It’s telling that a vintner is now chair of the Ontario Craft Cider Association (OCCA). Richard Liu, owner of Ironwood Cider and Sunnybrook Wine in Niagara-on-the-Lake, cites the LCBO statistics to make his point about long-term growth.
Ontario craft cider producers are estimated to have topped three million litres in 2017. In the LCBO’s cider category, Ontario’s craft cider has gone from seven per cent to 11.5 per cent of the category in just one year, strong growth considering it surfaced only 5 years ago.
“I’m a long-term guy in this capital-intensive industry,” says Liu. “I think there’s a lot of potential in the next five to 10 years for craft ciders and that they can totally compete with international brands.”
In contrast, Ontario’s well-established wine industry owns nine per cent of the VQA wines consumed in the market.
“Ultimately, we want to grow a strong and lasting relationship with Ontario’s apple growers,” says Liu. “We want to build on the value chain.”
A meeting is scheduled for June to talk to the Ontario Apple Growers’ leadership. Not every apple is graded for the fresh market, so the 41-member Ontario Craft Cider Association wants growers to know there is a home for seconds. Spy and Russet varieties are particularly valued for their sharp acidity.
As Liu explains, the craft cider industry is in its infancy. Statistics aren’t available for the 60 or so producers, many with on-farm cider sales. But government support in the Ontario Small Cidery Support Program is helping to increase capacity. A year ago, the provincial government announced that eligible cideries could receive up to 74 cents per litre on eligible sales to a maximum of $220,000 per year per producer. To be eligible, 100% Ontario apples must be used.
It’s a good time for a summer sipper that has an alcohol content in the four to seven per cent range. Appropriately, June 1- 8 has been declared Ontario Craft Cider Week.