Wine Clubs

From time to time I have toyed with the idea of joining a wine club, whether it be one associated with a specific winery or an independent one.  Both have their pros and cons.

According to the so-called experts, the best wine clubs give you key features including access to unique, curated wines for special occasions, last-minute gifts or simply to satisfy your own palette.

Wine clubs can help take the guess work out of deciding what to buy or drink, but more importantly a wine club can introduce you to new wines.

There are lots of clubs to choose from and most are accessible online.  At any given time there are as many as 20,000 Ontarians subscribed to wine clubs.  With over 200 wineries in Ontario and an additional 300 across the rest of Canada, as well as several independent wine clubs, it’s good to know all the facts first.

Most Canadian wineries have wine clubs although   there is difference in how the various club subscriptions work. So it’s important to understand things like frequency (when you’ll get your wine) and quantity (how much you’re getting) and what their rules are for opting in and out.

Things that are important to take into consideration are variety of wines on offer, exclusivity, early-access, value and quality.

It is beneficial to join a club that offers its members exclusive and early-access deals. Check to see if there are any savings from purchasing through the wine club versus through your local liquor or wine store, the quality of the wine being offered (award-winning, sommelier tested, etc) and the guarantees provided to its members regarding satisfaction with the product and service.

Some of the largest wine clubs (Peller, Hillebrand, Jackson-Triggs, Inniskillin, Great Estates of Niagara) are a good place to begin your investigation, but some of the smaller, boutique wineries should not be ignored.

Clubs, like kwäf’s ClubK, are not tied to just one winery, but instead offer an array of quality wines, providing the opportunity to enjoy the wines of many wineries. They work with top sommeliers to offer the best wines. Kwaf is Ontario based and curates the best of Ontario wine and delivers it directly to your door.

The Exchange is a wine club that offers wines beyond what is available through your local liquor or wine store.  The Exchange will provide a curated, mixed case of top quality wines directly to your door. They work with top Ontario wine agencies to find jewels for Exchange members. All the wines are rated at 90 points or more and have been carefully selected by their panel of critics for quality and value.

With an Exchange subscription you become part of a cooperative consisting of hundreds of like-minded wine lovers to ‘Exchange’ a purchase of a full case of a single wine with a mixed case of twelve different wines. The Exchange does everything from the curation, ordering, purchasing, warehousing, repackaging and delivery. The curated case of high-quality wine is delivered to your door once every three months.

With any wine club you should be able to:

  1. Access exclusive discounts
  2. Save time
  3. Discover new wines
  4. Have flexibility
  5. Gain from loyalty and rewards

Before making your ultimate club selection you need to determine whether your drinking habits and style suits the terms of the club. The main things to look out for are to ensure that there are no contracts or obligation to purchase wines; that the company has a large selection and variety of wines; and their prices are less than the retail outlets.

If you are a wine drinker and like discovering new wines, then wine clubs are worth joining.

Sláinte mhaith

The 2020 Ontario Wine Awards

The 26th edition of the Ontario Wine Awards was scheduled to be held back on June 4th.  However, due to COVID-19 the event was postponed.  For the previous 25 years the entries were assessed blind by panels of accredited wine judges from the wine writing and teaching community. The criteria for judging the entries not only required an appreciation for wine, but also necessitated knowledge and expertise of wines from the Ontario region. Included amongst the winning categories; Ontario Red, White and Sparkling Wines of the Year, Ontario Winemaker of the Year, and the Ontario Journalism Award, which recognizes the best article published on the Ontario wine industry.

The award winners left to right in the order presented below.

The 2020 COVID-19 version of the awards finally took place on August 28th A small group gathered at Kew Vineyard, at Beamsville, Ontario, as the awards were presented in front of a small, socially-distanced gathering.  Unlike previous years there were no judges and no formal tastings for the four main awards.  Instead the Awards Committee reached out to judges who had participated in the last three years of the competition and asked them to nominate their top three white, red and sparkling wines they had tasted during the year. Based on those responses the top scoring wines were tabulated.

In addition, the judges were asked to vote on whom they considered should be honoured with the title “Winemaker of the Year”.

The Ontario Wine Awards results for 2020 are:

The Allen Red Wine of the Year Award was awarded to Prince Edward County’s Rosehall Run for its 2018 ‘JCR Pinot Noir Rosehall Vineyard’. I was lucky to obtain a few bottles on my recent trip to the County and heartily concur.

The Quench Magazine White Wine of the Year Award went to the 2017 ‘Charles Baker Riesling Picone Vineyard’ from Niagara.

The Canadian Food and Wine Institute at Niagara College Sparkling Wine of the Year Award was awarded to the 2014 ‘Henry of Pelham Cuvée Catharine Carte Blanche Blanc de Blanc’ from Niagara.

Finally, the Quench Magazine Winemaker of the Year Award went to Philip Dowell of Niagara’s Angels Gate Estate Winery.

Looking forward to 2021, we can only hope that life will return to a more semblance of normal.  However, at this point it is anyone’s guess.

Sláinte mhaith

Day Trip to The County

On the first anniversary of my hemorrhagic stroke I wanted to get away from the ‘scene of the crime’ so my wife suggested taking a day excursion to Prince Edward County.  The County is often compared to France’s Burgundy region in both climate and the grape varietals grown.

The County was officially designated as a VQA appellation in 2007.  It is separated from the mainland by the Bay of Quinte at Belleville and is completely surrounded by Lake Ontario.  The soils and microclimates of the County, coupled with a limestone base, provide an ideal growing environment for cool-climate grapes such as Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  This island setting is now home to over 40 wineries, a dozen craft breweries, fine restaurants, cheese producers, farmers’ markets and other local food purveyors.

I hadn’t visited the county for a few years and had lost touch with what is going on there.  So to prepare for our journey I checked out the latest reviews of the County wineries, which I combined with some curiosities of my own and developed a list of destinations.  My list consisted of 7 wineries, 6 of which were considered as the County’s movers and shakers of 2020 and the 7th was one that I had an interest in.  The wineries included Closson Chase, Devil’s Wishbone, The Grange, Hinterland, The Old Third, Rosehall Run and Waupoos.

The day didn’t exactly play out as I had planned, at least partially due to COVID-19.  Both Devil’s Wishbone and the Old Third were closed and a number of the others had a very limited wine supply.   For example, at the Grange, in order to purchase the only red they had in stock, I had to buy two 375 ml bottles of their Merrill House 2016 Pinot Noir as they had no 750 ml bottles left.  However, having now drank one of the bottles, my wife and I agree it was a good purchase at the equivalent price of $37 for a 750 ml. bottle.

However, as it happened, our last stop made the day worthwhile.  At the very end of Greer Rd. lies Rosehall Run, one of the original wineries established in the County.   Among our finds there was their 2018 JCR Pinot Noir, which in August was awarded the ‘Red Wine of the Year’ at the Ontario Wine Awards.  This wine has the potential of being one of the greatest and longest-lived Pinot Noir they have produced. Even though the wine may be enjoyed now it can be laid down for the next 5 to 7 years to reveal the purity that will evolve with time.  With a price point of $42, it is good value.

Our second find was a 2016 Merlot which was the result of them being able to secure a couple of tonnes of Merlot planted at Prince Edward County’s Huff Estates which resulted in Rosehall Run creating their first and only County Merlot.  The wine was barreled down in their underground cellar for 18 months. New French oak was utilized in preparing this small lot.  There is only a small quantity left and with its price of $35 a bottle, it will be gone soon.

Overall I have always found the offerings of Prince Edward County to be on the expensive side compared to similar offerings in Niagara and especially at the LCBO.  For a big part it is a factor of demand and supply.  The County VQA region is much smaller than Niagara and thus the quantity of grapes available is less and this is reflected in the prices.  There are some good value wines to be found for sure but you just need to be prepared to make the effort to search them out.   There are a couple of wineries, such as Sandbanks, where you can always count on finding a good selection and good value.

Given the climate of the region it is important to keep in mind that the mainstay varietals are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Baco Noir.  To expect to find a lot of other locally grown varietals, such as Cabernet, is not realistic. 

Given that the County has so much more to offer besides wine, a trip there is well worth the time.         

Sláinte mhaith

The Ins and Outs of Wine Auctions

There are numerous reasons why individuals wish to buy or sell wine on the secondary market.  There are those who purchase certain wines or vintages purely as an educated, but speculative investment, looking to resell once the particular wine has appreciated in value, assuming it actually does increase.

The reverse can also be true where a purchaser can seek out good wines that, for whatever reason, failed to maintain their initial value, and thus can later be purchased at a more reasonable cost.

It’s also where you can find back-vintages of excellent wines that aren’t known to draw big collectors at live auctions.

Auctions also provide buyers the opportunity to purchase iconic wines that were either not readily available to the general public at the time of the initial release or may not have been affordable to the buyer in the past.

