Sustainability of the Wine Industry

Sustainability is defined from an environmental perspective as “the avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance”.  The objectives include a desire to improve environmental performance, improve the quality of wine growing and winemaking in an environmentally responsive manner, provide information to consumers and add value to the wine industry and the community. 

Because of climate change, people are more willing than ever to go “green” with their eating habits, from going more plant-based to cutting back on food waste. Many people have become interested in making their beverages more eco-friendly, including drinking sustainable wine.

Wine Growers Canada (WGC) supports a selection of appropriate environmental sustainability programs for both winery and vineyard operations, underlining a widespread awareness of environmental sustainability and a commitment to implementation. WGC’s Environmental Sustainability Principles were developed in cooperation with FIVS, a worldwide organization designed to serve the alcohol beverage industry. FIVS also collaborates with the International Organization of Wine and Vine (OIV) on sustainability, and both have been adopted by the World Wine Trade Group. These principles ensure flexibility in achieving environmental sustainability objectives, while preserving the programs of individual wineries and providing an ability to achieve success within a company’s particular operating environment.

Vineyards

The vineyards are where sustainable practices are the most obvious.  The main objective is to reduce the need for the use of chemicals and create a healthy viable biodiversity where the vineyard can survive. 

Some vintners are using sheep to mow and fertilize their vineyards.  Sheep along with ducks work to control pests and weeds.

Cover crops such as grasses, legumes, mustard and radishes may be planted between the rows of vines to assist with soil fertility, enhance microbial activity and protect against soil erosion.  These plants attract desirable predatory insects that can help control the species that can damage the vines and fruit.

Use of alternative energy sources such as solar panels are also helpful.

Wineries

The proximity of the vineyard to the winery can have a sustainable impact.  The closer the two are together the less physical stress the grapes will have between harvesting and wine making.

A winery having a significant portion underground reduces heating and cooling energy requirements.  Underground cellars naturally maintain a consistent level of temperature and humidity.

Geothermal heating and cooling systems, as well as using gravity rather than pumps to transport the wine from crushing to fermentation and cellaring are also effective practices.

Sustainable Wine

In order to become a certified sustainable winery, it must be evaluated by a credited independent third party.  This helps insure that a sustainability symbol or logo (usually found on the back label) truly indicates that a wine is produced using sustainable methods.

These standards include composting waste to make fertilizer, conserving water and reducing energy consumption and pesticide use. To qualify, wineries must provide records of energy use and greenhouse gas emissions as well as water management and employee health and safety.

Sustainable wine-grape growing is a journey, not a destination.

Identifying Sustainable Wine

If you want to choose good-quality sustainable wine, take time to learn more about where the wine came from and how the grapes are produced. The easiest way to do this is to look for third-party labels, such as EMS, LIVE or SWO (Sustainable Wines Ontario) on bottles of wine when you shop.

Canadian Wineries Practicing Sustainability

Ontario

Many Ontario wineries have chosen to become a Sustainable Winemaking Ontario Certified Winery (SWO).  To be certified, the wineries are audited annually to ensure they are adhering to environmentally sustainable practices in their winemaking operations. Best practices include conservation of water, reduction in waste and wastewater and implementation of energy efficiency programs, including the use of sustainable power sources.

Certified Ontario wineries must also produce VQA wines, which are made from 100% locally grown grapes. Local wines inherently have a smaller carbon footprint and also play a vital role in preserving local economies. They are an integral part of a community’s economic health.

SWO Certified wineries must also cultivate positive relationships within their community. They must be leaders in social responsibility and be committed to producing authentic regional wines.  

SWO wineries and wines can be identified by the green leaf icon found on labels and in the Wine Country Ontario Travel Guide.

