Ever wonder how small entrepreneurs make it in mature industries dominated by big players? That’s what Dr. Laura Ierfino-Blachford, assistant professor in Trent University’s School of Business, hopes to learn more about through her a case study of the Ontario wine industry.
“I was interested in how small entrepreneurs launch successful practices in mature fields and noticed that this had actually occurred in the Canadian wine industry, so it was a good field to look at and learn how it happened,” says Professor Ierfino-Blachford, who recently received a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Explore Grant through Trent’s Office of Research and Innovation for this project.
Ontario wine industry stable for many years
Prof. Ierfino-Blachford will be examining the progression of the 100% domestically-produced Ontario craft wine industry from 1985 to 2018.
From Prohibition to the mid-1970s, the Ontario wine industry went through a very stable period, with no new licenses issued during that time. The practices of the incumbents – all big players – involved blending juice imported from the U.S. with Canadian grapes that were very hardy, but not ideal for wine making.
Enter some small entrepreneurs in the 1980s with the idea of planting high quality European vinifera grapes – the kind used in making many of the sumptuous merlots, exquisite chardonnays and resplendent Pinot Noirs enjoyed by wine lovers around the world.
“The government at the time said it was impossible because of the climate,” says Prof. Ierfino-Blachford.
Coming from European countries and with an illustrious horticulture history and distinguished winemaking traditions, these new players were determined to succeed. And succeed they did – completely disrupting the Canadian wine industry.
“They basically changed the field by introducing these high-quality wines that were 100% domestically produced,” says Prof. Ierfino-Blachford. “In 1985, they formed the Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA) and the Canadian wine industry has taken off since then. The Ontario VQA was regulated in 2000. ”
Strategies of small entrepreneurs moved industry forward
Prof. Ierfino-Blatchford plans to interview Ontario wine entrepreneurs on two essential questions – how did they do it and how have their strategies changed since the time they started?
“There’s not a lot of research on what happens after a field is legitimated and how entrepreneurs actually help that field to ensure its vitality,” says Prof. Ierfino-Blachford. The research will include lesser-studied viticulture areas outside of the Niagara region, such as Prince Edward County and the Lake Erie north shore.
“Essentially, it’s looking at how these wineries outside of Niagara changed the face of the industry and helped it progress,” explains Prof. Ierfino-Blachford, who hopes the research discoveries will eventually transfer to other craft markets, such as coffee.
Trent’s location, support and positive environment ideal for this research
Located near Prince Edward County, one of the study areas, and home to state-of-the-art research facilities, Trent University is an optimal academic institution for this type of research. Prof. Ierfino-Blachford will also be hiring Trent students to help with the data gathering, organizing, coding and interview transcriptions.
“I can’t thank Trent enough for giving me the funding,” says Prof. Ierfino-Blachford. “The Trent students I hire are fantastic and it’s just an amazingly collegial and positive environment.”