What is VQA?

The short answer
When you see VQA Ontario on a bottle, it means the wine is made from 100% Ontario-grown grapes, which have been approved through a strict quality-assurance program. It’s okay if you stop here. But the long answer is really interesting.

The long answer
VQA stands for Vintners Quality Alliance. VQA Ontario is an independent authority that establishes and monitors the province’s “appellation of origin” system. All countries that produce wine have similar systems, which define their best grape-growing regions and set standards for their wines. In this province, that’s the VQA’s job.

Ontario has three primary grape-growing regions, or “appellations,” where the soil and climate create unique growing conditions. (It’s the same principle that makes Vidalia onions, Georgia peaches and Malpeque oysters so special.) “Terroir” is the name for the sum of these conditions: Meaning “sense of place,” it expresses a wine’s relationship to the soil, climate and natural surroundings. When you understand an appellation, you can begin to understand the unique characteristics of its wine (and you get to slip words like “terroir” into conversation).

Our wine appellations are:

  • Lake Erie North Shore
  • Niagara Peninsula
  • Prince Edward County.

Sub-appellations are smaller areas within an appellation, such as Niagara Lakeshore and Beamsville Bench. Grape growers adapt to the soils and microclimates of these smaller zones, finding the best combinations of grape variety, location and wine style to create wines that reflect the essence of where they’re from.

VQA Ontario also sets the standards for the wine that’s made here. When you see VQA Ontario and an appellation name on a bottle of wine, you can be sure that what’s inside has passed through a strict quality-assurance and label-integrity program, and is made entirely from grapes grown in Ontario.

You may have noticed that our wine-country destinations aren’t exactly the same as the grape-growing appellations. This is the case for a couple of reasons. First, some wineries operate at a different location from where their grapes are grown (and some wineries operate outside the current appellations). Second, some appellations have a greater concentration of wineries, so we’ve broken them into smaller destinations to make it easier for you to plan a trip. And finally, we looked at how people actually travel to wine country and wineries, and organized the destinations accordingly.

For more information on VQA Ontario, check out their website.

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