While many collectors have embraced online auctions for the convenience, it’s become a place for wine consumers wanting to dabble in the auction world to do so at a much lower cost of entry. While the financial point of entry for online auctions may be lower, the quality of the wines is good.

Wine Auctions in Ontario

In Ontario, Waddington’s is the sole company permitted to sell fine wines and spirits by auction, under the authority of the LCBO.  Auctions arranged through Waddington’s can either be live or online.

Registration for a live auction is free and can be completed at their office during the preview for an auction or on the day of the auction.  The process for registering and bidding is pretty much the same as for any other type of live auction.

Registration for an online auction is completed using Waddington’s web site.  The good news is you only need to register once to participate in all of their online auctions.

Once registered, you can place online bids anytime up to the noted end time for the desired lot.

If a bid is received in the final five minutes of the auction, the countdown clock is reset an additional five minutes until no further bids are received.

You can also leave ‘absentee’ bids by entering the maximum amount you would like to bid up to; the software will bid on your behalf up to that amount.

Following payment you can either pick up your purchased auction items or arrange for shipping. Items purchased and not picked up after 10 days following the auction may be subject to storage fees on a per lot basis at $15/week, unless Waddington’s is otherwise notified at time of payment.

Waddington’s does not undertake packing or shipping. The purchaser must arrange for the services of an independent shipper and is responsible for all shipping and insurance expenses and any necessary export permits that may apply.

Be Prepared

Explore the online catalogue of any auction you are interested in. Items are researched by Waddington’s specialists and catalogued with an image, description and value estimation to help understand each item.

Don’t hesitate to email auctioneers with questions about lots before bidding.  Every auction house has wine specialists on staff that should be able to answer any questions about lots that you are interested in.   Things that would be helpful to know include:

  • The ownership history (the provenance) of the wine. The provenance includes information about how the wine was acquired by the current owner and under what circumstances. Provenance is particularly important for establishing the estimated value of very old, rare or valuable wines.
  • The manner in which the wine has been stored, such as
    • Temperature controlled unit
    • Passive cellar, which is a room in a residence with no means of maintaining a permanent temperature.
    • Underground/subterranean cellar, which is an underground cellar that can also be passive or temperature controlled. A passive underground storage area is always preferable to an above ground passive residential cellar. Underground storage is almost always a cooler environment, less susceptible to damaging light, and generally very still.
    • Professional storage facility which provides lockers in temperature-controlled buildings that can be rented by wine collectors.

Auctions provide the opportunity to look for vintages that may not have initially been well received.  Some wines receive less than favourable reviews at the time they are released but time and experience prove those reviews to be wrong with those wines drinking well now.

Bidding on mixed lots is not recommended as you can’t be certain of what you are getting.  Selecting single bottles or even small verticals (several consecutive vintages of the same wine) is the recommended way to go. Mixed lots are a great way for auction houses to move along their cellar’s random one-offs.

Waddington’s charges a buyer’s premium of 20% on the hammer price. Buyer’s premium and applicable Canadian taxes are added to the final bid amount.

Conditions of Sale

In order to purchase alcoholic beverages through an online or live auction you must of course be able to prove you are nineteen years of age or older.

All lots are sold “as is”. Any description issued by the auctioneer of an article to be sold is subject to variation to be posted or announced verbally in the auction room prior to the time of sale.  Descriptions provided by the auction house are only statements of opinion.  No opportunity of inspection is offered prior to the time of sale. No sale will be set aside on account of lack of correspondence of the article with its description or its photo, if any. Some lots are of an age and/or nature which preclude their being in pristine condition and some catalogue descriptions make reference to damage and/or restoration. The lack of such a reference does not imply that a lot is free from defects nor does any reference to certain defects imply the absence of others.  In other words, the auction house cannot speak for how well the wine has been maintained while in the possession of the current owner or possible previous owner(s).  

The potential saving grace is that the buyer, prior to removal of a lot, may make arrangements satisfactory to the auctioneer, for the inspection of the purchase by a fully qualified person acceptable to the auctioneer in order to determine the genuineness or authenticity of the lot. This inspection must be completed within a period of 14 days following the sale. The results must be presented to the auctioneer to the effect that the lot is not genuine or authentic, accompanied by a written request from the buyer to rescind the sale.  The sale price will then be refunded to the buyer.

Unless exempted by law, the buyer is required to pay HST on the total purchase price including the buyer’s premium. This is important to keep in mind as it can significantly increase the total cost of your purchase.

Each lot may be subject to an unpublished reserve which may be changed at any time by agreement between the auctioneer and the consignor.

In Closing

Auctions can be exciting, challenging, frustrating and rewarding.  Your own experience will in part be a factor of your preparedness for the event. Do your homework; predetermine the maximum you are willing to pay for the item you are interested in, and be prepared to stand down if the bidding surpasses that amount. It is not a competition. “Winners” have been known to have buyer’s remorse if they have gotten carried away in the heat of the moment.

Sláinte mhaith

BC’s Movers and Shakers

I previously examined a number of the trending wines from Ontario.  This week I will identify a similar group of wines that are on top of the wine scene in British Columbia.  The wineries presented here are based on my own interpretation of critic reviews and award results over the past year.  The information presented about each winery has been gathered from the winery web site.

Unfortunately, none of this particular group of wines is available in liquor or wine stores outside of B.C., but a number of them are accessible from the winery web sites.

The wineries are presented in alphabetical order.  Though the critically acclaimed wines are presented, I doubt you would be disappointed in any of the wines offered from these establishments.

Blasted Church Vineyards

The winery is on a former church site so they focus their story on local folklore; the blasting of a local church with dynamite in order to move it from one location to another. The owners have played out the church theme well, in everything from the wine names and labels to the organization of their web site.

Notable wines:

  • 2016 Merlot – $27
  • 2017 Pinot Noir – Sold out
  • 2012 OMFG (white) – $40

Cedar Creek Estate Winery

Cedar Creek has been Canada’s “Winery of the Year” twice.  Winemaker Taylor Whelan is building upon three decades of winemaking history and defining a new chapter with estate-grown, organic wines.  Both the Home Block and Cedar Creek estate vineyards have been officially certified organic following a three-year conversion of the estate’s viticulture and winemaking practices. For the Kelowna winery, it was a three-year conversion process, accredited by Ecocert Canada, which began in August of 2016.

Because of planting decisions made in the early 1990’s, they now have 30-year-old vines at the heart of everything they do.

Notable wines:

  • 2018 Chardonnay – $19
  • 2018 Platinum Block 7 Pinot Gris  – $30
  • 2018 Platinum Block 3 Riesling  – $30
  • 2017 Platinum Riesling Icewine  – $58
  • 2017 Platinum Haynes Creek Vineyard Syrah  – $50
  • 2017 Pinot Noir 2017 – $27

Deep Roots Winery

Deep Roots is a family owned and operated winery perched on the clay cliffs above Okanagan Lake on the Naramata Bench.

The family has been farming the land around the winery for 100 years, spanning four generations. After many years of selling grapes to other wineries they produced their first vintage in 2012.

They have two vineyards at two sites on the Naramata Bench: the Hardman Vineyard and Rayner’s Vineyard.

The Hardman Vineyard is home to nine acres where they grow Muscat, Gamay, Merlot, and Malbec. The Rayner property is home to eleven acres of vines including Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Malbec, and Syrah.

Both of these farms were planted with fruit orchards for much of the previous century, which has contributed to the unique and rich terroir of the area. All of the vineyard work is done by hand.

Notable wines:

  • 2017 Syrah – Sold out
  • 2016 Parentage Red – Sold out
  • 2017 Malbec – Sold out

Fort Berens Estate Winery

Fort Berens Estate Winery is a culmination of the dreams, vision and pioneering spirit of several entrepreneurs. The winery is owned by a team of eight individuals who share a common belief in the incredible winemaking potential of British Columbia’s Fraser Canyon and a shared vision to make Fort Berens into one of Canada’s leading producers of fine wine.

Notable wines:

  • 2017 Cabernet Franc – $28
  • 2017 Cabernet Franc Reserve  – $32
  • 2017 Pinot Noir Reserve – $30
  • 2017 Meritage  – $26
  • 2017 Meritage Reserve  – $32
  • 2017 Red Gold  – $45
  • 2018 Pinot Gris – Sold out
  • 2018 Chardonnay – $20
  • 2017 White Gold Chardonnay  – $26
  • 2018 Riesling Reserve  – $24

Gold Hill Winery

Gold Hill opened in 2009.  The founders, brothers Sant and Gurbachan Gill, are farmers from the Indus Valley region.

Sant moved to B.C. as a 20-year-old. He headed straight for the Golden Mile fruit belt and began growing. His younger brother, Gurbachan, soon followed. The brothers grew grapes for a number of wineries from their home vineyards, in their natural element. They understood the area’s microclimate and its dry, rocky soil to perfection.

In time, they bought land and planted vines. Soon they had a healthy business selling grapes to a growing number of notable B.C. wineries–but they had bigger plans for their land.