Participating SWO wineries are listed below:

SWO Winery & Vineyard Certified

  • Cave Spring Vineyard
  • Château des Charmes
  • Flat Rock Cellars
  • Henry of Pelham Family Estate
  • Hidden Bench Estate Winery
  • Malivoire Wine Company
  • Pelee Island Winery & Pavilion
  • Southbrook  Organic Vineyards
  • Stratus Vineyards

SWO Winery Certified

  • Reif Estate Winery
  • Strewn Winery
  • Vineland Estates Winery

Some wineries also have additional certifications:

  • Certified Organic wineries use 100% grapes grown without the use of chemical pesticides, herbicides or synthetic fertilizers.  Instead, they fertilize with compost, compost teas, green manure and cover crops;
  • Biodynamic wines are generally certified through the Demeter Farm Standard, which reflects the biodynamic principle of the farm as a living organism: self-contained and self-sustaining, following the cycles of nature; and
  • Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is a green building rating system. It promotes global adoption of green building and development practices through the implementation of universal performance criteria. It is administered in Canada by the Canada Green Building Council (CaGBC).

British Columbia

The first wines certified under a new made-in-BC sustainability program should be on shelves this year.  The certification process, Sustainable Winegrowing BC (SWBC), was originally scheduled to launch in April 2020, but was delayed by COVID-19. With the program up and running, BC vineyards and wineries are now able to apply for a third-party audit, receive certification and describe their wine as “made from grapes grown in a certified sustainable vineyard” or “made in a certified sustainable winery.”

Program development began more than 10 years ago, driven mostly by industry volunteers under the auspices of the BC Wine Grape Council.  The wineries involved include large wineries such as Arterra and Andrew Peller, medium-size wineries like Quails’ Gate and Hillside Estate, as well as some boutique wineries like Tantalus and Le Vieux Pin/La Stella.  Vineyard owners, consultants and Summerland Research and Development Centre scientists round out the membership.

To date, 68 vineyards and 37 of the province’s 280 wineries have completed the self-assessments.

In Closing

Sustainability is the way of the future.  Supporting these wineries is an investment in our own future and well-being.  The quality and flavour of these wines is equal to, or superior to non-sustainable wines.  Here’s to the future!

Sláinte mhaith

The All Canadian Wine Championships

With COVID seeming to be lessening its grip, life as we used to know it is once again beginning to slowly return. Part of that are the various wine competitions.  The 40th edition of the All Canadian Wine Championships was held from July 6th to 8th.  In total, 208 wineries submitted 1,327 wines to assess.

Assessments and awards were based as follows:

Trophies : “All Canadian Best Wines of the Year”

All wines are judged using the 100-point system. Trophies are awarded for each of the following categories:

  • Best Red table wine
  • Best White table wine
  • Best Dessert wine
  • Best Sparkling wine
  • Best Fruit wine

The award for Best Red Wine of the Year went to BC’s Dark Horse Vineyard for their 2016 Red Meritage ($60.00).

The Best White Wine of the Year was the 2020 Gewürztraminer ($20.69) from BC’s Wild Goose Vineyards and Winery.          

The Best Dessert Wine of the Year went to Ontario’s Peller Estates Winery for their 2019 Andrew Peller Signature Series Riesling Icewine ($89.85).

BC’s Forbidden Fruit Winery won the Best Fruit Wine of the Year award for their 2020 Flaunt Organic Sparkling Plum ($22.00).

Finally the Best Sparkling Wine of the Year award went to BC’s Gray Monk Estate Winery for their 2018 Odyssey Rose Brut ($29.90).

Double Gold medals / Best of Category were awarded to the single highest rated wine (using an average of the aggregate judges’ scores) from each of the categories. These wines were all submitted for the Trophy round.

Medals of Merit: Gold, Silver, Bronze were awarded in the following manner:

  • Gold awards were awarded to those wines scoring in the top 10 percentile.
  • Silver awards of merit were issued to those wines scoring in the second 10 percentile.
  • Bronze awards of merit were given to those wines scoring in the third 10 percentile.

