The Approval Process
The VQA approval process consists of the following three steps and takes 2 to 2½ weeks to complete:
How does the tasting panel work?
- Submitting an application A request for VQA approval may be made by a registered VQA winery through VQA Ontario’s secure website. Once logged in, the application process is accessed under “wine approvals”. Have the following information ready: wine description, varietal content with litres and brix for all components, declarations that you intend to make on the label, and a pdf or jpeg version of your proposed label to upload, including a scale . Follow the instructions at the end of the application for sending wine samples and payment to be processed.
Tasting Panel Assessment Taste tests are conducted on Mondays and Wednesdays by a panel of tasters. All tasting is conducted blind at the LCBO head office tasting facilities. Time and space is limited. There are no tastings on holidays falling on a Monday or Wednesday or throughout the month of December and no makeup tastings. Members can check the Members News & Announcements page for exact "No Tasting" dates. Please plan accordingly.
- Wines delivered after 4:00 p.m. are not received by LCBO until the next business day
- Wines arriving at the LCBO on Thursday before 12:00 p.m. will be tasted the following Monday. Wines arriving before Monday at 12:00 p.m. will be tasted on Wednesday.
- Do not send your bottles to the VQA office - this will result in a delay of at least two days and up to a week
- Special tastings may be held in December to address urgent assessments. Please contact the VQA office for details.
- Every Wednesday the laboratory prepares a line-up for the following week. Wines received after Wednesday at 12:00pm will not make it into the following weeks line-up, but will be held over until the second week.
- Packaging reviews are normally conducted within a few days of the taste test
- If you are using a standard VQA capsule (with 3 VQA logos), or sticker you may simply check of this statement on the application and do not need to include it with the packaging images. Applications processed without a sample of the VQA logo will pass if otherwise compliant and include a note that the logo was not submitted. It is the winery’s responsibility to ensure the logo in present and compliant on all final packaging.
- Mock-up labels are acceptable as long as they include all VQA terms intended for use and all federally mandated terms (eg. if the application for approval requests a vineyard designation, it must appear on the label)
- If the approval is denied because labels do not meet the standards, make sure the application is resubmitted (online) and that new labels are uploaded with the necessary changes. Once an approval is granted for the corrected labels, make sure these correct labels are applied to the wine. VQAO strongly recommends you wait to print your labels until after receiving approval
- See the label review page for any particular wine to see VQA comments on the label including reasons for failure, or other “warnings” that may not have caused a failure but that you may wish to take note of
- Labels may be changed after approval as long as they remain in compliance with the VQA regulations (wine found to be retailed with label violations will be ordered removed from the point of sale until re-labelled). Check with VQA if you are unsure.
A "rush" laboratory service is available from the LCBO for an additional fee. If extenuating circumstances require that you need your result urgently, please call the VQA office and best efforts will be made to accommodate your needs. Please plan ahead to leave some contingency time to complete the approval process and minimize emergencies.
You may check the status of testing anytime by logging into your online account. Keep in mind that passing one part of the process, such as tasting, does not guarantee that the wine is approved – bottle and label at your own risk.
LCBO reports the results of all tasting, testing and label reviews to VQA – they will not release information directly to the winery.
Approval applications must be completed within 12 months of the initial submission. Applications that remain active because of missing samples or labels will be closed and finalized as not approved. Approved wines that were evaluated based on ready to bottle tank samples must be bottled within 12 months of the date the samples were received for evaluation.
VQA reviews the tasting, testing and label results to ensure VQA rules have been met and issues an “Notice of Completion” by email. You then access your account to see the results of the application for approval. The wine is not approved until the results are finalized as “approved” on the WAS (Wine Approval System) on VQAO Services website. Approved wines are indicated by a green checkmark under status in the listing of your applications. Please look over the label review page for every wine – approved or not – to see VQA comments on label compliance.
A confirmation of status report is available for printing under the “forms and reports” tab for each wine. Here you can print a “proof of VQA status” suitable for LCBO or other customers or a detailed report on the assessment process for your internal files.
Laboratory certificates are available for printing directly from your online account once the approval has been completed. Certificates are released only for approved wines and not for wines that have not been approved for any reason. Access your certificate of analysis is through the “forms and reports” tab. Please contact the office if you do not find your certificate posted to the online site.
If you have any questions during the approval process, contact the VQA office.
