Canada’s first venture into a co-operative winery has ended in financial disaster for 19 grape growers in the Niagara Peninsula.

Niagara Vintners Inc, and its winery, called 20 Bees, was an association of 19 long-time grape growers in the Niagara Peninsula, together with winemaker Sue Ann Staff.

The winery is now in receivership after only one year of operation.

In a written statement to the St Catharine’s Standard, the local newspaper for the wine region, David Wiley, one of the share-holding growers, said Niagara Vintners was started ‘with the best of intentions.’

The ‘committed group of growers’ behind it, he said, recognised that they could do something to change what he called ‘the precariousness of the grape industry’.

‘This attempted change came in the form of starting a winery. The winery created was a successful brand. The winery has failed financially.’

Collectively, the group farmed 1,780ha (4,400 acres), about 25% of the Niagara Peninsula’s total vineyard area.

In its first year of operations 20 Bees produced 30,000 cases of wine in an attempt to compete with Vincor and Andres, the two giants of the Ontario wine industry.

Unlike these large commercial concerns they tried to do it by producing only VQA wines made from 100% locally-grown grapes.

Industry observers say the problem for the company is that it expanded too quickly.

It invested in a CAN$40m winery facility that was expected to be completed in 2009 and had projected to employ 100 people. The plans called for a bottling plant, warehouse, retail outlet and a space for hospitality.

There is some talk that the building might be used as a custom crush facility, similar to the Napa Wine Company in Oakville, California.

Written by Tony Aspler