Province launches Winery Agri-Tourism Relief Initiative

Ontario’s alcoholic beverage industry raised a glass to the province’s Winery Agri-Tourism Relief Initiative (WATRI) grant launched July 20.

The province has provided a one-time $10 million grant to offset a decline in winery and cidery’s on-site store sales and increased COVID-19 safety measure costs during the pandemic.

WATRI will disperse the grants in September 2021.

Why it matters: The pandemic significantly impacted rural communities and the province’s Agri-tourism, which drives many small and medium-sized winery and cideries foot traffic and sales.

“Supporting local, home grown wineries is important from a number of economic perspectives, including local job creation, capital investments and tourism impacts,” said Carolyn Hurst, chair of Ontario Craft Wineries. “Given the challenges of the past year, this funding will help support the recovery and sustainability of our sector.”

“COVID-19 shuttered most of Ontario’s wineries, and this critical support will help rebuild our small and medium wineries that struggled through the last 18 months of business disruption,” said Matthias Oppenlaender, chair of the Grape Growers of Ontario. “Ontario produces world-class wines made from 100 per cent locally grown grapes, and this $10 million grant provides much-needed support to the whole value chain.”

WATRI grants are calculated based on the 2020-21 sale of wine and cider from eligible on-site store businesses in operation before March 17, 2020. Applications were sent out by Agricorp beginning July 20, 2021, and must be submitted by August 6 for consideration.

“Ontario’s wineries and cideries have told us their businesses are being hit hard by the economic impacts of this pandemic and the cancellation of large events and tours,” said Lisa Thompson, Ontario Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA). “Our government is taking the necessary steps to provide these businesses with the support they need to continue operating, recover and maintain these good jobs in the agri-food sector.”

The new relief initiative builds on existing government programs to protect jobs and support local producers, including the extension of the VQA Wine Support Program and Small Cidery and Small Distillery Support program to 2022-2023.