The overall results by province were as follows:

  • BC          4 Trophies / 29 Double Gold / 81 Gold / 75 Silver / 88 Bronze (759 entries)
  • ON         2 Trophies / 22 Double Gold / 38 Gold / 50 Silver / 40 Bronze  (465 entries)
  • QC          1 Double Gold / 7 Gold / 6 Silver / 4 Bronze (57 entries)
  • NS          3 Gold / 2 Bronze  ( 14 entries)
  • NB          1 Double Gold / 1 Gold / 5 Bronze (23 entries)
  • PEI         1 Double Gold / 3 Silver /  1 Bronze   (10 entries)
  • AB          3 Double Gold / 2 Gold / 1 Silver (11 entries)
  • MB          1 Double Gold (4 entries)
  • SK           1 Double Gold / 1 Gold / 3 Silver / 3 Bronze (18 entries)
  • Yukon     0 (4 entries)

All of the results are available at https://allcanadianwinechampionships.com/acwc-2021-results/

With the All Canadian Wine Awards completed, I look forward to the National Wine Awards that were deferred until the fall.

Sláinte mhaith

British Columbia’s Movers and Shakers for 2021

I have put together my 2021 list of British Columbia wineries to watch for.  Not all of these wines will be available at your local wine store; some are available in British Columbia wine stores, but most may be purchased online or directly from the winery. 

My selections are based on my interpretation of recent trends, the wineries successes and the quality of their wine, their wine-making practices and what makes them stand out above their competitors at the present time.  My list is presented in no particular order.

Mission Hill Family Estate Winery, West Kelowna

Mission Hill uses sustainable organic farming practices with the use of modern technology. Their wines are carefully aged with new and Old World techniques.  They employ the use of bees, falcons, and chickens in lieu of pesticides and insecticides. Cover crops, earthworms, and compost are used in place of chemical fertilizers.

Their winemakers’ practices are fundamentally rooted in Old World techniques that are supported with modern technology.  Drones provide a high-level view of the vineyard’s health. Soil science pinpoints the areas where best to plant the vines.

The winemaking team strives to be continually innovative, combining fermentation and maturation vessel traditions with future trends.  The equipment and processes are designed to best serve the wines.

Mission Hill has 3 collections of wines: the Reserve Collection, Terroir Collection and the Legacy Collection.

Reserve Collection

The Reserve Collection expresses hand-selected blocks of grapes, extreme viticulture management, longer barrel time, and increased lees stirring, which is a process to handle the yeast during the fermentation process.

Terroir Collection

Only the top 3% of all of the winery’s fruit is hand-selected for these wines and each individual lot is carefully tasted throughout the winemaking process to ensure its quality level before the final blend.

Legacy Collection

The grapes are hand-harvested and hand-sorted, consisting of the top 1% of the harvest from all of their vineyards. They benefit from extended barrel aging which is followed by a 24-month period in-bottle prior to release.

These wines are small lot and limited production collectibles. Cellar-worthy, they may be aged for decades. The collection includes Compendium, Quatrain, Prospectus, Perpetua and their flagship wine, Oculus.

Covert Farms Family Estate, Oliver

Covert Farms Family Estate practices organic farming with minimal intervention winemaking.  Regenerative agriculture offers many benefits to the farming ecosystem such as increasing soil organic matter, greater water holding capacity, improved nutrient cycling, pest and disease suppression through enhanced soil biology, and ultimately higher nutrient density in the vines.

They hope to introduce Dry Farming to the vineyards within the next few years which would provide such benefits as enhanced resiliency to climate change and potential increase in wine quality attributes.

They practice regenerative farming, which is based on five principles that need to be implemented together: no-till or minimal tillage, keeping the ground covered, species diversity, keeping living roots in the soil as much as possible and integrating livestock.

Regenerative agriculture offers many benefits to the ecosystem such as increasing soil organic matter, carbon capture, greater water holding capacity, improved nutrient cycling, pest and disease control through enhanced soil biology, and ultimately higher nutrient density within their crops.

