Who We Are

The Wine Council of Ontario leads the growth and profitability of Ontario’s respected VQA wine sector – through strategic partnership and authoritative trusted advocacy. As a non-profit trade association, the WCO represents over 100 wineries from across the three designated viticultural areas of the province (Niagara, Prince Edward County and Lake Erie North Shore – including Pelee Island) as well as emerging wine producing regions such as Ontario’s South Coast and Georgian Bay/Grey County. Our members are independently owned small and medium sized enterprises – grape growers, manufacturers and leaders in tourism in their communities. Our members are the future of Ontario’s wine industry, which is a source of new investment, jobs and award-winning wines.

When the WCO was formed 40 years ago, the Ontario wine world was a very different place. Throughout its existence, the WCO has always been the trade association advocating for positive change for Ontario wineries. Significant gains have been made including increased access to the LCBO, the ability to directly sell to licensees, relief from excise taxes; and most importantly, the recognition of our wines as world-class by the international community. Ontario consumers are demanding increased access to quality Ontario wines, and we will continue to work with the provincial government to realize more opportunities for our members.

Our members are dedicated to promoting Ontario’s wine-growing regions – from the wines and wineries themselves to the complete experience of each destination: local cuisine, year-round activities and warm hospitality. Through Wine Country Ontario, the industry promotes Ontario’s vintners and the unique qualities of our authentic, 100% VQA wines. We want Ontario wine consumers to love local VQA wines so much that Ontario VQA wines become the first consideration in their wine purchase decision.

The WCO looks forward to continuing to work diligently to meet the needs of our members and the Ontario wine consumer.

History

1974

The Beginning

The Wine Council of Ontario is incorporated – 8 winery members to advocate for the success and growth of the Ontario wine industry.

1982

Pelee Island Winery

Pelee Island Winery opens in Kingsville, part of Lake Erie North Shore – one of the first wineries to receive a winery license since prohibition.

1988

Creation of VQA

The Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA) of Ontario act is created to set out geographic appellations and introduce strict production standards. Lake Erie North Shore, Niagara Escarpment and Niagara-on-the-Lake are designated as VQA appellations.

1993

17 Wineries

There are 17 wineries in Ontario.

1996

CCOVI at Brock University

The Cool Climate Oenology & Viticulture Institute (CCOVI) is established at Brock University.

1999

VQA Gains Royal Assent

The Vintners Quality Alliance Act, 1999 is promulgated and becomes law, ensuring quality and authenticity in every wine bottle that bears the VQA emblem.

2000

50 Wineries

There are 50 wineries in Ontario, a 400% increase since 1993. Niagara College establishes a Winery and Viticulture Technician program creating local experts and boosting Ontario’s wine scene.

2001

VQA Success & Prince Edward County

WCO successfully advocates for improved sales margins for selling Ontario VQA wine directly to licensees (restaurants and others). The first winery opens in Prince Edward County – Waupoos Estate Winery.

2005

Wine Strategy & 75 Wineries

WCO chosen to execute the Ontario government 5-year Ontario Wine Strategy to market the Ontario VQA wine industry Currently, there are 75 wineries in Ontario.

2006

Successful Advocates

WCO successfully advocates to have 100% Canadian wine exempt from federal excise taxes.

2007

Prince Edward County & Sustainable Winemaking Ontario

Prince Edward County is designated as a VQA appellation. Sustainabile Winemaking Ontario certification program is incorporated as a way to acknowledge and recognize environmentally friendly wineries and vineyards in Ontario.

2010

Government Co-operation & Emerging Regions

WCO renews the execution of the 5-year Ontario Wine Strategy.

New wineries open in “emerging regions” in Norfolk County and Grey County.

2011

Sustainable Winemaking Ontario Certification Program Wins Two Awards

The WCO’ Sustainable Winemaking Ontario program is a recipient of the Premier’s Award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence, as well as receiving the Minister’s Award For Environmental Excellence (MOE) for environmental achievement.

2012

Wine Council of Ontario Receives Leadership Award

WCO is a recipient of A Friend of the Greenbelt Award  for the significant economic contributions the Ontario wine industry brings to the Greenbelt.

2014

40th Anniversary, Changes for Ontario Wineries & Farmers’ Markets in Ontario

WCO celebrates 40 years of advocating for advancement and positive change for Ontario VQA wineries. Changes to Liquor Licence Act Regulations enable holiday openings and extending hours of operations at wineries. These modest changes allow a more open and flexible environment for Ontario wineries. VQA wine available at Ontario Farmers’ Markets.

