The VQA Act creates a wine appellation system for Ontario and restricts the use of certain terminology on wine labels. Only VQA-certified wines can use the terms listed at right as a description on labels, signs, advertising and promotion. Wineries are free to produce wines that are not VQA certified but these must be labelled and sold without reference to the restricted appellation terminology.
How to become a VQA winery:
VQA Ontario certifies individual wines rather than wineries, however wineries wishing to have a wine certified must first become a member of VQA Ontario. Wines may then be submitted for testing and approval to use appellation terms and VQA on the label. Any winery that has a valid licence to manufacture wine in the Province of Ontario may become a member winery. This licence is issued by the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario. www.agco.on.ca)
This OMAFRA document is a comprehensive primer on what you need to know before deciding to start your own winery.
Note: You must hold a valid manufacturers licence from the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario to join VQA Ontario. Contact us by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone at 416-367-2002 for an access code to complete an online membership application.
Once you become a member, you may submit wines to be approved by VQA Ontario and get permission to use the terms and descriptions that are protected under the VQA Act. You may not use VQA label terms without approval (see sidebar). Normally, VQA membership is obtained 3-6 months before you plan to offer your wine for sale, however winemaking rules must be followed and documented starting with the grape harvest.
There is an annual membership fee of $1000 and a fee of 5 cents levied per litre of wine sold as VQA wine. Other fees apply for specific services such as wine testing and approval.
How to make a wine that will be eligible for VQA approval:
If you are planning to make a wine that will be eligible for VQA status, you should be familiar with the VQA winemaking, labelling and record keeping requirements. The following guidelines and processes can be found on this website:
- Wine Standards
- VQA Act & Regulations
- Brix Level requirements
- Permissible Limits for Chemical Analysis
- Authorized Grape Varieties
- Varietal Content Requirements
- Packaging & Labelling
- Labelling guidelines for VQA wines
- Unfiltered and bottled with lees wines
- Rules for hybrid grapes
- Guidelines for screwcap closures
- VQA logo graphics and VQA Standards Manual
- The wine approval process
- Late harvest and icewine procedures
- Process to change a regulation
- Audit & Inspection - verifying compliance
- Forms & Fees
- VQA downloadable forms and fee schedule
- LCBO Laboratory Services and fees
It is recommended that you contact VQA Ontario with your questions and for more information early in the winery planning stage. Please call or email us (email@example.com). You may also want to contact other licensing and regulatory authorities including the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario, the LCBO and municipal licensing agencies. Grape growing, winemaking, storage, transport, marketing and sales of wines are governed by many federal, provincial and municipal rules that you will need to familiarize yourself with.
All grapes used in VQA wines must be tested and registered at the time of harvest by the Grape Growers of Ontario (www.grapegrowersofontario.com). Detailed records of the grapes, must and wine must then be kept and made available for audit throughout its life until it is sold. These include exact details of the volumes and origin of all grapes used in any given wine and wine-making practices and treatments used.
All VQA wines are required to have their production tracked and verified on an ongoing basis beginning with the grape harvest. This is accomplished by requiring that certain records be kept and that an on-site audit be conducted twice a year to monitor production and sales.
In order to verify the origin, vintage and varietal content of wines, the wine resulting from each vintage crush is inspected and matched to appropriate records. All inventories are tracked from harvest to finished bottled wine. Wines that are made before a winery joins VQA Ontario will not normally be eligible for VQA certification because this production will not have been audited. For start up wineries, it is possible to retain VQA eligibility for wines made from the vintage immediately preceding their application for an AGCO manufacturer’s licence. As a result of your AGCO licence application, winery auditors will contact the applicant winery and will visit the winery. At this time, the winery should advise the auditor that the wines on premise are intended for VQA certification and audit records will be created. These records will be used to determine eligibility if the winery becomes a VQA member winery in future and applies for VQA approval.
Audit records can only be created for a wine if the content is from grapes harvested in the most recent vintage. Records will not be created for wine that originates from older vintages. For example, if a new winery makes wine from the 2010 vintage, that wine will only be eligible for future VQA status if an application is made for a manufacturer’s licence in time for an initial inspection to occur before the 2011 vintage begins. In practice, this means the application should be made in June/July of 2011. In this example, wines made from 2009 grapes, would not be eligible for VQA status or to blend into wines that may seek VQA status.
When the wine is finished and ready to bottle, samples are submitted to VQA Ontario for evaluation. The wine is tasted by a panel of tasters, analysed for pesticide residues, heavy metals and basic wine chemistry and the proposed label is reviewed. Each wine must successfully complete all parts of this process before it can be released for sale or advertised using any restricted label terms (see sidebar).
It is strongly recommended that wineries do not finalize or print labels using VQA terms until they have received official approval for the wine and the labels. Label approval is granted only at the time the wine is tested and approved.