Pelee Island Winery faces online backlash, boycott over donation to Ontario PC party

Pelee Island Winery is the subject of controversy stemming from donations made to the Ontario PC party weeks before the vineyard was featured in an Ontario News Now promotional video.

Walter Schmoranz donated $1,000 weeks before his winery was featured in an Ontario News Now video

Pelee Island Winery president Walter Schmoranz donated approximately $2,000 between to the Ontario PC party between February 2019 and July 2019. (CBC)

Pelee Island Winery is the subject of controversy stemming from donations made to the Ontario PC party weeks before the vineyard was featured in an Ontario News Now promotional video.

According to Elections Ontario records, Pelee Island Winery president Walter Schmoranz donated $2,050 to the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario between February 2019 and July 2019.

His first donation of $1,050 was deposited on Feb. 26, 2019, while a second $1,000 donation was deposited on July 12, 2019. 

Weeks later, on July 28, 2019, the Ontario PC party's Ontario News Now publicity outlet posted videos on Facebook and Twitter encouraging residents to purchase wines from the Pelee Island Winery. 

The videos featured Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Chatham-Kent-Leamington MPP Rick Nicholls informing Ontario residents that Pelee Island Winery bottles will soon be available in local convenience stores. 

"Go out and buy a bottle of Pelee Island Wine," said Ford, in the video. "It's great and coming to a convenience store close to you."

Ontarians took toTwitter to issue their concerns about what some viewed as Pelee Island Winery's Schmoranz buying a political ad. 

At the time of writing, more than 3,800 tweets have been published including the "BoycottPeleeWinery" hashtag.

Pelee Island Winery posted on Twitter explaining that the company met with the Ontario Premier to discuss the future of the wine & grape industry in the province.

The winery's sales and marketing manager Darryl MacMillan told CBC News in an email the conversation with the Premier was important.

"Last week Pelee Island Winery hosted the Premier of Ontario to discuss many important priorities facing grape growers and craft wineries in Ontario. These included modernizing the import tax levied on wine, supporting domestic wine grape producers in securing a stable market, flooding and shoreline erosion in Essex County and Pelee Island, and the need for infrastructure improvements," said MacMillan.

MacMillan added that it's critical for the winery to work with the province "on issues that impact the businesses and livelihoods of those who depend on craft winemaking and grape growing in Ontario."

"We are proud of our success in this challenging and heavily regulated industry and are committed to continuing to work with the provincial government to secure a brighter future for our industry and wine country communities," said MacMillan. 

The PC party refunded $450 of the donation made by Schmoranz, according to Elections Ontario regulations which limit the financial amount of contributions. 

Director of communications Marcus Mattinson said Ford was unaware of any donations made by Schmoranz when the stop at Pelee Island Winery was made. 

"Our leader meets with small business owners from across the province on a regular basis and promotes small businesses in Ontario at every opportunity.," said Mattinson. "He will continue to support and promote small businesses and the incredible contribution they make whenever he travels across the province."

MPP Rick Nichols and EPIC Winery association president Melissa Muscedere did not respond to CBC requests for interviews. 


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