The Minister of Government and Consumer Services has approved an amendment to VQA wine regulation, adding a new grape variety, Marquette, to the list of approved grape varieties and allowing for the production to non-vintage dated table wines. In both cases, these wines will be classified as “VQA Ontario” and not designated with smaller appellations of origin.
“We are very pleased the Minister has approved Marquette for use in VQA wines and extended the option of blending wine across vintages to allow for non-vintage VQA table wines. These changes provide new tools for Ontario winemakers who are striving to make the best wine possible, year in and year out in our unique climate,” said Brian Schmidt, Chair of the Board of Directors of VQA Ontario.
These changes resulted from separate requests submitted to VQA Ontario by Ontario wineries. Following a technical review and stakeholder consultation, VQA Ontario recommended the amendments to the Minister for approval. The regulatory changes take effect immediately, allowing wineries to apply for VQA certification for Marquette or non-vintage table wines for existing and future inventory.
Marquette is a red grape cultivar that was developed in Minnesota through a breeding program to develop quality wine grapes. It is established in Ontario, notably in emerging wine regions and established a track record in producing quality wines. It is winter hardy and exhibits high disease and pest resistance.
Historically, VQA regulations have required all wines except Sparkling and Fortified wines be labelled with a vintage date and be sourced from at least 85% of grapes grown in the declared vintage. The amendment permits wineries to blend multiple vintages together and omit the vintage date from the label. If a vintage date is declared, the wine must meet the minimum 85% content requirement. This change allows wineries more flexibility to ensure quality and consistency across production cycles.
Following a review and stakeholder consultation, the VQA Ontario Board recommended to the Minister of Government and Consumer Services that VQA Regulation 406 be amended as follows:
- Add Marquette to the list of permitted hybrid grape varieties (Appendix B 2. (i))
- Permit still Table Wines carrying the geographical indication “Ontario” to the list of wines to omit the vintage date from labels
VQA Ontario brought forward these amendments after a lengthy evaluation process including a technical assessment by its Standards Development Committee, the review of many written submissions and informal comments, including suggestions to review the regulatory framework. The changes support VQA Ontario’s strategic goal to be a progressive and inclusive regulator.
Here is some further background on the process.
VQAO received a request from a winery to amend the VQA regulation to add Marquette to the list of permitted grape varieties. VQAO has long-standing policy guidelines that govern the evaluation of new varieties. In accordance with these guidelines the proponent provided:
- Detailed records of parentage and breeding history
- Confirmation that Marquette is the recognized horticultural name of the variety
- Wines resulting from at least 2 vintages of production in Ontario for sensory evaluation
- A detailed rationale on why this new variety is expected to produce high quality wines in Ontario, including wine style and quality, market experience and consumer reaction, disease resistance, cold hardiness and sustainability
VQA Ontario’s Standards Development Committee, comprised of 14 senior winemakers and representatives from Brock University, Niagara College and the LCBO, reviewed the request and found the submission to meet the technical requirements set out in the policy. A range of wine samples made from Marquette grown in Ontario were tasted and found to be of good quality. Based on its review, the Committee concluded the Marquette met the criteria and recommended it be added to the permitted list of hybrid varieties.
Wineries and stakeholders were consulted over a 3-month period and, although not unanimous, the change was supported by a large majority of those submitting comments. After reviewing feedback from the industry, the VQA Ontario Board agreed that Marquette met all established policy guidelines and VQA Ontario’s Wine Appellation Authority including it on the grape variety list was consistent with consumer interests and with VQA Ontario’s strategic vision and mission.
In accordance with current rules governing wines made with hybrid grapes, these wines must declare the varietal name on the label and may be labelled with the VQA Ontario designation of origin only.
Non-vintage dated table wines:
VQAO received a request from a winery to amend the VQA regulation to allow the option to omit the vintage date on the label of VQA table wines that would be eligible for the VQA Ontario label designation only. The proposal was advanced to allow wineries to blend across vintages beyond the existing 15% limit to better control consistency and quality from year to year and to have more flexibility in managing inventory and labels.
Wineries and stakeholders were consulted over a 3-month period and the change was supported by a large majority of those submitting comments. After reviewing feedback from the industry, VQA Ontario found the proposed amendment to be consistent with VQAO’s strategic objectives and mission, allowing wineries more flexibility to choose what products to market. To ensure label integrity, wines with any mention of a vintage date on the label will continue to require 85% content from the stated vintage.