Packaging & Labelling

Summary of rules for packaging, labelling and categorizing wines

Labelling guidelines for VQA wines

These are general guidelines to help you and your suppliers with the design of labels for VQA wines. They provide only a summary of detailed and comprehensive rules and are not intended to be relied upon for compliance purposes. If you have any questions regarding VQA label requirements, please contact VQA Ontario.

For VQA requirements, please refer to complete instructions for each wine category in the VQA Regulations (Regulation 406) on our Wine Standards page. For federal requirements, refer to the Guide to Food Labelling published by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

Please note that these guidelines are for Ontario only, other jurisdictions will have different requirements.

VQA Label Approvals

VQA Ontario conducts a label review as part of the product approval process. Labels can only be approved in conjunction with the testing and approval of a specific wine. A wine approval will not be issued unless a compliant label is supplied. Wineries are responsible for ensuring the labels applied to all wines are compliant.

If changes are made to a label after approval, the winery must ensure the label remains compliant or may face corrective orders or other enforcement actions. VQA Ontario will review new or revised labels for previously approved wines on request. VQA Ontario will also review labels in advance of the wine approval process and provide feedback, but final label approval can only be issued with the wine approval. It is strongly recommended that final printing and labelling be done after the approval is received.

A review of additional or replacement labels for wine that is already approved may also be requested.

General Requirements

All information on the label must be legible and of sufficient size and contrast to be readily identified by the consumer.

The front label or "principal display panel" is defined as the side which would normally be displayed to the consumer. In cases where there is a question about what surface constitutes the principal display panel, a determination will be made by VQA Ontario based on common practices and perceptions (for example how the wine would be displayed in a retail setting or presented to a consumer in a restaurant). The winery cannot arbitrarily designate which surface is the principal display.

VQA regulated terms must be used in only accordance with an approval issued by VQA Ontario. These terms are not permitted for use in any form on the label of non-VQA wines or on a label or packaging of a VQA wine - including the back label - that is not entitled to the specific term. In addition, unauthorized use is not permitted on the bottle tags, outer containers or boxes, shelf signage, or descriptions related to a specific wine that may appear in any media including websites, printed materials, or promotional materials.

For a complete list of regulated terms see Section 3 of Regulation 406.

Interpretation of the Labelling Regulations

Prohibited items
  • Any word, phrase, number or symbol that may mislead the consumer
  • Registered or semi-generic terms used without permission
  • Phrases including VQA and other words implying superiority such as "VQA guaranteed" or "VQA reserve"
  • Any reference to VQA that is printed on the surface of a cork or synthetic cork
  • Any use of the words “viticultural area”, “appellation” or “sub-appellation” except to describe a regulated VQA viticultural area
  • Geographical indications or traditional expressions that the wine is not entitled to in law. Any use of foreign appellations of origin is prohibited. For example: Descriptions such as "Bordeaux style", "made from Bordeaux varieties", “similar to Australia in character” are not allowed. This prohibition includes all wine region names that are not regulated in Ontario and applies to any description of a particular wine (labels, packaging, signage, electronic and print media). Any and all use of foreign appellations is discouraged in accordance with international agreements. Exceptions may be made for uses that are clearly not descriptive of the grapes or wine and where the origin of the wine is obvious – for example, “our winemaker was trained in Burgundy and brings a unique skill to crafting wines made from Prince Edward County grapes”.
Variations of regulated terms

The use of close variations of VQA regulated terms is not permitted without approval. The alteration, abbreviation or variation of appellation names and regulated terms is not permitted. For example:

  • Icewine (no variations such as Ice Wine, Icevine, etc are permitted for VQA or non-VQA wines)
  • Late Harvest, Meritage, Blanc de Noirs (no variations permitted)
  • Estate Bottled (variations such as "Estate Grown" or “grown, produced and bottled by” are permitted if the wine qualifies for the estate bottled designation, close variations are not permitted for non-VQA wines)
  • Niagara Peninsula (any terms containing “Niagara” are not permitted for non-qualifying VQA wines or non-VQA wines)
  • Vineyard (any named vineyard indicating origin is not permitted for non-qualifying VQA wines or non-VQA wines, two or more vineyards may not be named but general references to vineyards or multiple but unnamed vineyards are permitted)
  • Appellation names (no variations of appellation names are permitted for wines that do not qualify for the stated appellation - see limited exceptions below related to the location of the winery)

 

Appellation of origin examples:

For a wine qualifying for “Niagara Peninsula”

Permitted
“123 Lakeshore Rd, Niagara on the Lake, ON.“

Not permitted
"Our vineyards benefit from the unique soils and sheltering effects of the Niagara Escarpment" or “123 King Rd, Niagara Escarpment, Vineland, or "Visit our winery in Niagara on the Lake" or "Located on the beautiful Beamsville Bench".