VQA will not issue an approval if:
- Any one of the taste test, lab test or packaging review is either not passed or not completed
- The fee has not been received
- There are discrepancies with declared information about the wine and audit finding
You may not sell your wine using any VQA terms before having received a formal approval.
After receiving a “Not Approved” result for any reason, the online re-submission process must be followed to re-activate the application. Do this by clicking on the wine ID and then clicking on “Re-submit this wine” and following the instructions. The file will then be reset to pending status.
Do not assume that you can correct identified deficiencies, such as correcting the alcohol on the label, and then release the wine. Also note, that although a wine may have passed all three components of the evaluation, it may not be granted approval if the required fee is not paid. You cannot release any wine using VQA terms until the approval process has been formally completed and the wine’s status has been changed to approved. Selling a VQA wine without a formal approval is an offence under the VQA Act, independent of whether the wine might be compliant.
A wine that fails may be re-submitted for retesting and further evaluation for all or some components. The re-submitted wine must be identical in content to the original submission. Treatments such as clarification, filtering, copper treatments, aeration or other mechanical treatments are permitted but changes in the content are not. If the creation of a new sample involves re-blending and any change in varietal or vintage content, any change in pH, residual sugar, or other chemical or flavour attributes, the wine must be submitted as a new request for approval. Adjustments to sulphur and sorbic acid are permitted. The approval process, including all re-submissions must be completed within 12 months.
Re-tasting: A wine that fails the tasting portion of the evaluation may be submitted for reconsideration twice. If the wine fails all three tastings, it may be submitted for a further evaluation by an independent taste panel. The decision of the independent panel is final.
Re-testing: A wine may be resubmitted for laboratory testing for one or more chemical attributes. For example, if a wine fails because of unacceptable levels of Free SO2, it may be retested for this attribute alone. The content of the wine must not be altered from the originally submitted sample.
Re-submission of labels: Revised labels may be resubmitted at any time during an active application. The label that appears on the final product must match the label that was submitted and approved.
VQA Ontario conducts regular sampling of approved wines after release and performs chemical analysis to confirm that the wines are the same as the samples submitted for approval. Regular label checks are also conducted. Discrepancies between samples and content of approved wines and verification samples will result in the suspension of the wine approval and removal from sale.
Use of VQA Regulated Terms Before a Wine is Released
The use of VQA terms for pre-release advertising will be acceptable when the wine is not yet approved if it is clearly eligible for approval and the use of terms is accompanied by a disclaimer. The following standardized disclaimer must be used:
Disclaimer - This wine has not yet been approved by VQA Ontario. The use of certain descriptive terms that are regulated under the VQA Act is subject to final testing and approval by the wine authority.
The disclaimer must appear in printed or electronic documents and media that describe a particular wine that is not yet approved. It must appear in a legible fashion in a location that is reasonably close to where the VQA terms are used. VQA terms may never be used on the labels or packaging of a wine that is not approved and, in the event that the wine has been submitted and not approved, all references to VQA terms must be immediately discontinued in promotional materials.
Late Harvest and Icewine Procedures
Make sure you are familiar with the rules and procedures for Late Harvest and Icewine before the season starts. Failure to register grapes or provide the required information when due can mean the difference between your juice/wine being eligible to be labelled or sold as Icewine or not.
Protect yourself – make sure the VQA requirements are met and you have the documents you need before you take delivery of grapes or juice that you purchase. Wineries and growers: make sure one of you, but only one of you, registers the grapes!
Please note: No registration is needed for “regular” harvest grapes if harvest is delayed past November 15 due to the vintage conditions. Registration is required only for grapes intended for Late Harvest or Icewine.
All Late Harvest and Icewine grapes must be registered in the GGO SETGO system by November 15 and a valid electronic weigh slip (as recorded in the GGO system) must be available for audit. All VQA Icewine and Late Harvest grape registrations are reconciled with GGO records as part of the verification process. All grapes processed for VQA wines must be documented in the GGO system.
Make sure all forms are properly filled out and submitted on time. There is no grace period and the online system automatically blocks access after specified deadlines. See directions on the right side of this page.
Do not blend tanks of juice originating from more than one lot of registered grapes before getting the Brix test results from EDM Associates.
Make sure the juice recorded on harvest forms comes only from grapes registered on the linked registration record. You may create as many harvest records as needed for each acreage/tonnage of grapes registered. Do not create a single “batch” from juice from two or more registration ID numbers – until after you have recorded and registered each harvest volume separately. Each grape registration ID must result in at least one batch of juice matching the tonnes and acres specified.
