Friday, March 5, 2010

 

GRAPES AND WRATH

Infrastructure supporting the emerging wine producing regions of Chile has been seriously incapacitated by the recent earthquake which rocked South-America's most advanced nation. It's one more blow to the bitter harvest of wine producers from the effects of last year's global recession.

Canadian wineries have been among the worst affected; not just because of the recession but just as much by the poor weather during the summer of 2009 and passport rules which have choked-off U.S. visitors to the wine regions of Ontario and British Columbia. In the fertile Niagara peninsula it is estimated that as much as 10,000 tons of grapes died on the vines last fall because they could not be sold.

The producers of the premium wines have been among the most vocal and most affected. They claim that poor government regulations have compounded the situation and are killing this internationally recognized industry. It involves a so-called labelling loop-hole which some say has hoodwinked consumers into believing wines labelled "Cellared In Canada" are actually Canadian.

The Vintners Quality Alliance through its VQA Label ensures that wineries adhere to regulations which require that the product is made with 100 per cent grapes grown on Canadian soil. But: Under a separate program which was adopted by the Canadian Standards Board in 1996, wines designated "Cellared in Canada" actually contain anywhere from 70% (in Ontario) to 100% (in British-Columbia) of wine which comes from cheaper foreign producing countries (including Chile)...as long as it's been bottled in Canada.

As many as 50,000 tonnes of wine a year are imported to be used in bottles that will be labelled "Cellared in Canada." In its most recent estimates from 2008, 3.3 million litres of VQA Ontario wines were sold...compared with 23 Million litres of "Cellared in Canada" wines. It's a wine labelling nightmare which several experts claim has tarnished Canada's reputation..."if a country can't sort out its wine labelling, why should the rest of the world take it seriously?"

The importers of the foreign wines say it's never been their intention to deceive anyone or confuse consumers. In fact the three largest producers plan to roll-out new labels to clarify the content. On the west coast, British-Columbia's Minister of Agriculture has threatened that otherwise, the wines made from foreign grapes will be moved-out of the B.C. products section of government liquor stores.

Climate change and advances in hybrid grape growing could encourage additional regions to develop a wine industry. But, producers in Ontario in particular say the "Cellared in Canada" controversy is killing progress and the advances made in the latter years of the 20th century. They say consumers think they are buying local products when that may not be the case.

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