A one-time provincial grant of $10 million could buoy 280 Ontario wineries whose livelihood got corked by the pandemic.
“It is certainly a welcome relief to many, many wineries that have been shuttered,” said Debbie Zimmerman.
“They’re the backbone of the small communities across Prince Edward County, southwestern Ontario, and of course Niagara. They’re the ones that have been the backbone of the industry.”
Why it matters: Although the online sales have helped wineries forced to shutter tasting rooms, the loss of agri-tourism, hospitality and wedding sales left some teetering on the edge, said the CEO for Grape Growers of Ontario.
“We’re an agri-tourism business. People don’t want to come to a bottling plant – they come to see and taste the wine,” said Zimmerman. “Have the experience of a winery, look at the vineyards, or understand the varietals and what makes up a bottle of wine that is grown in Ontario.”
The Ontario budget also included a $1.2 million extension for the Small Distillery Support Program, $7.5 million for the VQA Wine Support Program and $5.3 million for Marketing, Tourism, Export Development; Performance Measurement and Research and Innovation Development Initiatives.
Zimmerman said the grant and industry investment solidifies Ontario recognizing the value of the ‘100 per cent made in Ontario’ brand and domestic market.
“The food service industry reduced to a crawl, the tourist industry not being out there – there wasn’t an awful lot of opportunity (for wineries),” said Ernie Hardeman, Ontario Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. “The grant will help wineries struggling to hold on and pay the bills until the province opens up and they can get bottles back onto tables.”
Once the province opens fully, Hardeman anticipates local wineries will not only hit pre-pandemic demand for Ontario wine products, they will exceed them.
“It’ll be a whole new ballgame,” he said. “We’ll be the first ones there purchasing Ontario wine.”