2015

VQA Wines of Ontario

WCO and Winery Grower Alliance of Ontario jointly form the Wine Marketing Association to execute the Ontario government wine industry marketing program for Ontario VQA wines.

2016

Retail Access & Third-Party Warehousing

Expanded retail access for VQA wines coming to Ontario! The government also accepts WCO’s recommendation to allow third-party warehousing and distribution.

Soon

Expanded Growth

175+ wineries in Ontario!

Sustainability and Ontario Wine

The Wine Council of Ontario created the Sustainable Winemaking Ontario: An Environmental Charter for the Wine Industry program in partnership with the Grape Growers of Ontario. This proactive program was developed for Ontario’s wine industry, including wineries and grape growers, to provide information on environmental requirements and identify new sustainable opportunities while complying with existing regulations.

Ontario’s wine industry is intimately connected to the environment. We are dependent on the weather, water and soil, and we are mindful of how we grow grapes as well as produce and make wine. Our voluntary Sustainable Winemaking Ontario program is used by over 35 Ontario wineries. The goal of the program is to continuously improve the environmental performance of Ontario‘s wine industry; continually improve the quality of winemaking and grape growing; actively address consumer questions in relation to the industry and the environment; and add brand value. This will give further credibility to the sustainable practices that Ontario wineries are adopting, as well as provide an opportunity to tell our “green” story.

Sustainable Winemaking Ontario

Ontario’s grape and wine industry is committed to enhancing the environment and encourages all winemakers and grape growers to adopt sustainable practices in their vineyards and wineries. By recognizing these environmentally sustainable practices implemented by many winemakers and growers, we acknowledge their efforts by making their land a better place for future generations. This certification program promises that Ontario’s winemakers and grape growers are dedicated in ensuring that the wine you purchased travelled a sustainable “from soil to shelf” path.

Ontario’s Sustainability Program gives growers and wineries the educational resources to increase sustainable practices and to record and measure their progress. The reporting creates an industry standard for sustainable practices and helps identify individual strengths and areas of improvement. By creating a certified program, the WCO and the GGO recognize and give credibility to Ontario’s grape growers and wineries that have adopted sustainable practices. Recognizing the sustainable practices implemented by Ontario winemakers and grape growers, the WCO and GGO acknowledges the efforts these wineries and growers take to ensure that their land is a better place for future generations

Sustainability Certification Program for Ontario’s Grape and Wine Industry

The Wine Council of Ontario (WCO), together with the Grape Growers of Ontario (GGO), created the Sustainable Winemaking Ontario program for Ontario’s grape and wine industry to identify the vineyards and wineries that are environmentally friendly. The WCO and GGO researched similar international programs, adopted many of the same “check points” and created a winery and vineyard evaluation. This in-depth survey for winemakers and grape growers is a voluntary program to record sustainable practices that will be verifiable through an independent audit. Incorporating grape growing sustainability with sustainable practices in winery production will result in certified Ontario VQA wines to market to environmentally-conscious consumers.
While the Sustainable Winemaking Ontario program is voluntary, the WCO encourages all Ontario wineries to participate.

For the list of WCO’s Sustainable Winemaking Ontario wineries, please click here.

For more information, please log into the following member portals:

  • Ontario Winery Self-Assessment Tool: Sustainable Winemaking Ontario: An Environmental Charter
  • Wineries that are not WCO members, please contact Alison Oppenlaender to access the survey
  • Ontario Viticulture Sustainability Self-Assessment Tool: eGrape under “Communications”

Water & Wine

BLOOM Centre for Sustainability

Ontario’s wine industry has grown rapidly from an industry of 17 wineries in 1993 to over 175 today. To ensure that the industry’s management of natural resources can keep pace with this growth, the WCO and BLOOM have created a practical online platform designed to meet the needs of Ontario winemakers: Water & Wine. Following a two-year study of Ontario’s wine industry, Water & Wine was developed to change the way wineries think about water and to make it easier for them to adopt sustainable water practices that save time and money.

Water & Wine was developed in collaboration with the WCO, individual wineries, technology and solution providers, government agencies at provincial and municipal levels, conservation authorities, and colleges and academia, what BLOOM calls the “Collective We”. Featuring tools, case studies and how-to instructional guides, Water & Wine allows winemakers to make decisions with confidence, and have more time to focus on their product. If your winery needs to make a decision involving water, Water & Wine is your first stop. Visit Water & Wine for more information.