Planning for the Future

Development of the Ontario Wine Industry


Dr. W.J. Caldwell, Professor,
School of Environmental Design and Rural Development
University of Guelph

Research assistant

Dave Aston
School of Environmental Design and Rural Development
University of Guelph


Research and Corporate Services Division Research Branch
Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs

executive summary
Recent newspaper headlines identify some of the challenges facing Niagara’s rapidly growing “on-farm” wine industry. Headlines such as,
  • “Winery Expansion Sours Neighbours” (The St. Catharines Standard, Feb. 16, 1999)
  • “A Winery Resort Doesn’t Belong on Niagara Peninsula” (Kitchener Record, Feb. 12, 1999)
point to the relationship between planning policy, the evolving on-farm wine industry and the opportunities for economic growth and development.

Planning regulations established by provincial and municipal authorities dictate acceptable agricultural land uses and related or secondary on-farm activity. Recent growth in Niagara’s wine industry indicates that farms are diversifying by developing “on-farm” wineries. The emergence of “on-farm” wineries and associated value-added products have placed the Niagara Region on the leading edge of the industry while at the same time creating various land use changes and scenarios. The typical “on-farm” winery includes a variety of land uses, from agricultural to industrial and commercial. Wineries are now – growing raw resources (grapes), manufacturing and producing related commodities (wines, fruit wines, grape wreaths), retailing final products (on-farm sales), and providing a variety of other recreational and tourist opportunities. These opportunities have included – vineyard tours and wine tastings, bed and breakfasts, weekend barbecues, receptions and fine dining.

Recently, the Ontario Municipal Board has approved the construction of a four seasons “winery resort”, which is beyond what most planners and community members feel is appropriate. This diversification comes with risks and opportunities. On one hand this type of development offers new employment and economic opportunities and diversification potential that is needed to elevate the industry one step further. On the other hand it raises questions concerning compatibility with existing agricultural activities and leads to questions concerning the appropriateness of these new activities in an agricultural context.

While Ontario’s “on-farm” wine industry is continuing to evolve similar situations can be seen elsewhere in Canada, primarily the Okanagan Valley wine region in British Columbia. A comparison of the situation in Niagara Region with that of the Okanagan Valley will allow for recognition of common issues and possible alternatives, solutions, and strategies for future planning.

The purpose of this research is to understand the dynamics of the “on-farm” wine industry and to evaluate the appropriateness of related provincial, regional, and local planning policy. This policy is directly related to the future growth and development of the Niagara “on-farm” wine industry with numerous related rural economic development opportunities.

This research will focus on policy analysis and discussions with those directly involved in the “on-farm” wine industry. It will draw on planning and economic development initiatives from the Niagara Region and the Okanagan Valley and will consist of four phases as follows:
  • Setting the Context – Issues related to Niagara’s “on-farm” wine industry will be reviewed and documented. This will occur from an international, national, provincial and local perspective.
  • The “On-Farm” Wine Industry – An Analysis- Discussions with individual growers and wine industry operators will provide insight into the changing dynamics of the Niagara wine industry.
  • Planning and Economic Development Policy – Key to the study is the documentation and analysis of planning and economic development policy as it relates to the “on-farm” wine industry. Interviews with planners, municipal politicians, growers, winery owners, and development corporations will document existing policy and identify areas of change that may be required if the Niagara industry is to adapt and evolve in its quest to remain competitive. Documentation and analysis of the approaches used in British Columbia will help to identify further opportunities for Ontario.
  • Analysis and Recommendations – The report will conclude by evaluating the appropriateness of policy used in Ontario. How are the planning regulations which are applied affecting the Niagara on-farm wine industry (positively or negatively) and how should these criteria be altered to better suit the needs of this growing industry.
Consistent with OMAFRA’s Special Research Project Criteria for Proposals this project will focus on advancing rural Ontario economic development. It seeks to understand current trends and barriers affecting the economic growth and development of the Ontario “on-farm” wine industry. It will look for indicators of successful policy and will attempt to establish benchmarks for municipalities in developing and implementing strategic long-term planning policy related to the “on-farm” wine industry. Building on this the report will identify recommendations for the effective development and implementation of policy that is supportive of the future prosperity of the Ontario “on-farm” wine industry.