In 2009, Sant and Gurbachan decided to open a winery with the support of their family. For the location, they chose their prime vineyard on the slopes of a hill along the Golden Mile, between Oliver and Osoyoos.

They partnered with winemaker Philip Soo, a well-respected wine consultant with a terroir-driven approach and scores of great wines to his credit.

Gold Hill’s inaugural 2009 Cabernet Franc was honoured with the prestigious Lieutenant Governor’s Award of Excellence in 2012.

Notable wines:

  • 2013 Syrah – Sold out
  • 2014 Syrah – $35
  • 2013 Merlot – Sold out
  • 2014 Cabernet Franc – $35

Hillside Winery

Grow the best quality fruit possible, pick at optimum physiological ripeness, ferment cool, and intervene with nature only when necessary are the objectives of Hillside. The temptation to constantly “fiddle” and “improve upon” Mother Nature is really more about manufacturing. Natural, beautiful wine is not manufactured—rather, it is carefully guided through natural phases to become the glorious essence of the effects of sun and soil on specific grape varieties.

It is their belief that great wines start in the vineyard, and to this end, they use only the best quality fruit available from their twenty acres of grapes densely planted on hillside terraces surrounding the winery. They also have partnerships with select vineyards along the Naramata Bench.

They are committed to producing hand-crafted, naturally fruit-forward, well-balanced wines that represent the true character of the grapes. The wine is fermented and aged in many small batches to maintain the varietal character and integrity of each grape type and vineyard.

Cool temperature fermentations for the whites using state of the art steel fermenters allow them to produce intensely aromatic and flavourful wines that captivate the senses. More traditional techniques are applied to the reds involving open top fermenters, French and American oak barrels, and a very hands-on winemaking team, resulting in rich, classic style wines that have consistently won accolades from wine judges.

Notable wines:

  • 2016 Cabernet Franc – Available to their wine club members only
  • 2016 Merlot Malbec – $26

Kitsch Wines

The Kitsch family’s Okanagan roots stretch back to 1910, when Kelowna was still a small, lakefront pioneer settlement. Four generations later, this entrepreneurial family takes great pride in helping to shape the past and the future of the Okanagan Valley.

Founders Ria and Trent Kitsch have blended their passion for wine and creative entrepreneurship to produce premium, sustainably-grown wines. With a little help from some friends, the young family transformed overgrown fields into lush vineyards, set on historic apple orchards that originally served as the Kelowna Land and Orchards (KLO) headquarters.

Notable wines:

  • 2017 5 Barrel Pinot Noir – $69
  • 2018 Maria’s Block Riesling – $25

Lake Breeze Vineyards

The wines of Lake Breeze are known to be clean, crisp and fruit driven in style.  They endeavour to take the natural expression of the grape and transfer it to the bottle with as little intervention as possible. 

The newly introduced Lake Breeze Cellar Series is a luxurious collection. Each varietal pays tribute to the regional wind that embodies its unique winemaking style.

In 2016 they introduced an additional premium wine made by Garron Elmes under the MacIntyre Heritage Reserve label. These wines are a bold and prideful celebration.

Notable wines

  • 2017 Aura – Pinot Noir – Sold out
  • 2016 Mistral – Syrah – Sold out

Lakeside Cellars

Lakeside Cellars is situated on the eastern shores of Lake Osoyoos.  The estate is comprised of a 14-acre parcel of land that was originally a vast cattle and agriculture enterprise dating back to 1882. In 2015, Harbans and Harkesh Dhaliwal purchased the historical landmark and resting place of the old Haynes Homestead.

Lakeside now also sits on the site of the first commercial orchard owned and planted by Leslie Hill. The Hill Ranch stretched 1,100 acres on the eastern slop around Lake Osoyoos. Orchards of cherries, apricots, nectarines, plums, prunes, peaches, pears and apples were the first planted in the Okanagan north of the U.S. border.

Upon purchasing the lakeshore property in 2015, the Dhaliwals inherited old-vine plantings of Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc planted in 1998. Their mission was to continue the tradition of agriculture on the property and guide its rich history towards the current Okanagan lifestyle.

Notable wines:

  • 2016 Portage Red, Okanagan Valley- $24
  • 2016 Syrah, Okanagan Valley – $26
  • 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon, Okanagan Valley – $26
  • 2016 Cabernet Franc, Okanagan Valley – $28

Martin’s Lane Winery

The winery consists of three tiny estate vineyards.  They take a micro view of the vineyard and think about wines right down to the single block or vine. They consider their winemaking approach gentle and guiding.  The wines are tended, harvested and crafted by hand.  They don’t use a single pump as they believe this brings out elegant and complex expressions of Pinot Noir and Riesling.

Notable wines:

  • 2016 Simes Vineyard Riesling – Sold out
  • 2016 Naramata Ranch Vineyard Riesling – Sold out
  • 2016 Frtizi’s Vineyard Riesling – Sold out
  • 2014 Simes Vineyard Pinot Noir – $100
  • 2015 Simes Vineyard Pinot Noir – $100
  • 2015 DeHart Vineyard Pinot Noir – $100
  • 2015 Fritzi’s Vineyard Pinot Noir – $150
  • 2015 Naramata Ranch Vineyard Pinot Noir – Sold out

Mission Hill Family Estate

Making great wines and providing a special place where people can enjoy them is the aim of Mission Hill. They want their winery to be a refuge from the hurried pace of daily life.

Notable wines:

  • 2018 Terroir Collection No. 19 Brigadier’s Bluff Rosé – Sold out
  • 2017 Terroir Collection Border Vista Cabernet Sauvignon – Available only to wine club members
  • 2017 Reserve Shiraz – $27
  • 2017 Reserve Pinot Noir – $28
  • 2018 Reserve Rosé – Sold out

Moon Curser Vineyards

Moon Curser Vineyards is a small, family owned winery on the East Bench of Osoyoos, BC.  It has been in operation since 2004, when Chris and Beata Tolley purchased an old orchard in need of replanting and set about converting it into what is now the Moon Curser home vineyard block, winery and tasting room.

The winery is known for growing unusual varieties such as Tannat, Dolcetto, Touriga Nacional, and Arneis to name a few. These varieties have not historically been a part of the South Okanagan viticulture but thrive in the unique terroir on the Osoyoos East Bench.

The vines have thrived in Osoyoos and continue to deliver unique, world-class interpretations of these traditional wines. Moon Curser has brought home many a gold medal from Canadian and international wine competitions.

Notable wines:

  • 2017 Touriga Nacional (red) – $40
  • 2017 Dead of Night (red) – $40
  • 2017 Syrah – $26

Nk’Mip Cellars Winery

Nk’Mip Cellars is the dedicated guardian of a proud legacy. They claim to be the first Indigenous-owned winery in North America and they express their culture in everything they do. The winery itself is a bold celebration and a strong reflection of their commitment to authenticity and deep respect for their colourful past. They have had international award-winning wines.

Notable wines:

  • 2018Qwam Qwmt Riesling – Price not provided
  • 2018 Winemakers Dreamcatcher – Sold out
  • 2016 Red Merriym Meritage – Price not provided

Red Rooster Winery

Red Rooster Winery was founded in 1990 by a European couple who settled in the area. The first vintage was released in 1997. It was not long before the winery became known for producing award-winning wines that express the very best of BC and the Okanagan. 

Notable wines:

  • 2018 Riesling – Sold out
  • 2017 Rare Bird Series Pinot Noir – $35

Sandhill

Each bottle of Sandhill wine is made from grapes that come from one of six unique BC vineyards – Sandhill Estate, King Family, Phantom Creek , Osprey Ridge, Hidden Terrace and Vanessa Vineyard. Each vineyard possesses a unique combination of soil composition, slope, sun exposure and drainage.

Each vineyard manager employs techniques that bring subtle influences into the growing environment. These one-of-a-kind conditions inevitably produce grapes with unique characteristics.

This, in turn, provides the opportunity to create a wine that’s truly distinct. In the winery, a non-interventionist approach allows the character of the fruit to shine through in the wine. This allows the complex, subtle, unique character of each vineyard to reveal itself.

Notable wines:

  • 2018 Riesling Icewine – Sold out
  • 2017 Single Vineyard Syrah Sandhill Estate Vineyard – $40
  • 2016 Single Vineyard ONE Vanessa Vineyard – Sold out

Township 7 Vineyards and Winery

Township 7 focuses on the production of small lot wines made from carefully chosen grape suppliers from the Okanagan Valley and from estate vineyards in Langley and on the Naramata Bench.

Notable wines:

  • 2018 Pinot Gris  – $19
  • 2018 Raju Vineyard Viognier – $25
  • 2017 Merlot – $25 at the winery
  • 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon – $28

Van Westen Vineyards

Situated in one of the most scenic wine regions in all of North America, Van Westen Vineyards has evolved from over 50 years of family tradition cultivating the soils of The Naramata Bench and producing some of the best wines in British Columbia.