Minimizing tillage is challenging in organic agriculture as this is one of the only means to manage weeds. They have been adapting their systems and processes and have had good success in the vineyards.  Interestingly, the longer the soil is undisturbed, the fewer weeds there are. 

Tantalus Vineyards, Kelowna

Tantalus Vineyards put incredible care into everything they do, from farming to winemaking and including the winery being Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified.  It is also LIVE certified.  LIVE has independently certified the sustainable practices of winegrowers in the Pacific Northwest, using the latest in university research and internationally accredited standards.

Riesling is the major focus at Tantalus; it is an Okanagan icon.  However, their Pinot Noir is very good as well. 

Final Thoughts

Obviously these are far more than just 3 good wineries in British Columbia.  In fact I have purposely excluded some of my personal favourites from this list as they were not what I consider as the innovative leaders this year. Included in that list would be Osoyoos Larose, Quails Gate and Gray Monk.

Unfortunately, it is unlikely that you will find many of the wines produced by these wineries outside of British Columbia.  However, lucky for us many of the wineries offer online ordering.

Sláinte mhaith

Ontario’s Movers and Shakers for 2021

With COVID-19 finally starting to loosen its grip over the country and the hopes that people will be able to begin moving more freely again, I have put together my 2021 list of wines to watch for.  Not all of these wines will be available at your local wine store; some can only be purchased online or directly from the winery. 

One significant indicator of which wineries are making an impact is usually the Ontario Wine Awards.  However, COVID-19 caused the 2021 awards to be cancelled.  The 2020 awards were conducted virtually but the organizers decided to forego the 2021 awards with the exception of the ‘Winemaker of the Year Award, which will be announced sometime during the summer.  A second indicator is the National Wine Awards, which for 2021 has been deferred from June to October.

Selecting a list of top wineries is very subjective.  Depending on the reviewer, ratings may be based on any or all of:

  • Customer visit experience at the winery
  • Overall service of the winery
  • The winery facility and amenities
  • The variety of wines offered for sale
  • Price point
  • The quality of the wine

For the purposes of this review I have based my opinions on my interpretation of recent trends, the wineries successes, and the quality of their wine, their wine-making practices and what makes them stand out above their competitors at the present time.  My list is presented in no particular order.

Rosehall Run Vineyard, Prince Edward County

Having won the 2020 Ontario Wine Awards “Red Wine of the Year” for its 2018 ‘JCR Pinot Noir Rosehall Vineyard’ I am looking forward to seeing what Rosehall Run will do this year.  I was fortunate enough to visit The County last fall and taste this prize winner, as well as bring a few bottles home.  Based on last year’s performance, I would think that this year’s Pinot Noir release will be worth getting a hold of.

2020 was not the first time Rosehall Run has received an award.  Their recognized achievements go back to 2006 and they have even had their wine included on the menu for a Royal visit.

Angels Gate Winery, Niagara

Winemaker Philip Dowell was named 2020’s ‘Winemaker of the Year’ at the Ontario Wine Awards. Dowell has a simple philosophy on winemaking; it’s all about balance both in the vineyard and in the actual wine. It’s about bringing together the ‘terroir’, ‘elevage’ and ‘typicity’ of wine. The ‘terroir” is the character of the grape from a specific vineyard site; ‘elevage’ is the progress the wine takes through the cellar during its maturation; and ‘typicity’ is the distinctive vinous character each wine has.

Angels Gate Winery produces Chardonnay, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Shiraz.

Karlo Estates Winery, Prince Edward County

Karlo has rebounded after some struggles following the 2014 death of its founder and winemaker, Richard Karlo.  Karlo has redeveloped its vision, which is to promote sustainability and show that it is possible to be respectful of the planet while producing award-winning wines. Karlo was the first certified vegan wine in the world. Not only is the wine in the bottles certified vegan but all the vineyard practices are vegan as well.

