It’s taken years to get the province and the wine industry on the same page, but several changes unveiled by the Ford government are “incredibly gratifying for all of us and we’re all incredibly excited and grateful,” says John Peller.
The changes announced just before Christmas are “a real shot of adrenalin,” the CEO and president of Andrew Peller Ltd. said in an interview.
“This is just what the region needs, to know that when we work together our goals are very achievable.”
The province unveiled a suite of changes to the landscape of liquor sales, several of which the Niagara wine industry had lobbied for intensely.
Included in the announcement:
- Elimination of the 6.1 per cent tax charged on wine sales at wineries.
- In conjunction with the expansion of the number of convenience, grocery and big-box stores able to sell beer, wine, cider and coolers by up to 8,500 new stores starting in 2026, the government extended the current 40 per cent shelf space requirements for Ontario wines and ciders to new retailers to help small producers compete.
- The Wine Marketing Fund will continue for up to five years.
- The VQA Support Program was extended and the cap on it will be removed. When VQA wines are sold at the LCBO, the program returns some of the taxes to Ontario wineries.
- Government direction to the LCBO to promote and prioritize Ontario-made products.
Peller has been a key leader in the push to get these changes in place and he intends to continue.
“He’s a founder in the industry and John has had a very strong vision to move forward,” according to Del Rollo, Arterra Wines’ vice-president of corporate affairs.
“He has been a driving force, instrumental in our success,” he added.
Peller noted his vision and ambition started with his grandfather some 70 years ago “and it was my father’s as well.”
“I’ve become attached to everything that our business stands for in terms of making an incredible agricultural product and bringing best-in-class wines and hospitality and culture to a region that has just absolutely unlimited potential,” he said.
“It’s heavy lifting. It’s a lot of hard work using data and fact-based studies. It has taken a great deal of time and effort to get the entire Niagara region working together to share all the data and information that’s in our Deloitte report,” he said.
Deloitte’s “Uncork Ontario” report says the Niagara wine industry could be the catalyst for adding billions of dollars to the province’s GDP.
“In the end, there’s a great consensus around the incredible economic opportunity that exists here,” Peller said. “You can really see the power of collective ambition.”
He calls the province’s changes “foundational” for industry growth, but cautions there is still much work left to do, particularly around taxes and market share.
“Don’t lose sight of the fact that even when this effectively reduces the taxation on VQA wine, we’re still paying three or four times the amount of tax that most businesses pay,” he said.
“Every wine region in the world has a dominant market position in its home market, greater than 90 per cent domestic share, including countries like France, Italy and Spain. Meanwhile, our market share in the LCBO is 25 per cent, the same as 30 years ago when I first started.”
VQA wines, which are made exclusively with locally grown grapes, represent just over 7 per sent of that share. The remainder is made up of International Domestic Blends which contain a blend of 25 per cent Ontario content and 75 per cent foreign content.
“There’s a whole sense of energy and adrenalin in our industry right now. We’re in the beginning phases in that there’s a lot more work to be done, but I’ve never been more inspired,” said Peller.
The industry adores Peller’s passion on this, Rollo said, and “he’ll be ever present and will continue to champion this industry.”
“I’ll be working on this for the rest of my life. I bought into this dream over 30 years ago,” Peller said.