With their expertise and emphasis on sustainable, cool climate viticultural practices, they continue to grow quality vinifera grapes and make premium wine.

Notable wines:

  • 2016 Vulture (red) – $40
  • 2018 Viscous Riesling – $25

Wayne Gretzky Okanagan

The Wayne Gretzky Okanagan winery doesn’t appear to have a web site and www.gretzkyestateswines.com only provides information on the Niagara winery.

Notable wines:

  • 2016 Signature Series Shiraz – No price
  • 2016 Signature Series Riesling – No price

The majority of these wineries are smaller family run operations built on pride and personal commitment to the creation of high quality wines.  Prices can range dramatically on the wines within and between the various wineries.  Some of the wineries have been producing great wine for many years while others are newer operations who are quickly making an impressive name for themselves.

Sláinte mhaith

Enjoy Easter with Wine

Easter is traditionally a time for family celebrations that end with a scrumptious dinner.   I will look at traditional menu options but given the current climate where traditional family gatherings may not be possible, I will look at adding some glam to an everyday meal.

Also, given the strains being experienced by the local economy, all of my wine suggestions will be Canadian.

Lamb

Starting with the traditional Easter menu, the first option is lamb.  Lamb has a long tradition of being part of Easter celebrations.  It is available in many forms, suitable for any budget, ranging from a leg of lamb, to a loin, to chops, or even burgers. 

Lamb in any form is well complimented with a Cabernet such as Lakeview Cabernet Sauvignon ($29.95) or Featherstone Cabernet Franc ($19.95).

Ham

Ham is another classic Easter dish that can be prepared in a multitude of ways.  It can be baked using cloves and or a number of different glazes, ranging from savory to sweet.  Ham is also available in a variety of cuts ranging from the traditional ham on the bone, to small packaged hams to ham steaks.

Pinot Noir is a good option for serving with ham.  Flat Rock Gravity Pinot Noir ($34.95) or Henry of Pelham Pinot Noir ($16.95) are a couple of options.

Turkey

Turkey is a classic choice for Easter.  Not only is it suitable for large family gatherings but provides options for smaller dinners.  Alternatives to purchasing a full-size bird include, prepackaged turkey thighs or turkey breasts, or you can substitute chicken for turkey.

There are both red, as well as white wine alternatives to have with your turkey or chicken.  White wine suggestions include, Flat Rock Chardonnay ($19.95) or Inniskillen Montague Vineyard Chardonnay ($25.95).  Red wine options include Kew Vineyards Pinot Noir ($23.95) or Tawse Growers Blend Pinot Noir ($25.95).

Roast Beef

Over the years roast beef has been the choice of many for Sunday family dinners and Easter is no exception.  Featherstone Cabernet Franc ($19.95) or The Foreign Affair Dream ($29.95), which is a Merlo, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc blend , are two good choices.

Salmon

Salmon, though less traditional, is a good healthy option for your Easter dinner.  It can be baked, poached, or my favourite, tossed on the grill, wrapped in lemons, onions, and capers.  It can be a great alternative if you are forced to a smaller than usual family gathering.

Sauvignon Blanc or Rosé pairs well with salmon.  Options include Wildass Sauvignon Blanc ($16.95) or Malivoire Vivant Rosé ($19.95).

Vegetarian Alternatives

Vegetarian alternatives to the traditional meat dishes are very popular.  These dishes are obviously a good alternative to meat any time, not just on special occasions.  Wine pairings  for vegetable mains are the same as those for salmon; Sauvignon Blanc or Rosé. 

Non-Traditional Options

No matter what your mood or what you are serving, wine can make the simplest of meals more elegant.   Here are some general options:

White Wine

  • Chicken based soup – Angels Gate Chardonnay VQA ($14.95)
  • White fish  – Sandbanks Summer White VQA ($14.95)
  • Mac and cheese – Peninsula Ridge Pinot Grigio VQA ($15.95)
  • Pasta with a white sauce – Mission Hill Five Vineyard Pinot Blanc VQA ($16.95)
  • Poultry – Tawse Sketches of Niagara Chardonnay VQA ($19.95)
  • Sea food – Cave Spring Riesling Dry VQA ($15.95)

Red Wine

  • Beef ribs – Strewn Rogue’s Lot Cabernet Sauvignon Cabernet Franc VQA ($14.95)
  • Beef based soups – Peninsula Ridge Merlot VQA ($15.95)
  • Hamburgers – 13th Street Burger Blend Gamay Pinot Noir VQA ($14.95)
  • Pasta in a red sauce –  Pelee Island Baco Noir VQA ($21.95)
  • Pork ribs – Pelee Island Pinot Noir Reserve VQA ($17.95)
  • Tomato based soups – Henry of Pelham Pinot Noir VQA ($16.95)

No matter what your Easter has in store, whether it be a family dinner with all the fixings, or a simple affair for only one or two people, make it more elegant with wine.

Sláinte mhaith

Chardonnay Musqué

My wife has a strong dislike for Chardonnay but a fond love for Chardonnay Musqué.  This raised the question in my mind, what makes Chardonnay Musqué different from Chardonnay?  Is there truly a discernible difference?  My wife argues that absolutely there is.

I set forth on a research expedition to determine if there is a difference, and if so, why.

What I learned is that Chardonnay Musqué is an aromatic mutation of the Chardonnay grape. It is grown principally in the vineyards of Canada’s Niagara Peninsula and New York’s Finger Lakes.

The typical Chardonnay Musqué wine is off-dry, medium bodied, and has the distinctive, grapey, Muscat-like aroma. Depending on the region and producer, other flavours and aromas might range from tropical fruit to cinnamon-tinged lemon sorbet.

There are over 40 different clones of Chardonnay, but only two of these can be called “Musqué” due to their aromatic qualities.  For you techies they are Clone 77 and Clone 809.  These wines are generally unoaked in order to preserve the fresh and fragrant aromas natural to the grape.  This is the reason why my wife likes it so much (she has a real aversion to any oaked white wine)

Several Ontario vineyards are now planted with musqué clones and the grapes may be used as either part of a blend or bottled on their own. 

Generally these wines are best when consumed relatively young.  The aromas of Chardonnay Musqué are reminiscent of Viognier or even Torrontes, and it can be made in a range of styles from dry to a little sweet to quite sweet, sometimes even with a slight spritz. 

Chardonnay Musqué can be enjoyed on its own on a warm spring or summer day, or paired with mild curries, sushi, salads, grilled salmon, or seafood.

There are several Ontario wineries using one or both Chardonnay Musqué clones in their wines.  Trail Vintner’s Weiss uses Chardonnay Musqué as part of a Riesling Chardonnay Musqué blend, while other producers, such as Chateau des Charmes, Cave Spring Cellars, and Vineland Estates, prefer to bottle the clone on its own.

A few Ontario Chardonnay Musqués:

Chateau des Charmes

Paul Bosc, founder of Chateau des Charmes, chose the particularly fragrant and interesting Clone 809 for his Chardonnay Musqué.  Only about 500 cases are bottled by the winery annually.  The 2015 vintage is available from the winery or online for $14.95.

Cave Spring Cellars

Cave Spring Cellars 2016 Chardonnay Musqué is made from 100% Chardonnay Musqué Clone 77.  This wine is fermented in stainless steel and unoaked so as to maintain every nuance of the delightful aromatics of the Chardonnay Musqué grape. It’s a wine of refinement and class. Floral, yes, but it also offers bright citrus, tropical fruit, peach and a hint of vanilla aromas. Try it with green salads or shrimp Pad Thai.  It is available from the LCBO for $17.95.

Vineland Estates

Their 2016 Chardonnay Musqué is available from the winery or online for $17.95.  The wine is described as having an abundance of warm summer melon, lime zest and tangerine aromas that roll in the glass while the welcomed edge of acidity focuses and the perfect trace of a bitter finish.

Trail Vintner’s  Weiss

The 2017 Riesling Chardonnay Musqué blend is available at the LCBO for $19.95.  According to Natalie MacLean it is a delightful, vibrant white wine blend of Riesling and Chardonnay Musqué grapes form Prince Edward County. It has aromas of daisies, lychee, apple blossom and white peach, and is balanced with racy acidity for shellfish and vegetarian dishes.

If you are a fan of Chardonnay, and unoaked Chardonnay in particular, trying Chardonnay Musqué would be well worth your while; just ask my wife.

Sláinte mhaith

Ontario’s Trending Wineries

These are some wines and wineries which have been in the spot light for doing good things during the past year or so and would be worth while checking out if you have the opportunity.

The wineries presented here are based on my own interpretation of critic reviews and award results over the past year or so.  However, the overview of each winery is based on information provided directly from the winery.

Unfortunately not all of the wines mentioned will be found in your local wine or liquor store.  Many have to be obtained or ordered directly from the winery using their web site. Some can be found in select restaurants. I have included wines that have since been sold out in order to note that future releases of these wines should receive due consideration.