Personally, I am a big fan of both the Van Alstine white and red Port, as well as their Quintus which is made using Malbec, Petit Verdot, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes.

The Picone Vineyard, Niagara

The Picone Vineyard was a complete mystery to me prior to their winning the White Wine of the Year award at the 2020 Ontario Wine Awards for their 2017 ‘Charles Baker Riesling’.  The vineyard is small, only 10 acres.

In addition to the Riesling, they produce Fogolar Cabernet Franc, which is made from a one-acre block with prized vines that are 30+ years old.

Being committed to enhancing the environment by using sustainable practices in their winery and vineyard, the Wine Council of Ontario has certified Picone for sustainability management of their vineyard.

Interestingly, the owner, Mark Picone, is an internationally trained chef.  As well as owning the winery, Mark is a Chef Professor at the Canadian Food and Wine Institute.  What better way to showcase his wine than by pairing them with his own food creations.

Picone Vineyard may be small but it seems to have great future potential to become mighty.

Final Thoughts

Obviously these are not all the good wineries in Ontario, in fact far from it. However, these are the ones that caught my attention this past year.  Unfortunately, it is unlikely that you will find any of their offerings in your local wine or liquor store.  However, if you find yourself in either the Niagara region or The County, visiting these wineries could be a fruitful (no pun intended) experience. Most of the wineries offer online ordering as well.

Sláinte mhaith

Red Varietals Grown in Canada

Photo credit: WinesInNiagara.com

This week I conclude my review of the grape varietals grown in British Columbia, Ontario and Nova Scotia.  The focus is on red wine grapes grown in these 3 provinces.

Baco Noir

Baco Noir is a hybrid red wine grape variety created by Francois Baco.  In 1951 the variety was brought to the cooler viticulture regions of North America, such as British Columbia, Ontario, Nova Scotia, New York, Michigan, Mississippi, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Oregon.

Cabernet Franc

Cabernet Franc is one of the major black grape varieties worldwide. It is principally grown for blending with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in the Bordeaux style, but can also be vinified alone. In addition to being used in blends and produced as a varietal in all 3 Canadian provinces and the United States, it is sometimes made into ice wine in these regions.

Cabernet Franc is lighter than Cabernet Sauvignon making a bright, pale red wine that contributes finesse and lends a peppery perfume to blends with more robust grapes. Depending on the growing region and style of wine, additional aromas can include tobacco, raspberry, bell pepper, cassis, and violets.

Cabernet Sauvignon

Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the world’s most widely recognized red wine grape varieties. It became internationally recognized through its prominence in Bordeaux wines where it is often blended with Merlot and Cabernet Franc. From France and Spain, the grape spread across Europe and to the New World where it found new homes in places like California’s Santa Cruz Mountains, Paso Robles, Napa Valley, New Zealand, South Africa, Australia, Chile, British Columbia and Ontario.

The classic profile of Cabernet Sauvignon tends to be a full-bodied wine with high tannins and noticeable acidity that contributes to the wine’s aging potential. In cooler climates like Canada, Cabernet Sauvignon tends to produce wines with blackcurrant notes that can be accompanied by green bell pepper notes, mint and cedar which will all become more pronounced as the wine ages.   In more moderate climates the blackcurrant notes are often seen with black cherry and black olive notes while in very hot climates the currant flavours can veer towards the over-ripe and “jammy” side.

Castel

The grape was created in 1953 by Ollie A. Bradt, at what is now the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre. Today the grape is widely planted in Nova Scotia with some plantings in Ontario. The grape is hardy, early-ripening and disease resistant.

De Chaunac

De Chaunac is a French-American hybrid wine grape variety used to make red wines. The grape was named after Adhemar de Chaunac, a pioneer in the Ontario wine industry.