For a wine qualifying for “Ontario”

Permitted
"We grow all of our grapes” or “The winery is located near Harrow, ON.

Not permitted
"Come see us at our Prince Edward County property" or “123 Loyalist Pkwy, Prince Edward County, ON”

Appellation of origin

  • Appellation names (claims of origin) on the label are restricted to designated viticultural areas set out in the regulations.
  • References to the appellation name in addition to the mandatory declaration on the principal display panel with the VQA letters are permitted as long as such references are in accordance with the regulations.
  • A label may refer to multiple appellations under certain conditions: 1) if one is a sub-appellation of the other and the wine qualifies for both or 2) to list the components of the wine in addition to the broader appellation that the wine qualifies for (in this case all content must be listed including accurate percentages for each component).
  • No references of any kind are permitted to an appellation for which the wine does not qualify except as permitted under the multi-appellation rule. Appellations for which the wine does not qualify are not permitted even if they are used in a context not related to grapes or wine.
  • The use of Ontario or city and town names recognized by Canada Post as part of a legal address is permitted in all cases, but must appear as an address (at least as “name”, “city, province”) and not as a stand-alone declaration.

 

Grape Varieties

  • Grape varieties that can be named on the label are restricted to authorized grape varieties and must appear as listed in the regulations. Synonyms, short forms or modified forms of grape variety names may be allowed in addition to the correct name specified in the Regulation as long as the use is not misleading.
  • Nothing may be appended to a variety name that may be misleading or confusing. The following descriptors may be used: Old Vines Foch, Fumé Blanc, Gamay Nouveau or Chardonnay musqué. Conventional descriptors that are not likely to confuse the consumer such as unoaked, barrel aged, and reserve may be used with a variety name with VQA approval. Numbers are not permitted to be used on the same line as the grape variety name unless the use is widely accepted and not confusing such as bin, lot or clone number references.
  • Using all or part of a grape variety name in a proprietary name may be permitted if the name is clearly not misleading and if the wine qualifies for the varietal claim and if the grape variety appears in accordance with the rules in another location on the label. Caution should be exercised with shortened terms such as Pinot, Sauvignon or Blanc as they are associated with more than one variety and abbreviated use may be confusing.
  • Vinifera/hybrid blends are only permitted when the hybrid is declared on the label and in accordance with other requirements for varietal wine. Wines containing hybrid grapes must qualify as a single, dual, triple or multi varietal wine – hybrid blends that do not meet these requirements are not allowed.
  • Declared varieties must be listed in descending order of content, in identical type
  • Rules for listing grape varieties apply to any declaration of the variety name, including within the back label text and in “off-label” descriptions. For example if two varieties are named in the back label text description, the wine must qualify as a dual varietal wine.
  • Wines that do not qualify as dual or triple varietals may list two or three varieties respectively only if actual percentages of the varietal content are disclosed.
  • Examples:
    A blend of 95% Shiraz, 5% Viognier does not qualify as a dual varietal because the second variety is less than 15%. This wine may not be labelled Shiraz-Viognier but may be labelled 95% Shiraz 5% Viognier.
    A blend of 50% Riesling, 42% Gewurztraminer, 8% Chardonnay qualifies as a dual varietal but does not qualify as a triple varietal. It may be labelled Riesling-Gewurztraminer or with all three varieties if the percentage content is declared.

 

Organic Labelling

Organic or "green" label claims fall under federal labelling guidelines and regulations and are not regulated by VQA Ontario.

 

Other Label Content

VQA Ontario monitors compliance with federal wine labelling requirements and will advise of non-compliance when noticed, but these requirements are enforced by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Other label content that is not regulated by VQA Ontario includes brand names, generic descriptors such as "reserved", "oaked", "first press" and descriptive back label text that describes wine character (unless it uses regulated terms or it is clearly misleading as to the physical content of the wine).