In order to be unbiased, the wineries are being presented in alphabetical order.

Big Head Wines

According to their web site, Big Head is a family of passionate individuals that love all things vinous. They have been making wine in the Niagara area for over a decade, and this is their first project on their own. They source only the best fruit from the Niagara region, working closely with growers that share their attention to detail and pursuit of the highest quality.

The wines of recent notoriety:

  • 2018 Gewurztraminer – Sold out
  • 2017 Chardonnay Stainless – Sold out
  • 2017 RAW Syrah – $48 at the winery
  • 2016 Special Select Late Harvest Riesling – $38 at the winery
  • 2017 RAW Chenin Blanc  – $38 at the winery

Creekside Estate Winery

Creekside Estate Winery opened in 1997 in small-town Jordan, Ontario.  The Winery is run by industry veterans who have decades of experience in their respective fields.

The wines of recent notoriety:

  • 2017 Iconoclast Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon – $23 at the winery, sold out at the LCBO
  • 2016 Broken Press Syrah Reserve – $55 at the winery
  • 2015 Broken Press Syrah Reserve – Sold out

Flat Rock Cellars

Flat Rock Cellars vineyard produces low yields, utilizes progressive viticulture practices and hand picking and sorting of the grapes.

Founded in 1999 on a section of the Niagara Escarpment known as the Jordan Bench, Flat Rock Cellars is located on a gently rolling slope.

Their predominant wine is red.  The rocks that are the geological foundation of the winery and found throughout the property are the roots of the Flat Rock Cellars name.

When Coyote’s Run was sold and closed, Dave Sheppard returned to Flat Rock and is back at the helm of winemaking – and for Flat Rock this is an amazing coup.

The wines of recent notoriety:

  • 2015 Gravity Pinot Noir – $50 at the winery
  • 2017 Chardonnay – $19.95 at Vintages at the LCBO

Hidden Bench Estate Winery

The critically acclaimed estate winery is in the heart of the Beamsville Bench. Premium wines are crafted using only certified organic estate fruit with sustainable, non-interventionist winemaking techniques.

They create only 100% estate grown wines in two series: the Estate Series, which are blends of their three vineyards; and the Terroir Series, which are single vineyard and/or barrel selection, limited production wines.

They produce 100% estate premium Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Riesling.

The wines of recent notoriety:

  • 2017 Pinot Noir Unfiltered – Sold Out
  • 2016 Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard – $42.20 at the winery
  • 2017 Estate Chardonnay – $29.95 at the winery
  • 2016 Chardonnay Tête de Cuvée – $48.20 at the winery
  • 2016 Riesling Felseck Vineyard – $30.20 at the winery

Konzelmann Estate

The winery began in the small German town of Uhlbach near the turn of the 19th century, when a restauranteur named Frederick Konzelmann left the culinary trade to pursue the craft of winemaking. By 1984 the Konzelmann family immigrated to Canada, purchased a lakefront peach orchard and created the vineyard.

The wines of recent notoriety:

  • 2017 Lakefront Series Pinot Blanc – Sold out
  • 2016 Meritage Reserve – Sold out

Leaning Post Wines

Leaning Post began as a virtual winery and is proud to now have the quaint tasting room at 1491 Hwy 8 on their home property in Winona, Ontario.  Ilya and Nadia are the brains and passion behind Leaning Post Wines. It started with a dream to take unique, interesting single vineyard blocks in Niagara and turn them into distinctive, terroir driven wines.

Ilya has been a winemaker in the Niagara Region for the last 17 vintages working at Daniel Lenko Estate Winery, Foreign Affair and now at Leaning Post Wines. Ilya is also a consulting winemaker at the Good Earth Winery.

The wines of recent notoriety:

  • 2017 Chardonnay Senchuk Vineyard – Sold Out
  • 2016 Chardonnay Clone 96 – Sold out

Malivoire Winery

The winery began in 1995 with the purchase of what is now known as the Moira Vineyard, followed by the acquisition of the larger property where the winery now stands. Original plantings of Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, Gamay and Pinot Noir were supplemented in the following years by additional vinifera varieties. Today Malivoire operates at the top of its capacity, producing twenty-four thousand cases of wine per year.

The wines of recent notoriety:

  • 2016 Stouck Merlot – Sold out
  • 2017 Old Vines Foch – $26.95 at the winery
  • 2016 Pinot Noir, Small Lot – Sold out
  • 2016 Courtney Gamay – Sold out

Marynissen Estates

Marynissen Estates has its roots deeply embedded in the soil of Niagara-on-the-Lake. Located in the Four Mile Creek sub appellation, the estate is home to the oldest commercial planting of Cabernet Sauvignon in Canada. The property, an old pig barn, was purchased in 1953 by viticulture pioneer John Marynissen and his wife Adrianna. John and Adrianna began growing their own grapes in 1976, planting the classic European vinifera grape varietals Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Merlot and Gamay Noir.  There focus is on small-lot winemaking. 

The wines of recent notoriety:

  • 2015 Heritage Collection Red – $34.95 at the winery
  • 2015 Platinum Series  Pinot Noir – Sold out

Megalomaniac

The winery first opened its cellar doors to the public in 2009. All operations from harvest to administration and even tastings took place in the underground cellar. Today, guests experience the Megalomaniac portfolio within a newly constructed establishment built above the original cellar.

The wines of recent notoriety:

  • Bubblehead Sparkling Pinot Noir – $34.95 at the winery
  • 2017 Coldhearted Riesling Icewine – $39.95 at the winery
  • 2018 Sparkling Personality – $19.95 at the LCBO
  • 2016 Big Mouth Merlot – Sold out

Peller Estates Niagara-on-the-Lake

At the age of 58, thirty-four years after arriving in Canada, Andrew Peller’s modest Okanagan vineyard inspired a vision for the entire family and he opened wineries in British Columbia, Ontario and Nova Scotia.

The wines of recent notoriety:

  • 2018 Private Reserve Sauvignon Blanc – Sold out
  • 2017 Andrew Peller Signature Series Riesling – Sold out

Rosehall Run Vineyards

Dan and Lynn Sullivan, with support from Cam Reston, founded Rosehall Run in 2000.  The 150-acre farm was selected due to its proximity to Lake Ontario.  One of the earliest Prince Edward County wineries established in the west central region known as Hillier Ward; planting of the vineyard began in 2001 with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  Today there are 25 acres of vinifera including Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewurztraminer, Muscat and Tempranillo.

The wines of recent notoriety:

  • 2017 JCR Pinot Noir – $39.95 at the winery
  • 2016 Cabernet Franc Single Vineyard – $34.95 at the winery

Tawse Winery

Situated on the lower slopes of the Niagara Escarpment, Tawse is a family-owned organic and biodynamic winery, voted Canada’s Winery of the Year in 2010, 2011, 2012 & 2016. Founder Moray Tawse purchased 6 acres on the Cherry Avenue property in 2001. In 2005 he opened his state-of-the-art winery, complete with a six-level, gravity-flow design, geo-thermal system and a wetland bio-filter. The inspiration for his first Niagara property came from his love of Burgundian Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Uniting traditional winemaking techniques with state-of-the-art technology, Tawse is dedicated to producing terroir-driven wines of exceptional elegance, depth and character.

The wines of recent notoriety:

  • 2015 Meritage – Sold out
  • 2016 Riesling Sketches of Niagara – $19.95 at the winery or the LCBO
  • 2015 Chardonnay, Robyn’s Block – Sold out
  • 2013 Lenko Vineyard Chardonnay – Sold out
  • 2015 David’s Block Cabernet Franc – Sold out
  • Tawse 2013 Quarry Road Chardonnay – Sold out

The Foreign Affair

In 2000, taking a leap of faith, Len and Marisa Crispino bought prime farmland in the Vineland area of the Niagara Peninsula starting their journey to becoming one of the pioneers of appassimento in Canada. They then sourced quality vinifera varietals from Europe (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Riesling) and after three years, the first crop was harvested in 2004.

When the grapes have fully ripened, the best bunches are hand harvested and placed gently in single layers on racks to air dry in their drying barns. They are left to dry naturally until their weight is reduced to approximately half, which can take between 2 and 3 months. The grapes are then hand sorted and crushed. This process concentrates the ripe flavours and adds the full-bodied character they are so well known for.

The wines of recent notoriety:

  • 2015 Dream (red) – Sold out
  • 2015 Temptress (red) – Sold out

The Organized Crime Winery

This small boutique winery is located on the Beamsville Bench of the Niagara Peninsula. Their parcel of south-facing land lies over the hillside edges of the Bench, and provides an ideal environment for cool climate winegrowing.

They farm the land themselves and assist in the winemaking throughout all stages of the process. Production volumes are very small. They lean towards the passion side of the business, rather than the commercial.

