Lilacs in full bloom beside the grape vines Featherstone Winery & Vineyards in the Twenty Valley near Niagara, ON.
Credits: FILE PHOTO
Designations are sought-after because they give wines a brand, tells consumers where the grapes were grown and what kind of distinct, unique flavour to expect.
That helps with marketing, which leads to increased sales and in turn to more grapes being grown and more tourists coming to the area.
Right now, there are 10 wineries and 100 acres of grapes under cultivation in the five counties that make up the South Coast wine region.
But reports coming in from growers who are expanding indicate the region will easily surpass the 125-acre mark next year, said Judy Buck, administrator for the Ontario South Coast Wineries and Growers Association.
Once the new vines are in the ground, the association will apply to the Ontario government to become a "designated viticultural area."
"We will definitely have it by next year," Buck said.
If the area gets the designation, it will become the fifth DVA in Ontario after Erie North Shore, Point Pelee, Niagara, and Prince Edward County.
A designation comes with risks and rewards, said Hillary Dawson, president of the Wine Council of Ontario. Wineries have an obligation to increase the amount of locally grown grapes in their product, she said.
"You run the risk you don't have enough grapes where you make your wine," she said. "You want to keep supply healthy."
A designation, however, also means "a more favourable tax status" when selling wine in stores and the potential for government funding for marketing, Dawson said.
The growth of the wine industry in the sand plain has come on the heels of the decline of tobacco.
Buck said tobacco growers have skills that are "transferable" to the wine industry. They are "risk takers," have a strong work ethic, and sit on sandy soil that produces a distinctive flavour in grapes, she said.
Anita and Steve Buehner will harvest their first crop of grapes this fall on a family farm south of Waterford, Ont., that grew tobacco from the 1940s until 2008.
They now produce corn, apples, and lavender as well as grapes.
The large pack barn used by two generations of tobacco farmers will be converted into a lavender gift shop and a winery that will be open to the public.
Anita Buehner said she and her husband are busy ordering equipment, finding a winemaker, and planning the barn's conversion.
"It's extremely ambitious," Anita said, pointing out the couple must learn skills they didn't need when they grew tobacco, such as marketing directly to the public.
Changing crops hasn't been easy, she said. "It takes a minimum three to five years to do a transition. It's very emotional. It's very hard on relationships."