It is springtime in Ontario, and for provincial vineyards, that means increased activity after a long winter as grapevines begin new growth for this season. April 2, 2020, was to have been the Ontario Craft Wineries Conference & Trade Show in Toronto, Ontario. To protect members of the public and comply with government regulations, the conference was postponed due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Although the conference is postponed until further notice, Ontario vineyards and wineries continue to prepare for the 2020 season and the seasons to come.

The Ontario Craft Wineries (OCW) Conference connects industry professionals through networking, presentations, and breakout sessions. Conference presentations range in topic from Climate Change to the Millennial Market. Sandra Tavares, Principal of Tavares Group Consulting Inc., is scheduled to share her expertise in Creating a Sustainable Winery. Sandra is an approved Ontario Viticulture and Winery Sustainability Auditor and certified Sustainability Professional. 

In 2007, OCW started the Sustainable Winemaking Ontario (SWO) Accredited Certified Program. As of 2017, the program has transitioned from a self-accredited program to a third-party independent audit which makes it a certifiable program that ensures winery operations adhere to environmentally sustainable practices. Watch for the new OCW corporate logo for the SWO Certified program on Ontario winery products. There are currently 13 Ontario VQA wineries certified as part of the SWO program. 

In a recent interview, Alison Oppenlaender, OCW Projects & Communications Manager, shared some insights into the 2020 OCW Conference, SWO Certified program, and sustainability efforts for Ontario wineries and vineyards.

Q: Sustainability is a prominent topic for the 2020 OCW conference. In what ways is sustainability of increasing importance for wineries and vineyards?

A: The Theme of OCW Conference is “Vision 2020,” and sustainability plays a very important role in future planning of the wine and grape industry. We have dedicated one session of the conference for wineries that want to learn more on the importance of sustainability in the wine industry, how to move towards certification as part of the industry’s Sustainable Winemaking Ontario (SWO) Certified program, as well as global wine trends in terms of sustainability.

Q: The SWO Logo offers certified wineries the distinction of sustainable wine and/or vineyard practices. Has there been an increase in the number of SWO participants in the past couple of years? Do you believe this will increase in coming years?

A: The SWO logo was created for the SWO Certified wineries to proudly show their commitment to sustainability on their marketing materials and on their website. Wineries that also have their vineyards certified are able to put the logo on their wine bottles. There has not been a huge increase in SWO participants, however, we do believe that this will increase as the market (consumers) demand increase for sustainable products, including sustainable wine. A side note, it is more sustainable for us to buy local products (E.g., local Ontario VQA wine, as we know that everything sourced was produced in our backyard – no travel emissions, etc.)

Q: What is the main sustainability challenge for wineries?

A: The main challenges of the program are the yearly questionnaire that wineries have complete and the audit process that wineries often find daunting. We are currently working on streamlining this process to make it as easy for wineries as possible.

How can the TGC Sustainability Toolkit help wineries create and meet their sustainability goals? The Toolkit can assist with not only identifying and prioritising issues identified in the SWO Certificate program for grape growers and wineries, but also develop programs for successful management and inherent improvement, leading to a strong sustainability strategy. As a certified auditor, Sandra can provide customised insight into SWO program requirements, and help make the process as simple as possible.

Staarsoft® is the software version of the Toolkit Approach. It incorporates risk assessment and stakeholder concerns to ensure successful implementation of sustainability programs and meaningful reporting on material environmental and social issues. The Toolkit Approach has been a success across a range of sectors and has been presented at national and international conferences, including Canect 2019, Automotive Industry Action Group’s 2015-2018 Corporate Responsibility Summits, 2016 World Ethical Apparel Roundtable, Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education’s 2015 Annual Conference & Expo, and the Canadian Society of Safety Engineering’s 2015 Professional Development Conference.

Interested in how your company can incorporate SWO Certification into your sustainability strategy? Our Staarsoft® framework can help! True sustainability impact must incorporate all sustainability aspects, including environment, operations, community, and product lifecycle. Contact us today for a consultation.