The wines of recent notoriety:

  • 2017 Cuvée Krystyna Chardonnay – Sold out
  • 2017 Limestone Block Chardonnay – $21 at the winery
  • 2016 Cabernet Franc – $42 at the winery

Thirty Bench Wine Makers

“The Bench” is a narrow plateau that slopes gradually from the cliff of the Niagara Escarpment. Its mineral-rich soils, unique topography and favourable airflow patterns have made it one of Niagara’s most coveted sub appellations for growing grapes. Being tucked beneath the Escarpment offers the vineyards a longer season that allow grapes more time to ripen and cooler nights that help intensify flavours.

Thirty Bench wines are made exclusively with grapes from their own vineyards. The vines are hand cropped and thinned to produce very low yields that offer exceptional quality and an intensity of fruit.

They are committed to “Small Lot” winemaking which means many of the wines are made in extremely limited numbers.

The wines of recent notoriety:

  • 2017 Small Lot Riesling Triangle Vineyard – $29.95 at the winery
  • 2017 Small Lot Riesling Steel Post Vineyard – Sold out at winery
  • 2017 Small Lot Gewurztraminer – $29.95 at the winery

Trius Winery

It’s been over 27 years since Trius Red, a Bordeaux blend-inspired wine produced by Hillebrand Winery entered the international wine scene when it became the first-ever Canadian vintage to be recognized as the Best Red Wine in the World. In addition to positioning Trius Red as the little big red that could, the win marked an important step for the Canadian wine industry, sending a signal that Canada’s wine could stand on their own against old world wines.

While Trius Red was originally the only Trius wine in the Hillebrand Winery portfolio, over time the portfolio grew to include sparkling wines and other offerings including Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Riesling. In 2012, Trius Winery was born.

The wines of recent notoriety:

  • 2017 Showcase Clean Slate Sauvignon Blanc Wild Ferment – Sold out
  • 2016 Red Shale Cabernet Franc Clark Farm Vineyard- $65 at the winery

Two Sisters Vineyards

Two Sisters is located at the northern tip of the Niagara River sub-appellation bordered by the Niagara River to the East and Lake Ontario to the North.  The river’s flow creates air convection currents which create moderate temperatures and draw cold air away from vineyards and into the river gorge. To the north, breezes from Lake Ontario provide a reliable and widely distributed moderating effect on temperatures throughout the seasons. These air currents ward off early spring and late fall frosts and most notably support an extended growing season giving us an advantage on their later-ripening varieties.

Two Sisters is committed to produce ultra-premium reds which require superior viticultural practices. They emphasize the varieties the estate grows best with their terroir; Cabernet Franc with its earthy structure, Cabernet Sauvignon for its rich, muscular presence and Merlot for its perfumed, elegant harmony between red and dark fruit aroma and taste. Their objective is to let the grapes hang well into the autumn.

The wines of recent notoriety:

  • 2016 Unoaked Chardonnay – Sold out at winery
  • 2013 Stone Eagle Special Selection (red)- $77.80 at the winery, Sold out at LCBO

Jackson-Triggs Niagara Estate

Nestled into 11.5 acres of the Niagara Peninsula, the Niagara Estate vineyard makes the most of this cool climate viticulture region.

Premium quality grapes flourish around Niagara-on-the-Lake because of the warming and cooling influences of Lake Ontario and its proximity to the Niagara Escarpment. The Niagara Estate produces the same high quality wines that you would associate with similar world-class regions such as Burgundy, Oregon and New Zealand, but with its own distinctive characteristics resulting from the unique terroir of the area.

The vineyard features 3 classic varietals: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Riesling grown from the finest vinifera clones and rootstocks, custom grafted in France. The winemakers also work very closely with a number of carefully selected grape growers in the Niagara region to augment their supply of premium vinifera grapes such as Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Gewürztraminer and Sauvignon Blanc.

The wines of recent notoriety:

  • 2016 Jackson-Triggs Niagara Estate Grand Reserve Merlot – $25.95 at the winery, Sold out at LCBO

Personal Taste

Prices can range dramatically on the wines within and between the various wineries.  Some of the wineries are mainstays that have been producing great wine for many years.  Others are newer to the industry and are making an impressive name for themselves.

On numerous occasions I have enjoyed the wines of Flat Rock Cellars, Jackson-Triggs, Konzelmann Estate, Malivoire Winery, Marynissen Estates, Peller Estates, Rosehall Run, Tawse, and Trius.  More recently I have discovered Two Sisters (a winner in my opinion).

I have yet to have the opportunity to try any wines from Big Head Wines, Creekside, Hidden Bench Estate Winery, Leaning Post,  Thirty Bench, Organized Crime or The Foreign Affair.

I must admit that I have tried both Trius and Megalomaniac wines but did not find either to my liking.  That is not to say that their wines are not good, they just don’t strike a chord for me.  Trius is, in fact, one of the most critically acclaimed wineries in Canada and has been for many years so the quality of their wines is top notch.

If you get the chance to visit any of these wineries or see their wines in your local wine or liquor store, any of their wines would be well worth a try.  Don’t limit yourself specifically to the particular wines I have highlighted here.

Sláinte mhaith

Canada’s Wine Regions – Part 4 – British Columbia

The climate for producing British Columbia wine is very unique. All of the BC vineyards are located at the northern extremes of where grape growing is possible. The vineyards are located in two main areas. About 4 hours’ drive east of Vancouver are the Okanagan and Similkameen Valleys. The second area includes the smaller wine regions of the Fraser Valley, Gulf Islands and Vancouver Island.

British Columbia’s wine industry has seen significant growth over the past 25 years, increasing from 17 wineries and 1,476 acres of vines in 1990 to over 270 wineries and over 10,260 acres today. The B.C. Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA) is the provincially-regulated appellation of origin and quality standard for Wines of British Columbia. BC VQA wines must be made from 100% B.C. grapes and meet standards for origin and production, vintage, varietals and quality characteristics that were discussed in my June 22, 2019 post, “Selecting Canadian Wines”.

Vancouver Island

On Vancouver Island, a provincial government-funded trial, called the Duncan Project, determined that grape production was viable.  The study identified Pinot Gris, Auxerrois and Ortega as having the capability of thriving in this seaside environment.

Vancouver Island is now home to a dedicated community of family grape growers and winemakers. There are now 26 wineries in this appellation.

Common varietals include:

  • Pinot Gris
  • Ortega
  • Siegerrebe
  • Pinot Noir
  • Maréchal Foch

Gulf Islands

The Gulf Islands are situated in the Georgia Strait which separates Vancouver Island from the mainland, and connected by a network of small ferries.  The Gulf Islands are home to about a dozen wineries that are located on each of Salt Spring, Pender, Saturna, Quadra, Gabriola, Hornby and Denman Island.  They display an easygoing lifestyle that allows time to savour the quiet moments with a nice variety of unpretentious wines.

Grape varietals include:

  • Pinot Gris
  • Orteg
  • Pinot Noir
  • Maréchal Foch

Fraser Valley

The Fraser Valley region includes Vancouver, Surrey, Richmond, New Westminster to Delta, Langley, Aldergrove and Abbotsford in the east.  The Fraser Valley region is dedicated to producing high quality, handcrafted wines with diverse varieties and styles.  There are about 25 wineries in this region.

Common varietals include: 

  • Siegerrebe
  • Pinot Gris
  • Bacchus
  • Pinot Noir

Similkameen Valley

The Similkameen Valley includes 15 wineries that are set amongst the dramatic backdrop of rugged and picturesque mountains. Considered the “organic capital of Canada”, the area is known for small farms and producers dedicated to creating quality produce, delectable foods, and award-winning wines.

Due to the tall surrounding mountains, and the reflectivity of the rock, heat remains in the valley late into the evenings. The valley is arid with persistent winds that can reduce the moisture in the vines and the soil. Even above ground irrigation can evaporate before touching the ground. The wind does minimize mildew, so vineyards generally don’t require frequent spraying.

Grape varietals include:

  • Chardonnay
  • Riesling
  • Merlot
  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Cabernet Franc

Okanagan Valley

Boasting 185 wineries and 84% of the province’s vineyard acreage, the Okanagan Valley is BC’s premier grape growing region. The valley stretches over 250 kilometres, across sub-regions, each with distinct soil and climate conditions suited to growing a range of varietals from sun-ripened reds to lively fresh and often crisp whites.

The 185 wineries include everything from quiet family-run boutique vineyards to world-class operations.  The Okanagan Valley wineries are rich in tradition and character, consistently ranking among the world’s best at international competitions.

The Okanagan Valley consists of 8 sub-regions – Kelowna / Lake Country, Peachland / Summerland / Penticton, Naramata Bench, Scaha Bench, Okanagan Valley, Oliver, Golden Mile Bench and Osoyoos.

Golden Mile Bench

The Golden Mile Bench was the first sub-Geographic Indication, created in 2015 within the Okanagan Valley wine region followed by Okanagan Falls, Naramata Bench and Skaha Bench.  Grape production in such areas must produce at commercially viable levels.