All juice intended for Icewine must be pressed within 7 days of harvest. In the case of extended low temperatures that prevent timely pressing, please contact the VQA offices to discuss exceptions. No exceptions will be permitted without written permission.
All frozen grapes must be weighed – do not “guess” at the weight of your grapes – the number needs to be accurate. VQAO checks this data against reasonable yields and recovery and will disqualify juice if it does not make sense or conflicts with other information provided.
For juice purchasers:
It is the purchaser’s responsibility to ensure that the required information has been filed with VQA Ontario and that all VQA requirements are met if they are purchasing late harvest grapes or juice for VQA wines. If a complete electronic file is not available or the information supplied does not match harvest data at the time the wine is submitted for approval, it will be rejected. Wineries may want to include a statement in the purchase agreement that the juice must be eligible for VQA Icewine status. Ask for the registration # and a printout of the “harvest” or “transfer” form from the seller. If you have a registration # VQA Ontario will confirm the vintage, variety and tested brix of the sample but cannot provide other information.
To get your icewine approved, you will need a valid registration # for all components of the wine. VQA Ontario will verify the submission against information recorded by EDM Associates and audit information. We will also verify that the reported yields are reasonable. Wine approvals will not be issued unless Icewine registration data supports the information supplied at the time of the approval application. A wine approval will not be issued based on a registration # where all volume has been cited in a previous approval. Please make sure the correct registration #(s) are entered with your approval applications!
For non-winery growers:
Independent growers or non-VQA wineries must register with VQA Ontario to receive an online account to register their grapes and complete the required forms and reports.
Icewine juice that remains in the possession of a non-VQA member for more than 7 days after pressing will be subject to VQA audit if the owner wishes to maintain its VQA eligibility. Growers – if you retain extra juice from a winery contract, you must make arrangements to transfer it to an audited winery facility or arrange for an audit by VQAO. Wineries – if you are buying such juice, please confirm that this has been done.
Growers retaining juice beyond 7 days for speculation must notify VQA Ontario and an audited letter of transfer will be required to verify and document the sale and transfer of juice after that time. No transfer form is needed for processors who are delivering juice pressed from grapes owned by the receiving winery.
If you do not notify us the juice will lose its status as Icewine! Please make a note to remind yourself of this requirement at pressing time.
Wines will not be eligible for VQA status if the documentation is not available, not complete, not correctly filled in or does not match independent test results.
You will be invoiced for monitoring services on a cost-recovery basis, in direct proportion to the number of brix tests conducted for you. All invoices will be sent to the grower or winery who registered the grapes. VQA Ontario will not re-invoice third party purchasers. Growers and wineries with outstanding accounts will not be permitted to register grapes the following season unless their account is paid in full. Interest charges will apply beginning 30 days after the invoice is issued.
Plan ahead to ensure compliance!
Process to Change a Regulation
Regulations governing the labeling and production standards for VQA wines are contained in VQA regulation 406 and amendments are permitted through a standardized process.
A request is received to amend a specific regulation.
Proponents typically detail a specific regulation change or may request a broader change in principle to the regulations. The request is submitted to VQAO staff, who assesses whether the change is technical in nature, policy related or both.
The request is forwarded to the Board of Directors for preliminary review and then referred to the Standards Development Committee for review.
During this process, further information may be sought from the proponent. It is expected that the proponent provide sufficient technical information and/or information on policy or image issues to make a sound case for the proposed change. VQA Ontario must be satisfied that the proposed change
- is consistent with its strategic objectives and mission
- improves or at least maintains the quality of VQA wines
- improves or at least maintains the positive image VQA wines and the credibility and perception of the VQA appellation system
Items that require technical research to complete due diligence on the part of VQA Ontario will normally be referred back to the proponent or other interested parties. VQA Ontario does not have a research budget and will verify information only.
On issues that are likely to be complex or controversial within the industry or with consumers, VQA Ontario normally will conduct informal consultations prior to formally considering a regulation change. These consultations may be through members meetings or soliciting comment from stakeholders such as the WCO, GGO, LCBO or other wine trade or consumer groups.
The Standards Development Committee makes a recommendation on the technical aspect of the proposed change.
The Board considers the recommendation of the Standards Development Committee and any non-technical issues related to the proposal. If the Board of Directors has enough information on which to base a decision, the Board may either approve the drafting of a new regulation for circulation to the membership or not.
The amendment is circulated to the VQA membership for comment for a minimum period of 30 days.
