold in the province’s grocery stores.

  The trend to open alcohol sales channels beyond the provincial liquor distribution board outlets is continuing in Ontario too. The provincial government announced in June that it would soon change the rules to allow sales of wine and beer in corner and grocery stores.

  According to an Oct. 5 article in CBC News, Ontario distilleries are now lobbying for permission to sell spirits in these outlets too. This follows recommendations from the Ontario Chamber of Commerce published in July that recommend making it easier for customers to buy all types of alcohol, including allowing online liquor sales.

Ontario Invests $15-Million to Grow Wine, Beer and Craft Beverage Industry

  In late September, the government of Ontario announced a plan to invest $15 million to boost local wineries, microbreweries and distilleries. The one-year transition funding is targeted at helping wineries grow their VQA business, promoting Ontario wine tourism, providing support for cideries and distilleries to scale up and expand their operations, as well as improving mar-keting, tourism, export and research initiatives.

The government also announced it would reduce red tape for producers. The changes will in-cluding allowing wineries, cideries and distilleries to keep serving booze in their tasting rooms until midnight, instead of being required to close at 9 p.m., and making it easier for producers to sell at farmers’ markets.

This news follows a few other notable funding announcements in the sector.

In August, the federal and provincial governments announced $75,000 in new funding to ad-vance the production of locally grown grapes in the Niagara region.

  A part of the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, the new fund includes $67,600 to develop a modern weather network with real-time information that will enhance eGrape, an existing in-dustry database. The database provides growers with information that can improve efficiency and productivity. The fund also includes $8,700 for an analysis of the wash water used to clean grape harvesters and to survey grape growers about water use practices.

  The Canadian Agricultural Partnership is a five-year, $3 billion commitment from federal, pro-vincial and territorial governments to improve Canada’s agri-food and agri-product sectors. 

  According to the Grape Growers of Ontario, grapes grown for Ontario wines contribute more than $4 billion annually to the province’s economy. The industry employs over 18,000 people.

Turns Out You Really Can Judge a Wine by Its Label

  New research from the University of British Columbia suggests that looks really do count—when it comes to wine, at least.

  Through a series of online surveys and in-person tests designed to determine each person’s branding and taste preference, the UBC study found that people were more likely to enjoy wine from a bottle with a design that reflected their personal identity.

  In a CBC News report on the findings, researcher Darcen Esau, a wine marketing consultant, said people thought the wine tasted better when they identified with the imagery on the label—no matter what was actually in their glass.

  The study, released in spring 2019, was conducted as part of Esau’s master’s program at UBC. Esau has since gone on to found TasteAdvisor (, an app that rec-ommends British Columbia wines, wineries and wine events or experiences based on your per-sonal profile and preferences.

Canadian Cidermaker Spared Paying $2 Million in Duties After Court Declares Cider is Wine

  A recent ruling by the Federal Court of Appeal found that a Canadian cidery was not required to pay the roughly $2 million in duties demanded by the Canadian government because the cider was technically considered Canadian-made wine, and therefore exempt.

  According to the Excise Act, any alcoholic beverage made from fermenting plants (except for grains) is considered wine. That’s important because the Canadian government imposes ex-cise duties on alcohol, but makes exceptions for Canadian-made wine.

  The Canada Revenue Agency argued that because Okanagan Premium Cider and Extra Hard Cider, produced by the Mark Anthony Group, was made using foreign-sourced apple juice concentrate and, in the case of the extra hard cider, foreign-produced spirits, the beverages were no longer “Canadian” and the alcohol duties should apply.

  The case centered on a key question: when exactly is wine “produced?” The judge determined that the test of a wine’s “Canadian-ness” should be applied at the time of fermentation, not bottling. He also noted that, if the assessment happened at the bottling stage, the addition of water, commonly added to cider after fermentation, would automatically disqualify the product from being wine since water is not a plant grown in Canada. 

164 wineries to showcase at Vancouver International Wine Festival next year

  The 42nd annual Vancouver International Wine Festival (, scheduled for Feb. 22 to March 1, 2020, will feature 164 wineries from 15 countries pouring over 650 varieties of wine.

  The festival has been named the top food, wine and hospitality event in Canada by New York’s BizBash for seven years running, and was recently named the best North American interna-tional wine festival by LUX Life Magazine.

  Just over 40 of the participating wineries are from this year’s featured country of France, with another 70 from North America. There will also be representatives from wineries in Italy, Ger-many, Croatia, Romania and the Iberian peninsula, as well as two Sake producers from Japan.

  Tasting events will feature over 200 French wines, and the country’s wines will be celebrated in more than two dozen more activities, including vine star seminars, vintage tastings, winery din-ners, a wine party and a Saturday lunch, Bon Appétit, which will feature all 43 participating French wineries. The festival will spotlight rosé wines from around the world, with an estimated 75 varieties to taste, many from Provence.

  The main event will take place at the Vancouver Convention Centre, however more than 25 res-taurants and other venues will host wine-related events all over town. Discounted advance tickets went on sale Nov. 6 while public event tickets go on sale Jan. 8. Tickets for trade events are on sale Jan. 22.

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