Located on the western slope of the valley south of Oliver and across from the Black Sage Bench, the Golden Mile Bench’s southerly aspect provides a warm climate. Its location on the west side of the valley is a cooler region than its eastern neighbour.

A wine made exclusively from grapes grown in the sub-appellation can use the term Golden Mile Bench as a Geographical Indication on a BC VQA Wine label. It’s the location the grapes are grown, rather than the location of the winery that is relevant.

Common varietals include:

  • Chardonnay
  • Gewürztraminer
  • Merlot

Kelowna / Lake Country

B.C.’s first vines were planted in Kelowna in 1859. Kelowna also boasts the province’s oldest continually operating winery, Calona Vineyard (est. 1932). Many of the first families of the BC wine industry call this area home: the Heiss family, who established Gray Monk Estate Winery; the Cipes of Summerhill Pyramid Winery; and the Stewart family of Quails’ Gate Winery.

Grape varietals include:

  • Riesling
  • Pinot Gris
  • Gewürztraminer
  • Chardonnay
  • Pinot Noir

Peachland / Summerland / Penticton

This region combines an exciting area of new development with wineries and vineyards that are more than 25 years old. The sub-appellation is renowned for delicious Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer and Rosé.  There is also an outstanding lineup of sparkling wines.

Grape varietals include:

  • Riesling
  • Gewürztraminer
  • Pinot Noir

Naramata Bench

On May 13, 2019, wineries in the Naramata Bench joined Skaha Bench, Okanagan Falls and Golden Mile Bench, near Oliver, as wineries that meet the requirements of the Wines of Marked Quality Regulation.   B.C. wines and wineries meeting these requirements are certified that they achieve certain wine production standards, and are enabled to use protected labels that are prescribed under this regulation.

Naramata Bench is roughly defined as the bench lands between Penticton Creek and Okanagan Mountain Park on the east side of Okanagan Lake. Nowhere else in the Okanagan Valley are there so many wineries in a single area.

The vineyards of Naramata Bench boast ideal conditions for full-flavoured white varietals, as well as earlier ripening, elegant reds.

Common varietals include:

  • Chardonnay
  • Pinot Gris
  • Merlot
  • Pinot Noir

Scaha Bench

On May 13, 2019, wineries in the Skaha Bench joined the Naramata Bench, Okanagan Falls and Golden Mile Bench, near Oliver, as wineries that meet the requirements of the Wines of Marked Quality Regulation. Skaha Bench covers a 10-kilometre stretch from the outskirts of Penticton and along the eastern shore of Skaha Lake.

Wineries in Skaha Bench include Blasted Church, Black Dog, Painted Rock, Pentage and Crescent Hill.

Common varietals include:

  • Chardonnay
  • Pinot Gris
  • Pinot Blanc
  • Merlot
  • Pinot Noir

Okanagan Falls

On July 27, 2018, the Province named Okanagan Falls a Sub-Geographical Indication within the Okanagan Valley wine region, meaning consumers will now see a confirmation on labels of certified BC wine is from the region.

From the shores of Skaha Lake to the tip of Vaseux Lake, this cluster of award-winning wineries offers unsurpassed winery experiences, and great wines. The wineries in and around Okanagan Falls have been producing some of BC’s most celebrated wines for many years. Warm days and cool nights produce wines with ripe fruit character and acidity. There are a variety of vibrant sparkling wines and crisp Rieslings to complex Pinots and rich Syrahs.

Grape varietals include:

  • Riesling
  • Gewürztraminer
  • Pinot Noir
  • Syrah

Oliver

Oliver has been referred to as the ‘Wine Capital of Canada’.  It is home to nearly half of British Columbia’s vines and more than 40 wineries. To the west, the Golden Mile Bench is ideal for white wines such as Pinot Gris and Chardonnay, and bright fruity reds like Cabernet Franc.

To the east lies the Black Sage Bench which cultivates powerful red wines and full-flavoured whites. The combination of hot days and cool nights produce fruit with a perfect balance of exceptional flavours and vibrant acidity.

Common grape varietals include:

  • Pinot Gris
  • Chardonnay
  • Merlot
  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Cabernet Franc

Osoyoos

Osoyoos lies at the southern-most tip of the Okanagan Valley, near the Canada-USA border. Officially Canada’s hottest spot, this is red wine country.

Osoyoos Larose Le Grand Vin red blend has become a favourite of mine after my brother introduced it to me several years ago. I now pick some up whenever I come across it in Ontario.

Grape varietals include:

  • Chardonnay
  • Merlot
  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Cabernet Franc
  • Syrah

Kootenays

The Kootenays is situated in the southeastern corner of British Columbia.

In select microclimates, grapes have been grown in the Kootenays since 1995. Although a new viticultural area, ground crops and orchards have been cultivated there for many decades.

6 wineries are located in this region.

Common varieties include:

  • Gewürztraminer
  • Pinot Gris
  • Pinot Noir
  • Maréchal Foch

Lillooet

One of the oldest towns in the province, Lillooet is located at the southern tip of the Cariboo Chilcotin region.  The climate is very similar to the traditional grape growing regions in the Okanagan Valley with long, hot, dry summers. However, nights are cooler, making average summer temperatures slightly lower than the Okanagan, but at the same time preserving the fresh crisp acidity in the wines.  Viticulture is a recent development with  only 2 wineries at present.

Common varieties include:

  • Riesling
  • Chardonnay
  • Pinot Gris
  • Pinot Noir
  • Cabernet Franc

Shuswap

The Shuswap region is located north of the Okanagan Valley.  Wines have been produced here since 1997, predominately of cool climate varieties as it is one of the most northerly grape growing regions in North America. Shuswap Lake is the dominant feature in the region. Each of the 10 vineyards has its own microclimate, giving special character to its wines.

Common grape varieties:

  • Ortega
  • Siegerrebe
  • Gewürztraminer
  • Kerner
  • Maréchal Foch

Thompson Valley

On the edge of cool climate viticulture, the 4 Thompson Valley wineries are pioneering an exciting new region and expanding the boundaries of quality BC winemaking.  It is nestled amongst the North and South Thompson Rivers in and around Kamloops, in the rain shadow of the high coastal mountains, with the semi-arid conditions and diverse microclimates.

Common varieties include:

  • Riesling
  • Chardonnay
  • Marquette
  • Maréchal Foch

Although I have had the pleasure of visiting British Columbia several times I have never had the opportunity to experience any of the wine regions.  In particular, being a huge red fan, I would love to travel to the Osoyoos area and sample the wonderful offerings there.

Sláinte mhaith

Canada’s Wine Regions – Part 3 – Ontario

Ontario is the largest wine grape producing province and recognizes the Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA) as its provincially regulated appellation of origin system.  The VQA is discussed in detail in my June 22, 2019 post, “Selecting Canadian Wines”. 

The province’s three wine-producing appellations are the Niagara Peninsula, Lake Erie North Shore and Prince Edward County. They contain over 160 VQA wineries and 17,000 acres of vineyards.

Niagara Peninsula

The Niagara Peninsula has the largest planted area of the viticultural areas in Ontario with 90 wineries and about 15,000 acres of vines. The Niagara Peninsula has two regional appellations and 10 sub-appellations.

I have made numerous treks to Niagara over the years and have developed an ever changing list of favourite wineries that I like to frequent during my excursions to the region.  I will point those out in the sections below. Given that there are now 90 wineries in the region, I have in no way even come close to visiting all the wineries so my recommendations are based only on my own personal experience and research.

Generally speaking (but there are exceptions) I have found that I favour the whites from the sub-appellations north of St. Catharines, toward Toronto, and the reds from the sub-appellations south of St. Catharines, toward Niagara Falls.

Sub-Appellations

There are 10 unique growing areas within the Niagara Peninsula.  Only wines made from 100% grapes grown in the sub-appellation are permitted to include the sub-appellation name on the label.

Niagara River

This is a small strip of land that runs adjacent to the Niagara River.  The soils in the area are primarily stratified glaciolacustrine fine sand that provides natural drainage and encourages the vines to develop deep roots.

One of my favourite wineries, Two Sisters Winery, is located in this sub-appellation. I enjoy both their Stone Eagle and their Stone Eagle Reserve, which are blends of varying proportions of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot

The common grape varietals grown in Niagara River include:

  • Vidal
  • Chardonnay
  • Pinot Noir
  • Cabernet Franc
  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Riesling

Niagara Lakeshore

This region follows the Lake Ontario shoreline from the Welland Canal to the Niagara River.  The soil composition and moderate temperatures resulting from the close proximity of Lake Ontario provide a longer growing season which results in mature full bodied wines.

The common grape varietals consist of:

  • Vidal
  • Chardonnay
  • Pinot Noir
  • Cabernet Franc
  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Riesling

Four Mile Creek

This is the largest of the sub-appellations that makes up central Niagara-on-the-Lake.  During the growing season this area provides warm days and cool nights providing growers the opportunity of growing many different varieties of grapes.