After receiving and considering comments, the Board may make a motion at its next regular meeting on whether to recommend such a change to the Minister for approval. Further consultation may also be sought at this point.
Regulation changes may take several months or up to several years to complete depending on their complexity or the state of consensus around the proposal. VQAO will endeavour to process requests for regulatory change as expeditiously as possible.
Proposed regulation change is recommended to Minister of Consumer Services.
Proposals to the Minister are accompanied by an explanation and rationale for the change and a summary of any objections received during the 30 day consultation stage.
Once a regulation change is recommended to the Minister, Ministry officials perform a due diligence review of the proposal and prepare a legal draft. The change is then added to the Ministers agenda for review at the earliest convenience. The Minister may approve the change immediately or request further information. Regulation changes take effect as soon as they are approved by the Minister.
Audit & Inspection - Verifying Compliance
VQA Ontario conducts an audit of winery premises every 6 months. The purpose of the audit is to examine winery records and inventory and determine whether VQA regulations are met and whether all volumes of VQA wines are substantiated with respect to origin and other requirements. Wineries will be contacted by winery audit staff to arrange an audit.
Wineries must provide official records from the Grape Growers of Ontario (GGO) including a "weigh slip" with the results of an independent test for Brix. All grapes used in VQA wines or those intended for VQA wines must be accounted for on an official weigh slip at the time of harvest and entered into the GGO SETGO electronic weigh bill system. At the time of audit, wineries must provide an official printout from the SETGO system to show that the grapes have been recorded in GGO’s records. Handwritten weigh slips or grower/processor/winery typed spreadsheets are not acceptable. Click here for an example of a processors printout of the SETGO weigh slip. Please contact GGO for instructions on how to access your GGO account to print out this summary form.
Once the grapes are crushed, wineries must keep log, day books or equivalent records that show the process of all VQA wines through processing to bottling. Records should include volumes, varietal compostion, vintage composition, origin and treatments tracked by date and traceable back to the grapes used. Winery audit must have enough information to verify the exact proportions of any tank of wine by origin, grape variety and brix, vintage, and wine category and have access to records related to treatments such as chaptalization. For certain wine categories, such as Icewine, more information may be required.
A reconciliation of all inventory by origin, vintage, variety, and wine category is conducted as part of the audit. A complete inventory of VQA wines is established at the first audit. At future audits, all wine received since the last audit and volume from new grapes crushed will be added to the inventory and all wine sold or otherwise disposed of will be subtracted. Changes in wine inventory from audit to audit must be consistent with intake of new products and sales.
Inventory in bulk and cased goods will be counted and volume in tanks verified. Wineries must support all wine purchases that are intended for VQA certification. Purchased wine must be accompanied by a "Letter of Audited Transfer" that is stamped by the Winery Audit. This letter must be obtained from the selling winery before the wine is physically transferred to the purchaser.
Wines that have been bottled and labeled are checked for compliance with the VQA Act and regulations. Winery audit also determines whether VQA wine sales have been correctly reported.
Missing or incomplete information will result in further investigation and may result in wine approvals being withheld, suspended or revoked. Wine with a suspended or revoked approval may not be sold using VQA regulated terms and must either be withheld from sale or relabeled.
Evidence that a wine does not meet VQA requirements, or that false information has been provided will result in the suspension of wine approvals pending further investigation. Investigations may be conducted in addition to the normal audit process at any time and without prior notice. VQA investigators may attend the winery’s premises and search for any information necessary to investigate possible violations of the VQA Act or regulations. Product samples may also be removed for testing.
After an audit is completed, the winery will be notified if any further information is required or if any discrepancies have been discovered and what action must be taken. No follow up is required if no issues are raised during the audit.
A complete audit trail from harvest to bottle must be established for all VQA wines. No juice, must or wine that has been stored or processed at an unaudited facility for a period spanning more than one audit cycle or vintage year is eligible for use in the production of a VQA wine. Wine transferred from a manufacturer that is not licensed and has not been audited is not eligible for use in the production of a VQA wine.
VQA Ontario conducts inspections of winery retail stores periodically and at least annually for all wineries that operate retail stores. The frequency of retail inspections is based on the past compliance record of the winery. Retail inspections are conducted without notice.
Information about wines offered for sale, including use of VQA terms on labels is collected at each retail inspection. This information is then checked against VQA records to determine whether the wine is approved and complies with labeling requirements.
The winery will be notified if any problems are discovered as a result of a retail inspection.