Ronald Moyer served on the Grape Growers of Ontario’s Board of Directors (then called the Ontario Grape Growers Marketing Board) from 1960 to 1980, through 2 decades of significant change. Ron began on the Grower’s Committee in 1950.
During the 1960’s as Board Chair, Ron Moyer joined a government study mission to Europe, where he lined up buyers for Ontario’s wines on the continent, then established a system of three-times-a-year samplings at Canada House in London, for Chateau-Gai, Barnes and London wineries, all of whom were then exporting to the U.K.
The first printed Grape Growers of Ontario’s annual report covered the 1966 harvest year. Ron Moyer, as the new chairman, stated 38 tonnes of vinifera grapes had been sold for $250 a tonne, against the labrusca price of $102.50. A nine-category system for classifying grapes had been agreed by the recently formed Grape Advisory Committee, and the 37,000 tonnes of grapes purchased by wineries included 6,300 tons of French hybrids. Sales to wineries meant $3.4 million for growers, while governments enjoyed a windfall of $17 million, leading to Ron’s widely quoted comment: “At $1,300 to the acre, this is the most profitable crop of all time – for governments.”
Imported wines moved smoothly past the million gallons marker. Growers needed to buy time as the change to table wine grapes matured. The chairman’s reaction was calling “for more promotion and public relations input. Any lasting help will come from within our own ranks.”
Ron Moyer promoted relentlessly throughout his 15 years as head of the growers. He was the first “figure head” in marketing for the grape and wine industry; prominent in the public eye through newspapers; constantly quoted on television.
“There was little public understanding of the progress and the good wines that were coming from Niagara. As chairman of the grape growers I seemed to have some credentials and we ran as hard and as far as we could.”
He caught the attention of government. His greatest supporter was a freshman MPP at Queen’s Park, Bob Welch, who became a heavyweight in Cabinet and Ontario’s first Deputy Premier. A pipeline into government had been opened based on honesty and mutual respect, and it functions equally well today.
Between 1965 and 1969, growers were adding 300,000 new vines a year. Varieties for premium wines dominated. The quiet revolution to a French hybrid and vinifera industry was gathering speed.
In 1968, based on “their success at running the Niagara Grape and Wine Festival” the Ontario Editorial Bureau was brought in to help sharpen promotions and public education, and give guidance on government issues.
As the decade ended, despite the storm clouds gathering, sales of Ontario’s wines hovered around the eight million gallons mark. “You may now ask for Ontario wines in dining cars of the CNR, and aboard Air Canada flights,” the chairman reported.
“Ontario has not been called the land of opportunity without just cause. Ask any foreign wine importer.”
– Ron Moyer, 1970
The seventies opened with Ontario commanding 73% of wine sales within the Province. In the span of just eight years they were to be elbowed into second spot. This was a decade of remarkable progress, of big achievements, and matching crises.
As well as their vineyards near Grimsby, Ontario, the Moyer family started developing an 80 acre vineyard in Colchester, Essex County in 1970, signalling the rebirth of a grape and wine industry in “the sun parlour of Ontario.” Ron Moyer selected a site, but before signing he met a neighbouring peach grower. “I asked him how often he’d had winter damage. He said never, and that was good enough for me.” For years, the Moyer’s reserved 27 rows for experimental plantings in this specialized wine-grape vineyard.
The Board acted swiftly in 1975, and again in 1976, when surpluses totalling 23,000 tonnes shocked growers. The bridge building into government showed its value. The 1975 surplus was bought by the Board through loans backed by the province. Of the 23,000 tonnes purchased, within one year 21,850 tonnes had been sold with the proceeds used to offset the costs of the program.
In 1977, Ron Moyer and Keith Wiley represented the growers on the Ontario Grape and Wine Standards Committee. This Committee established a strict code for labelling and testing and was one of the biggest steps to maturity of the industry.
Ron Moyer did not seek re-election following the 1979 harvest year. In his first term as Chair, sales for processing were 50,000 tons, bringing $5.26 million at the farm gate. By the final year grower-income had climbed to $15.65 million, and Ontario’s wineries reported sales of 46 million litres. In his farewell address he urged growers “…to be more active at the political level…and in marketing. Do not criticize others, but accept help with gratitude.”
In 1999, Ron Moyer was inducted into the Agricultural Hall of Fame for his many contributions to Ontario’s grapes-for-wine industry.
Ron often commented his wife Margaret gave him the support at home he needed to be able to contribute to the grape growing community. Family will receive friends at the Vineland Chapel of the Tallman Funeral Home on Wednesday, August 15, from 2-4 pm and 7-8:30 pm. The funeral service will be held in the chapel on Thursday, August 16, at 10:30 am followed by internment in Vineland Cemetery. Memorial donations to St. Andrew’s Anglican Church or West Lincoln Memorial Hospital Foundation in Grimsby would be appreciated.
For more information, please contact Debbie Zimmerman, CEO, Grape Growers of Ontario, at 905-688-0990 ext 225.