The common types of grapes grown include:

  • Vidal
  • Chardonnay
  • Pinot Noir
  • Cabernet Franc
  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Riesling

St. David’s Bench

This is the natural glacial bench that was carved out of the Niagara Escarpment.  The escarpment provides early spring warming and frost protection for the vines.

There are 2 wineries on my favourites list that are located on St. David’s Bench, Chateau des Charmes and Ravine Vineyard.  I am a fan of the red wines produced by both wineries.

Grape production in St. David’s Bench includes:

  • Vidal
  • Chardonnay
  • Pinot Noir
  • Cabernet Franc
  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Riesling

Creek Shores

Creek Shores is bound by Lake Ontario, Twelve Mile Creek, Twenty Mile Bench and Jordan Harbour.  Temperatures are moderated by Lake Ontario.

Grapes grown include:

  • Sauvignon Blanc
  • Pinot Noir
  • Chardonnay

Lincoln Shoreline

Lake Ontario has a major impact on this sub-appellation providing longer, tempered growing conditions and even ripening of the grapes.

The types of grapes grown include:

  • Chardonnay
  • Riesling
  • Cabernet Franc
  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Syrah
  • Gamay
  • Semillon

Short Hills Bench

Short Hills Bench is the most easterly of the appellations located between Twelve Mile Creek and Fifteen Mile Creek.  It provides warm days and cool nights which are perfect for enhancing grape flavours.

The varietals grown here include:

  • Riesling
  • Chardonnay
  • Pinot Noir
  • Cabernet Franc
  • Sauvignon Blanc
  • Vidal
  • Gewürztraminer

Twenty Mile Bench

The bench is dissected by Twenty Mile Creek.  There is a high proportion of limestone and shale making the soil quite alkaline.  The sheltered north facing slopes provide year round temperature moderation.

This is a rare situation where I favour white and red wine from the same appellation.  I enjoy the whites of Featherstone Estate Winery and the reds of Rockway Vineyards.

The list of varietals grown on the Twenty Mile Bench includes:

  • Riesling
  • Chardonnay
  • Pinot Noir
  • Cabernet Franc
  • Sauvignon Blanc
  • Vidal
  • Gewürztraminer

Beamsville Bench

This is a narrow bench area that benefits from good air circulation and frost protection.  The air circulation minimizes temperature swings and consistent growing conditions.

Angels Gate Winery produces some great white wines such as Unoaked Chardonnay, Riesling and Gewürztraminer, while Cave Spring Cellars makes a good Chardonnay Musque and Fielding Estate Winery makes great Riesling and Chardonnay.

The varietals grown on the Beamsville Bench include:

  • Riesling
  • Chardonnay
  • Pinot Noir
  • Cabernet Franc
  • Sauvignon Blanc
  • Vidal
  • Gewürztraminer

Vinemount Ridge

This sub-appellation contains shallow south-facing slopes.  The area provides early spring warming with warm days and cool nights.

Grapes grown include:

  • Pinot Noir
  • Chardonnay
  • Pinot Gris
  • Riesling
  • Gewürztraminer
  • Cabernet Franc
  • Vidal

Regional Appellations                            

There are 2 regional appellations in Niagara; each consisting of several sub-appellations.  However, not all of the sub-appellations are included as part of a regional appellation.  This raises the question as to why these regional appellations are necessary since many of the sub-appellations are not included.  However, I digress.

In order to apply for the Regional Appellation designation, the wine must have 85% of the grapes sourced from within an associated sub-appellation with the balance from within the Niagara Peninsula.                    

Niagara-on-the-Lake

Niagara-on-the-Lake is the area bounded by the Niagara River, Niagara Lakeshore, Four Mile Creek and St. David’s Bench.  A minimum of 85% of the grapes must be sourced within these sub-appellations with the balance coming from elsewhere within the Niagara Peninsula.

The common grape varieties of this regional appellation include:

  • Vidal
  • Chardonnay
  • Pinot Noir
  • Cabernet Franc
  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Riesling

Niagara Escarpment

The Short Hills Bench, Twenty Mile Bench and Beamsville Bench together form the Niagara Escarpment.  In order to use this designation a wine must consist of 85% of the grapes coming from these sub-appellations with the balance from elsewhere within the Niagara Peninsula.

The grapes grown include:

  • Riesling
  • Chardonnay
  • Pinot Noir
  • Cabernet Franc
  • Sauvignon Blanc
  • Vidal
  • Gewürztraminer

Prince Edward County

Prince Edward County was created as a new growing region in 2007. Some see the future of wine in “The County” in premium wines produced from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  There are now in excess of 40 wineries in the region.

Grapes grown in the region include:

  • Pinot Noir
  • Gamay Noir
  • Vidal
  • Chardonnay
  • Cabernet Franc
  • Baco Noir
  • Chambourcin
  • Marechal Foch
  • Seyval Blanc
  • Gewürztraminer
  • Sauvignon Blanc
  • Syrah
  • Merlot

Climate

Most vineyards are located in areas that receive maximum benefit from lake breezes. Prevailing westerly breezes travel steadily across Lake Ontario and the Bay of Quinte to help moderate temperatures. They are especially beneficial during the warm summer months, keeping average temperatures around 22°C, with pleasant cooling during the hotter days and keeping cool nights at bay.

Topography

The County’s topography is irregular, with hills creating various exposures for the vines, and valleys digging into the broad, flat Trenton limestone base. A gradual rise from northeast to southwest is crossed by a number of long, gentle east-west ridges and occasionally steep, rugged escarpments. On the northern and eastern shorelines, rocky bluffs rise to an elevation of 30 m (98 ft) or more above Lake Ontario, while the western shore has many inlets with sandy shores and large sandbars that define bodies of water such as West Lake and East Lake.

Soil

Top soils range from reddish-brown clay loam to sandy loam and overlay limestone bedrock embedded with shale fragments. The stony surface and numerous rock and shale fragments within the soils allow water to drain into the limestone, which ensures good drainage of winter-melt and substantial root penetration for mature vines. This rocky soil also allows good heat conduction and retention and encourages early warming in the spring.

My favourite wineries in Prince Edward County include Keint-He (pronounced “Quinte”) Winery and Vineyards, Sandbanks  Winery, and Stanners Vineyard.  In all cases I am a fan of their reds but Sandbanks has some fun whites as well.

The one thing to note with Sandbanks is that being one of the largest, if not the largest, producer in the region, they purchase a large portion of their grapes from other growers in the area. This limits their ability to control the source grapes and the flavour impacts from the wide range of soil types existing within the County. Therefore, in order to ensure conistency in taste, I have found that the wines produced with grapes grown in Sandbanks own vineyards are well worth seeking out.

The foolproof way to determine which wines contain their own grapes is to ask a member of their knowlegeable staff. However, based on my own experience, wines identifying a bin number or including “Reserve” in the title, have been produced using Sandbanks own grapes.

Lake Erie North Shore

The Lake Erie North Shore appellation contains one sub-appellation, the South Islands, which includes Canada’s southernmost vineyards on Pelee Island, including Canada’s largest estate winery, Pelee Island Winery.

Climate

Lake Erie North Shore has a long growing season. It benefits from the quick summer warming of the shallow waters of Lake Erie as well as from an abundance of sunshine during the growing season. Early harvests are the norm, with picking usually beginning at the end of August and late-harvest varieties often reaching their peak by late October.

Topography

Bounded on the northwest side by Lake St. Clair, to the west by the fast flowing Detroit River, with Lake Erie to the south, and including the nine islands in Lake Erie, which make up the South Islands sub-appellation, Lake Erie North Shore appellation is almost completely surrounded by water. Numerous short, shallow streams found throughout this appellation flow freely in the spring but often dry down to a trickle in the warm summer. The appellation is made up of long, gentle slopes that face in all directions, with elevations ranging from 172 m (564 ft) to 196 m (643 ft) above sea level. With no major topographic barrier to the prevailing southwesterly winds, this appellation enjoys the full effect of the lake breeze that moderates the entire area during the long growing season.

Soil

The soil composition was greatly affected by the glacial lakes, which deposited large amounts of unsorted stony materials in the area. When the glacial lakes elsewhere retreated, this area remained covered in deep waters for a longer period, allowing waves to smooth out the ridges and deposit considerable amounts of sediment. The light-textured, well-drained soils around the lakeshore contain mostly sandy loam and gravel deposits punctuated by small, irregular stony ridges, which overlie shale limestone bedrock. The South Islands have similar soil makeup as the mainland, and the majority of the vineyards are planted on the southwestern corner and centre of Pelee Island (the largest of the islands), where the soils are the deepest and allow for root systems to properly set.

There are currently 15 wineries in the Lake Erie North Shore region.  Personally I am not very familiar with these wineries.  However I can say that over the years I have enjoyed a number of the reds from Pelee Island Winery, in particular their Meritage and Cabernet Sauvignon.

I have not experienced the pleasure of visiting Lake Erie North Shore but have enjoyed a number of the wines produced there.

Sláinte mhaith