Ontario is relaxing provincial liquor laws to allow homegrown wines to be sold at farmers' markets.
VQA wines, which are made only with Ontario grapes, will be available along with seasonal vegetables and fruits, Premier Kathleen Wynne said Monday.
Broadening the availability of Ontario wines is part of a five-year, $75-million plan to support local wineries and help the sector grow, Wynne said.
"You're more than just fruit growers and winemakers, you're catalysts for tourism and for new business," she said at Niagara College.
Ontario wines didn't always have an international reputation for excellence, she said.
"There was a time not that long ago — and well within my living memory — when people did not buy wines from Ontario," said Wynne, who also serves as agriculture minister.
"They were not seen as high enough quality, they weren't seen as having enough ... cache. But they do."
Allan Schmidt, chairman of the Wine Council of Ontario, said they've been asking for additional retail access for two years.
"This is predominantly going to help the small winery operations in Ontario that are family-run affairs that may already beat farmers' markets because they're selling other fruit or vegetables from their farm," he said.
"And this will allow them to have a direct conduit to consumers in a way that we've never had before."
Wynne has repeatedly rejected calls to allow corner stores to sell beer and wine, but she promised to broaden their availability through speciality outlets and grocery stores.
The Liquor Control Board of Ontario is also establishing Ontario wine boutiques to offer consumers a wider array of VQA wines, Wynne said.
But the New Democrats questioned whether Wynne's change of heart had more to do with politics than promoting local products.
"With a byelection looming in Niagara, the Liberals are suddenly getting behind an idea New Democrats proposed years ago," New Democrat Gilles Bisson said in a statement.
"Unfortunately, we've heard promises before, only to see good ideas disappear into a sea of Liberal panels and secretariats. We're going to keep working to ensure this leads to results: new markets for grape growers who need them."
Liberal Kim Craitor paved the way for a byelection in Niagara Falls when he resigned his seat in September after a decade in provincial politics.
Wynne, who has yet to call the byelection, announced later in the day that city councillor Joyce Morocco would be the Liberal candidate.
The Liberals say their wine and grape plan, launched in 2009, also includes a fund to purchase specialized equipment and machinery, as well as better local and global marketing for wines.
It also includes a wine secretariat — led by Wynne and veteran cabinet minister Jim Bradley — to reduce red tape and help grape growers and wineries be more competitive, the government said.
British Columbia Premier Christy Clark announced last week that her province's wines, beers and spirits would be available next spring at farmers' markets, festivals and competitions.