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Niagara Falls
Tuesday, March 28, 2023
NOTL wineries say new government aid program is a big help

Operators will know soon if they receive up to $200,000 in relief 


Wineries and cideries that qualify for a one-time grant from the provincial government to help offset financial impacts to their businesses because of COVID-19 could receive their money as early as September.

The Winery Agri-Tourism COVID-19 Relief Initiative will provide a $10 million grant to eligible wineries and cideries with on-site stores. There is a cap of $200,000 for any one business. 

The grant “is to offset losses and costs for things like PPE and sanitation,” said Avi Yufest, director of communications for the ministry of agriculture, food and rural affairs. 

Relevant losses would be from decreased tourism, tours, events and tastings.

“The process was very tight. We’ve got a tight window, so we can get the funds out ASAP,” said Yufest. “The goal is to have the funds out in September.” 

Applications were sent out to 259 businesses in Ontario and 198 operators completed the applications, including 73 from Niagara.

The Lake Report spoke to senior officials of several wineries and all expressed appreciation for the help, while noting it will only partially compensate for losses and increased expenses.

“Some people will use the money to pay down debts they’ve incurred, or to meet payroll. Our extra expenses were related to physical changes outdoors,” said Greg Berti, vice-president of Andrew Peller Limited.

If Peller receives the full $200,000 as it hopes, “We’ll invest in preparing for the future, to become more COVID resilient, especially on the digital side,” he said.

“We want to streamline our e-commerce process so we can respond to any future demands and we also want to make it easy for customers to book online, and make itineraries, so we’ll invest in software to simplify that consumer experience,” Berti said.

The government program will “go a long way to help us prepare for the future. It means a lot to us.”

In St. Davids, at Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery, co-proprietor Paul Harber said, “We are seeing the light of day, but it’s still far from normal.”

“Events have taken the brunt of the impact, with smaller groups and capacity restrictions,” so he was pleased that “the process to apply was simple and it’s good they plan to get the money out as early as September.”

At Ravine, the money would help recover funds spent to extend outdoor offerings, such as tents, and adapt to COVID restrictions. “If we get what we applied for, it will offset 30 per cent of the money we spent to be able to open this season,” Harber said. 

Jamie Slingerland, director of viticulture for Pillitteri Estates Winery, said most wineries have had 85 per cent fewer visitors during COVID, which has reduced revenue dramatically.

Adding to the challenge is the fact he now has to have more staff to serve fewer people, given the restrictions on capacity. So the fund is welcome.

 “We are very thankful that this grant money has become available as it is life-saving for many wineries. At this point we are all trying to tread water,” he said in an email.

 Jane Langdon is responsible for onsite experiences at Strewn Winery. Her comments echo others, saying that “every little bit helps.”

“We have continued to invest in our outdoor spaces to keep everything safe and keep ensuring it’s the best it can be. So the money would be helpful to offset additional costs such as our leased tent,” Langdon said. 

However, “will it cover what we hope to build for a more permanent, extended season facility? No. But everything is helpful and we are thankful for the support,” she said. 

Richard Liu, owner of Ironwood Cider House, expressed a similar sentiment, saying, “Everything helps. We’ve been pretty heavily impacted by COVID, so any grant will help.”

Businesses should know soon what they will receive from the fund. 


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