Carolyn Evans Hammond, Toronto Star Contributor
Andre Proulx, Andre Wine Review
Louis Papa, My Ontario Wine
Tas Fraser, @girlwithaciderreview on Instagram
As for me, my name is Greg Lamb. Since I was a kid growing up in Oxford/Norfolk counties, I have eagerly anticipated the province’s amazing seasonal corn, peaches, apples, tomatoes, etc. When I got a little older my interests turned to the alcoholic beverages.
15-20 years ago there wasn’t much of a craft beer industry in this province but that didn’t stop me from bringing my 6-packs of those 500ml Creemore Springs bottles to parties and dealing with the judgemental looks shot at me from the Canadian, Coors Lite and Budweiser crowd. Which was everyone. I started seeking out everything new that I could find and I noticed that what was going on in the U.S. was WAY different than here. 15 years ago in the U.S. you couldn’t swing a dead cat without knocking a delicious craft beer out of someone’s hand; here you had to be a detective to find something new and exciting. I began to make trips to the U.S. just to buy and try a vast array of clearly superior beers. A little later, while living in Ottawa, I realized that the same thing was going on in Quebec. All I had to do was ride my bike across the river and I was in beer heaven! I started to ask the question; where is all the craft beer in Ontario! Little did I know at that time that I was like a man standing with his back to a Tsunami, looking for water. There is no way for me to properly describe the pride that I feel as an Ontarian when I think about how far our craft beer industry has come in just the last 15 years.
While all this was happening within the beer industry, the same thing was happening with wine right under my nose. My father has been a casual wine collector since the early 2000s. Whenever I would visit him 10-15 years ago I started to notice the wine that we drank at dinner more and more. There was a brief period where that brash, ignorant kid in his 20’s would say things like, “Dad, put that Niagara wine away and let’s have something good tonight!” That stopped quickly. It still kills me that I went through that phase but I guess we’re all ignorant until we learn. I spent my early wine appreciation years drinking things like: Stratus, Strewn, Tawse, Kacaba, Trius, Lailey and others. Even back then it really bothered me hearing people bash Ontario wine as inferior; even though it was somewhat true! But now there’s no excuse for bashing the great wineries of Ontario; the quality of the wine has come so far and every producer has carved out their own style and identity. My father’s small collection of a few dozen bottles 15 years ago has grown to hundreds of bottles and unlike virtually everyone with that amount of wine; it’s comprised of probably 85% Ontario product. I recall recently one of his last bottles of 2010 Stratus Red and having an overwhelming thought of, ‘I can’t believe how few people are aware that this wine experience exists.’ It’s sad, but it’s also uplifting when I see how much room for growth still lies ahead! I’ve been on a mission to destroy the silly stigma that so many Ontarians have against the wine grown in their own backyards. Does anyone else know people who will preach the importance of buying things ‘made in Canada’, over a glass of Argentinian Malbec?
I consider myself to be a problem solver of sorts. I’ve never accepted the status quo, especially in cases where the status quo is clearly broken. Our alcohol distribution system in Ontario is broken, from the consumer’s perspective and from the producer’s perspective. Ontario Beverages is about bringing the consumer and producers into one organized space. It’s what we need and I believe it’s something that will lead to Ontarians supporting their local fermenters with much more enthusiasm.