The Ontario Grape Growers’ Marketing Board was organized in 1947. It was established to serve the needs and represent the interests of grape growers in their dealings with processors. For the first time, growers were ensured of a unified, minimum price for grapes. Growers also gained a voice in the grape and wine processing industry.
In 1947, there were 15,000 acres of vineyards in Ontario and growers harvested 36,000 tons of grapes. The value of processing sales to wineries was $2.5 million.
At the time of formation, the grapes being grown were labrusca varieties, native to this region of North America. Although ideal for juice, preserves, and dessert and low alcohol wines, their lower sugar levels and higher acids are not suited for the lighter, and dry, table wines which today dominate the world of wines. But that was then.
In the ensuing years, the nature of the grape and wine industry has changed dramatically.
Between 1989 and 1991, growers removed 8,000 acres of labrusca and hybrid vines and, over time, replaced them with Vitis vinifera vines, traditional European varieties. As part of the federal/provincial Grape Adjustment Program, this replacement program was designed to remove grape varieties deemed surplus to industry needs, and move forward with varieties suited for the higher quality table wines that consumers were demanding. At the same time, labruscas were banned from all table wines made in Ontario.
This was the turning point for Ontario grape growers and the Ontario grape and wine industry. Vineyard expansions, upgrading and changes continued with a focus on Vitis vinifera production.
The harvest of grapes such as Chardonnay, Riesling, Gamay, the Cabernets and Merlots, was 800 metric tonnes in 1980. The vinifera harvest increased to 4,000 tonnes in 1990. By the year 2000, the vinifera harvest reached 20,400 tonnes. For the first time ever, vinifera sales surpassed sales of hybrids. The trend to a vinifera-dominated industry will continue as consumers demand quality wines, and growers respond by growing more and more high quality vinifera grapes.
Today, there are 15,000 acres of vineyards in Ontario, the same as 50 years ago. But the kind of grapes grown is dramatically different than it was, and the industry has evolved and achieved its status as an internationally acclaimed grape and wine region. Our Icewines, in particular, have become popular in many places around the world, and serve as an introduction to the rest of our fine wines.
In the past 50 years, the farm gate value of grape sales has risen from $2.5 million to more than $70 million.
In 2007, there were about 56,000 metric tonnes of grapes sold for processing, including 52,229 sold to wineries. Viniferas, virtually unheard of in this area 50 years ago, now account for 62% of the total amount of grapes sold to wineries during regular harvest.
One thing, however, has not changed. We continue to represent growers, act as the voice of the industry, and lobby the government on behalf of grape-growing issues that will help growers, and strengthen co-operative ties with the winemaking industry.
In 2002, we changed our name to Grape Growers of Ontario to better reflect our mission, mandate and membership. We will continue to represent and support our grower-members in the best viticultural practices so our industry will grow and thrive.