Unfiltered and Bottled with Lees Wines

Wines may be designated under the categories "Unfiltered" and "Bottled with its Lees". The following rules apply for these categories:

  • A wine that is produced and labeled "Bottled with its Lees" shall be exempt from the maximum turbidity limits established under the rules;
  • The maximum turbidity limits established under the rules shall be 20 N.T.U. for white wines and 40 N.T.U. for red wines for a wine that is produced and labeled "Unfiltered" or "Bottled with its Lees";
  • Wines that show any signs of refermentation or significant microbiological instability may be denied approval, even in the case they test within the maximum limits.
  • Only the terms "Unfiltered" and "Bottled with its lees" shall be permitted to be displayed on the principal display panel and declared on the application for approval;
  • The category description shall appear on the grading sheet for informational purposes and these attributes will be considered when judging a wine so designated.
  • The new rules will be applied beginning with the 2002 vintage

These guidelines add distinct wine categories for VQA wines and:

  • Recognize that these are quality wines without technical fault;
  • Establish terms and conditions for their use;
  • Recognize that certain unique characteristics require that they be exempt from specific laboratory testing and tasting guidelines.

Rules for Hybrid Grapes

Wines made with authorized hybrid grapes must carry the geographical indication "Ontario". Wines declaring a viticultural area name, a sub-appellation name, a vineyard name, and/or the designations: estate bottled, traditional method or Icewine, must be made from 100% vitis vinifera grapes. An exception is made for Vidal Icewine.

Blends of hybrid grapes and vinifera grapes are allowed only if:

  • the geographical indication declared is Ontario
  • the wine is made as a single, dual or triple varietal wine and the name of the hybrid grape variety is declared on the label
  • all other applicable VQA requirements are met

Containers and Closures

VQA wines must be packaged in glass bottles subject to the exceptions listed below. Closures must be suitable for wine and preserve the quality of the wine for the expected shelf life of the package.

Sizes for retail sale are regulated by federal legislation and are restricted to: 50, 100, 200, 250, 375, 500, or 750 millilitres, or 1, 1.5, 3 or 4 litres in size.

Non-glass containers

VQA wines that use the appellation of origin “Ontario” may be packaged in containers other than glass bottles.

Permitted alternative containers include stainless steel kegs and containers made of aluminum, plastic (PET), or multi layer containers such as TetraPak or bag-in-box. These containers may be used under the following conditions:

  • The geographical indication on the container must be “Ontario” (no reference to more specific appellations or origin or terms that are restricted to be used with specific appellations is permitted in association with a wine in a non-glass container).
  • The date on which the container was filled must appear on the container in plain language format. Examples of acceptable formats: July 1, 2012, 01-07-2012, 01-JL-12. Formats such as 365 day codes are not sufficient.
  • The packaging must comply with the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act (Canada).
  • The wine shall be packaged in accordance with good manufacturing practices appropriate to the container used. Good manufacturing practices include such things as following the container manufacturers guidelines, setting up equipment properly and using accepted practices related to hygiene and quality control. Where reusable containers are used such as stainless steel kegs, appropriate attention must be paid to cleaning and hygiene of the containers, feed lines and taps.
  • The container must be closed with a tamper evident seal that preserves the quality of the wine. Closures could include screwcaps, crown caps, spigots or other closures that have demonstrated suitability for use with wine and that effectively limit the migration of gases at a rate appropriate to the container.
  • Reasonable efforts must be made to monitor the shelf life of the wine and manage inventory to ensure that quality is maintained up to the point of sale. Many containers have a finite shelf life that can vary based on the characteristics of the wine, closures used and storage conditions. Wineries are expected to take these factors into consideration and monitor and manage inventory accordingly so that wine spoilage is avoided. VQA Ontario carries out a random monitoring program and can suspend or revoke wine approvals.

As noted above, federal container size restrictions apply to all wine sold directly to consumers. Wine may be packaged for sale to wholesalers (licensees) in any type of container up to a maximum volume of 20 litres if the purpose of the container is for resale in smaller servings. No VQA wine shall be sold in a container greater than 20 litres except for bulk wine sales between licensed VQA wineries. Any bulk sale or transfer to a non-VQA member will immediately invalidate the wine’s VQA status.

For stainless steel kegs supplied to wholesale customers, all of the mandatory VQA labelling information must accompany the container – either on a label, stencil or attached to the individual keg.

The use of alternative packages must be declared as part of the VQA application process and all labels for these packages are subject to approval. If you are using multiple container formats for the same wine, please check off as many container types as apply when applying for a wine approval. All labels must be submitted if different labels are to be used.