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The flood gates are open: VQA wines for sale at farmers’ markets in Ontario starting Saturday


It is as progressive as Ontario’s Liberal government is going to get with its backwards, antiquated and regressive policies regarding the sale booze in this province, but it is a tiny step in the right direction.

And it all starts this weekend.

Farmers’ markets in the province have been given the green light to sell Ontario VQA wines at select markets beginning this weekend.

Markets in London, Picton, St. Catharines, Stratford and both the St. Lawrence Farmers’ Market and Evergreen Brick Works market in Toronto have been granted licences (so far) to allow the sale of wine starting Saturday (see chart below for other locations).


Already, wineries are starting to get in on the action.

A group of Niagara wineries (from the “Somewhereness”  gang) plan on being at the Brick Works Saturday.

Charles Baker, owner of his namesake Riesling project and marketing and sales director for Stratus, says a number of Somewhereness wineries from the 12 members of the elite group will be at Brick Works Saturday including Stratus, Southbrook, Norman Hardie, Cave Spring Cellars, Frogpond, Tawse, 13th Street, Flat Rock and Reimer while others will participate on a rotating basis. Baker’s wines will be there on May 10.

He says the farmers’ market model isn’t perfect, but it’s something new and another avenue for retail sales and his group jumped at the chance to participate.

“It’s not ideal,” he says. “But it’s not bad either. It’s a good first step.”


Baker will be at Brick Works bright and early Saturday at 8 a.m. pouring Stratus wines and hopefully selling bottles and cases of wine to consumers.

“Brick Works is a terrific market,” he says. “We look at it as an extension of our retail licence.”

Where the market project falls down, says Baker, is in the rule that dictates that wineries have to return their unsold wines back to the winery after each day. That makes it prohibitive for Niagara wineries to participate in markets in Ottawa, Prince Edward County or other areas too far to get to and back in one day.

Southbrook Vineyards’ director of sales and marketing, Paul DeCampo, said his winery will also be at the St. Lawrence Market (North) and the Brick Works on Saturday and every week going forward at least through the summer.

“We will also be at Wychwood Barn (Bracondale Hill area of Toronto) when they start their program on May 17, and then on a as-yet-undefined rotation going forward,” he said.

Wines will be available for tasting and for sale beginning at 7 a.m. Here’s what will be available:

For Sample and Sale:
2012 Connect White (Organic) $14.95
2012 Triomphe Chardonnay (Organic) $22.95
2012 Triomphe Cabernet Franc Rosé (Organic) $19.95
2012 Connect Red (Organic) $15.95
2012 Triomphe Cabernet Franc (Organic / Biodynamic) $21.95

For Sale Only:
2011 Whimsy! “Damy” Chardonnay (Organic / Biodynamic) $34.95
2007 Poetica Cabernet Merlot (Organic / Biodynamic) $54.95

In St. Catharines, the Market Square in the downtown core will start seeing the sale of VQA wines beginning next Thursday. Three wineries, including Pillitteri, Diamond Estate Wines and GreenLane Estate Winery, will test the pilot project.

Jeff Letvenuk, Pillitteri’s director of marketing, told the St. Catharines Standard this week that his winery is excited by the potential of the new retail avenue.

“This is going to be a very important channel for us,” he told the paper. “It allows us to reach that other consumer demographic, one that wants that local and hand-made farm-to-table product, which VQA wine is.

“We plan to do many other farmers’ markets. And we hope to participate in as many as the program will allow.”

There are a host of restrictions for wineries to sell their wines at markets, including:

Each authorized winery can only sell VQA wine up to three times a week at a market.

Each day the wine must be brought from the winery’s on-site retail store to the farmers’ market and unsold bottles returned later to the store.

All staff involved in the farmers’ market sales must be certified by Smart Serve.

See here for a Q & A from the AGCO on what you can and cannot do when selling wines at market.

It’s hard to be totally over the moon with this tiny gesture from the Ontario Liberals, and it is only a two-year pilot project, but I do see potential for Ontario wineries if they play their cards right.

Selling wine alongside locally produced produce at large markets such as St. Lawrence and Brick Works has the potential to be of value for wineries to sell wines consumers don’t normally have access to at the LCBO. It’s a tiny step toward the ultimate goal: the dismantling of the LCBO’s monopoly on retail sales of wine and alcohol in this province.

Any step we can take to get closer to that is cause for celebration.