Wine labels in Canada are governed by the Food and Drug Act (1985). The Act and its related Regulations are enforced by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), which covers health standards, safety standards, food packaging, labelling and advertising. The CFIA ensures that wine makers abide by wine labelling requirements when selling Canadian wine in the domestic market.
Products must also comply with labelling, net quantity and standardized container size requirements under the Food and Drugs Act (1985), as well as the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act (1985). There are three categories of Canadian-made or Canadian-bottled wine sold in Canada:
- Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA) certified
- 100% Canadian Wine (Product of Canada)
- International blends, made from imported and domestic content
Each of these three categories of wine must be labelled in a manner that adheres to Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) regulations, ensuring consumers are aware of the origin of the wine and that the label is truthful and not misleading. This provides accurate information for consumers, including common mandatory information such as the product name, volume, alcohol content and origin.
Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA) Wines
There are two VQA systems in Canada: one in Ontario and the other in British Columbia.
Ontario’s VQA appellation system began in 1989. VQA Ontario was formalized in 1999 when the VQA Act (1999) meant production standards were proclaimed into law, through which VQA Ontario – a not-for-profit corporation – was made Ontario’s wine authority responsible for administering the VQA Act.
Ontario’s VQA system has designated 3 appellations, 2 regional appellations and 10 sub-appellations. These places – each mapped by their unique terroir and micro-climates – are supported by strict standards to create consumer knowledge and trust. This expectation is enhanced through a rigorous mandatory independent tasting panel which each VQA wine must go through before being certified as VQA.
Under VQA Ontario regulation, 100% of the grapes sourced to make the wine must be grown in Ontario. If the label includes a stated appellation, regional appellation, varietal or year, 85% of the wine must be from that specific appellation, regional appellation, single varietal or vintage. And finally, if there is a stated sub-appellation or vineyard on the bottle, 100% of the wine must be from that sub-appellation or vineyard.
- The content rules for VQA Ontario labelling declarations are as follows:
- Ontario (100% Ontario)
- Appellations/ viticultural areas of Niagara Peninsula, Lake Erie North Shore, Prince Edward County (85% from stated area, the rest can be from anywhere in Ontario)
- Regional appellations of Niagara-on-the-Lake, Niagara Escarpment (85% from stated area, the remainder can be from elsewhere in Niagara)
- Sub-appellation (100%)
- Vineyard designation (100%)
- Estate Bottled (100% grown, made, bottled)
Ontario’s appellations are as follows:
For more information, please see the VQA Ontario website.
British Columbia’s VQA appellation system was established in 1990. The BC VQA system was enacted into law in 2013, under the Wines of Marked Quality Regulation (2013), and is enforced by the British Columbia Wine Authority.
British Columbia VQA system has 5 appellations – Okanagan Valley, Similkameen Valley, Fraser Valley, Vancouver Island and Gulf Islands – and 1 sub-appellation – Golden Mile Bench.
The content rules for BC VQA labelling declarations, under the Wines of Marked Quality Regulation (2013), are as follows:
- British Columbia (100% British Columbia)
- Appellations/ sub-appellation (95% must come from that specific appellation or sub-appellation)
- Vintage/ varietal (85% must be from that vintage year/ stated varietal)
- Vineyard designation (100%)
For more information, please see the BC Wine Authority website.
An example of the labelling of a VQA wine is as follows:
An example of the labelling of a BC VQA wine is as follows:
100% Canadian Wines/ Product of Canada
100% Canadian wines, which are not VQA certified, are quality wines made from grapes grown in Canada. These include:
- Wines from a province outside of BC or Ontario, such as Nova Scotia or Quebec, where there is no provincially regulated VQA system;
- Wines from BC or Ontario that do not meet the VQA standard (e.g. the wine may exhibit flavours that contrast what the VQA tasting panel expected for a specific appellation area);
- Wines from a BC or Ontario winery that has chosen not to have that wine VQA certified.
These wines are labelled ‘Product of Canada’.
A 100% Canadian wine must have the following information stated in a single field of vision (i.e. front or back label) on the wine bottle:
International Blends from Imported and Domestic Content
Wine bottled and blended in Canada from both imported and domestic content must either: (a) list all countries of origin in the blend (e.g. Blended in Canada with wine from Country A and Country B) or (b) use the label designation “Cellared in Canada from imported and/or domestic wines.”
The Cellared in Canada designation is similar to the label designation for all foods produced and sold in Canada which are not made from 100% Canadian ingredients – “Made in Canada from imported and domestic ingredients”.
Given the desire within the Canadian wine industry to ensure consumer awareness through wine labelling, the Canadian Vintners Association organized industry roundtables in October 2016. They concluded that the label designation for wines blended and bottled in Canada with less than 100% Canadian content should use the label designation “International Blend from Imported and Domestic Wines”. In December 2016, this recommendation was submitted to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food for approval, to replace the “Cellared in Canada” designation. During the interim period, the designation “Cellared in Canada from imported and/or domestic wines” will continue to be used by blended wine producers in Canada.
The label below depicts information that must be within a single field of vision (i.e. front or back label) of a bottle of wine made with imported and domestic content (as an alternative to listing all countries of origin in the blend):