Award-winning winery embittered by VQA's 'Soviet-style' grape rules
Tweed-area vintner has won international competitions, but can't sell wines at Ontario farmers markets
A vintner near Tweed, Ont., who took home two medals last month from an international competition says he's frustrated with VQA Ontario's certification process, which doesn't recognize some of the grapes he uses.
Potter Settlement Vineyards and Artisan Winery won silver for its Cabernet Franc at the 2018 San Francisco International Wine Competition, and a gold with its Marquette, which also earned honours at the 2017 InterVin International Wine Awards.
This kind of smacks of Soviet-style governance.- Sandor Johnson, Potter Settlement Artisan Winery
The Marquette is a hybrid grape, developed by the University of Minnesota to survive in a cold climate.
"For some reason it smells like blue flowers and violets, like an old-world Bordeaux. So in a blind tasting, the judges ... think they're drinking something that's very expensive," explained actor/model/winemaker Sandor Johnson, owner of Potter Settlement Artisan Winery, on CBC Radio's Ontario Morning.
But if you're thinking of picking up a bottle or two from the LCBO or a farmers market, you're out of luck.
Marquette grape not recognized
Because the Marquette hybrid isn't on VQA Ontario's list of approved grape varieties, Johnson is prohibited from selling it at farmers markets in the province. As for the LCBO, he said he could only sell it there if he was OK with the product being taxed at 53 per cent.
"And that just makes it unfeasible," Johnson said.
"[The VQA] decide what consumers get to drink in Ontario based on their tastes. This kind of smacks of Soviet-style governance," he said. "Right now we're going through the red tape to try to get them to recognize the grape, which is really unfortunate," he added.
VQA certification voluntary
But Laurie Macdonald, VQA Ontario's executive director, rejected the idea that her organization is preventing Johnson from selling his product.
"It is essentially voluntary for wineries. You can make and sell [any kind of] wine in Ontario without the VQA certification," she told Ontario Morning. "The only place that it is restricted to VQA is farmers markets."
She said she can't speak to the rate of taxation, which isn't controlled by the VQA. As for adding new grapes to its list of approved varieties, there's a system in place, she said.
"The regulation does include a list of grape varieties that are permitted, and they're based on historical experience with grapes that grow well here and make wine here."
"There is a process for getting new grape varieties on the list. It's not too complicated. You have to fill out a form and apply, because we are a regulated agency. We do periodically add new grape varieties as they become planted in Ontario and there's some experience with them and they demonstrate they make quality wine."
A consultation process about bringing the Marquette grape onto the VQA's list is already underway, Macdonald added.
CBC Radio's Ontario Morning