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(Sam Greenwood/2009 Getty Images)
(Sam Greenwood/2009 Getty Images)

Ontario mixes politics and wine at Games Add to ...

VANCOUVER - Winemakers who want Ontario's backing can take a lesson from the Olympics: It helps to have a celebrity on your label.

The day after Wayne Gretzky lit the cauldron that kicked off the biggest sporting event the country has ever seen, provincial politicians were pouring No. 99 Estates' eponymous Riesling for a high-end crowd at the opening of Ontario House, the province's pavilion at these Games.

Mike Weir Chardonnay was also featured, at just the right temperature, as were a number of offerings from the vineyards of Dan Aykroyd.

The wines were part of a larger event on Saturday that saw provincial Minister of Tourism and Culture Michael Chan pitch to the world, or at least a crowd of several hundred business, political and media types.

In a refreshing show of bi-partisan support, federal Conservative cabinet minister Stockwell Day shared the stage for the brief formal part of the evening, then worked the crowd with his provincial Liberal counterpart.

At the Olympics, even the simple act of pouring a glass of wine needs to be approached diplomatically.

Jackson-Triggs is the official winemaker at the Games, and a major player in the province's vineyards. In a nod to those roles, there were Jackson-Triggs whites and reds served alongside the celebrity-endorsed brands as Ontario House opened its doors.

And corporate cousin Iniskillin Wines got a big boost at Saturday's bash, with a special station set up to dole out glasses of its Icewine. Jackson-Triggs and Iniskillin are both owned by Vincor International, the Ontario-based arm of global wine, beer and spirits maker Constellation Brands. The wines backed by Mr. Gretzky, Mr. Weir and Mr. Aykroyd are all owned by private, Ontario-based companies.

For a sense of just where priorities lie at these events, here's how the finals stages of Ontario's party played out on Saturday. Three big-screen TVs at the back of a vast room were tuned to the freestyle skiing, where Jennifer Heil had a shot at pulling gold out of a run through the moguls.

The entire crowd gravitated to the screens during the competition, and shouted down several attempts to turn off the TVs. That forced Ontario House staff to delay sound checks and set up, ahead of a concert by the Downchild Blues Band.

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