Cideries win one after COVID-19 sours operations

Above, Upper Canada Cider Company founder Matthew Cameron (left) and co-worker Zach Pyke promote the firm’s “Three County Cider” — made from apples sourced in Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry — at ‘Tastefest’ in Moose Creek last September.
Zandbergen photo, Nation Valley News

Tom Van Dusen
Nation Valley News

EASTERN ONTARIO — The lobbying efforts of two Eastern Ontario cideries have helped remove — at least for the time being — red tape strangling their retail sales.

With the help of their MPPs, Flying Canoe Hard Cider based in Spencerville and Upper Canada Cider Company in Glen Walter successfully lobbied the provincial government for suspension of the five-acre rule which prevented them from selling from their premises without their own orchards.

Both argued their sales have dried up and their businesses are threatened with closure because of COVID-19 restrictions cutting their usual bar and restaurant sales. They wanted clearance to sell directly from their premises to customers arriving at the door.

During an online forum April 27, Agriculture Minister Ernie Hardeman couldn’t explain the origin or purpose of the rule which he noted wasn’t implemented by his government. Responding to Irene Cameron, mother of Upper Canada operator Matthew Cameron and owner of the building the cidery occupies, the minister cited the 5-acre clause as another example of bureaucratic red tape his government is determined to untangle.

Within a matter of days, the prohibitive rule was scrapped until more formal consideration can occur after COVID subsides. Flying Canoe owner Pete Rainville hopes the government will abolish the law once and for all. In the meantime, cideries without orchards will require Retail Store Authorization from the Alcohol Gaming Commission of Ontario to sell out of their premises.

While Rainville could find little explanation for the 5-acre rule, he said it may have been imposed to help orchard-based cideries and wineries gain a foothold while developing their businesses. Meanwhile, breweries and distilleries have never been required to maintain their own grain fields. An online petition he launched against the rule gathered more than 2,700 supporters.

While he may not have his own orchard, since opening four years ago, Rainville has purchased 1.2 million apples worth of pressed juice form Smyth’s Orchard at nearby Dundela, about 50 per cent of which is McIntosh; he blends the juice of other varieties into his cider to give it a distinctive taste.

Above, an official Ontario plaque denotes the original McIntosh farmstead in Dundela, where the first McIntosh apple tree was grown — less than a kilometre away from Smyth’s Orchard, supplier of apples to Flying Canoe Hard Cider in Spencerville.

“I have a very close business connection with Smyth’s, providing them major sales,” Rainville observed, wondering why that doesn’t supersede the vague five-acre requirement. He also buys other supplies locally. Retail sales will occur from the historic stone home Rainville occupies in the centre of Spencerville which he acquired after discovering it had belonged to the grandson of the discoverer of the world’s most famous apple, John McIntosh who settled near Smyth’s present location.

He saw it as a good omen … then COVID-19 descended!

Since the virus erupted, Flying Canoe has taken a nose dive, dropping about 65 per cent in revenues from its Ottawa bar and restaurant customers, most of which are closed; from 50 outlets, Flying Canoe is down to a small order from one. Special events which also contributed to revenues have been cancelled.

The cidery is now solely reliant on LCBO stores it previously secured as customers which take 48 per cent off the top. Rainville pays another 20 percent in business tax on the 52 per cent the LCBO doesn’t take.

“The more of our 100 per cent Ontario cider we sell, the more money goes into government coffres; if we fail, we’ll inversely become dependent on social assistance,’’ Rainville told Premier Doug Ford in a letter outlining his plight.

The story at Upper Canada is similar. Making small-batch semi sweet cider from local apples, Cameron was in expansion mode when COVID-19 hit, crippling operations.



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