De Chaunac is known to have a very vigorous growth habit and good resistance to mildew. It is grown in varying amounts for wine production across northeastern North America, especially in the winegrowing regions of New York, Pennsylvania, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Michigan and Ohio.

Gamay

Gamay is a purple-coloured grape variety used to make red wines, most notably grown in Beaujolais and in the Loire Valley of France.  It has often been cultivated because it makes for abundant production.  It is grown in all 3 of the Canadian wine provinces.

Leon Millot

Léon Millot is a red variety of hybrid grape used for wine. The variety was named after the winemaker and tree nursery owner Léon Millot.  The grapes are grown in Nova Scotia.

Lucie Kuhlmann

This is a Kuhlmann hybrid variety, with growing and ripening characteristics similar to Leon Millot and Marechal Foch, though less widely grown. The wine, like Leon Millot, is capable of deep colour with a pronounced berry-like fruitiness. Wines made from Lucie Kuhlmann tend to have a slightly firmer tannic structure compared to Leon Millot.  These grapes are grown in Nova Scotia and Ontario.

Malbec

Malbec is a purple grape variety that creates a dark red intense wine with robust tannins.  In addition to being bottled on its own it is also commonly blended with Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon to create the red French Bordeaux blend or is blended with Cabernet Franc and Gamay. Other wine regions use the grape to produce Bordeaux-style blends.

In addition to France, Malbec has become an Argentine varietal but is also becoming popular in British Columbia and Ontario.

Marechal Foch

Marechal Foch is a hybrid French red wine grape variety. It was originally known as Kuhlmann 188-2.  The vines were imported to North America in the mid 1940s, where it was subsequently renamed Marechal Foch in honour of Marshall Ferdinand Foch, Supreme Allied Commander during the First World War.

Marechal Foch ripens early and it is cold-hardy and resistant to fungal diseases. The quality of wine produced is dependent on the age of the vines, and the flavour profile associated with many new-world hybrid varietals is much reduced in comparison to wine made from older vines.

Today Marechal Foch is grown in British Columbia, Nova Scotia and Ontario.

Marquette

Marquette is a blue/black-berried variety introduced in 2006 by the University of Minnesota in the United States. Marquette is the cousin of Frontenac, a well-known French-American hybrid.

Marquette is promising for cold-climate producers in North America, and a number of plantings have been established in Minnesota, Vermont, New York and Nova Scotia.

The grape has high sugar levels and moderate acidity. Marquette wines are typically medium bodied, with aromas of cherries, blackcurrants and blackberries. In some cases more complex aromas such as tobacco and leather may also be exhibited, with spicy pepper notes on the finish.

Merlot

Merlot is a dark blue wine grape variety that is used by itself, as well as a blending grape and for varietal wines. Its softness and fleshiness, combined with its earlier ripening, makes it a popular grape for blending with Cabernet Sauvignon, which tends to be higher in tannin.

Along with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot, Merlot is one of the primary grapes used in Bordeaux wine, and it is the most widely planted grape in the Bordeaux wine regions. Merlot is also one of the most popular red wine varietals.

While Merlot is made around the world, there tends to be two main styles.  There is the International style that produces inky, purple coloured wines that are full in body with high alcohol and lush, velvety tannins with intense, plum and blackberry fruit.  The second style is the Bordeaux style where the harvesting of the grapes takes place earlier to maintain acidity. This style produces more medium-bodied wines with moderate alcohol levels that have fresh, red fruit flavours of raspberries and strawberries.

In Canada Merlot is grown in British Columbia and Ontario.

Mischurnitz

This vine is from Eastern Europe but is now being grown in the Finger Lakes region of New York State, British Columbia, and Nova Scotia. In 1983 a wine from Nova Scotia was voted the ‘best wine of Canada’ in a blind competition to supply the Canadian Embassies around the world. More recently two other Nova Scotia wineries, Jost Vineyards and Sainte Famille, are making notable wines with Michurinetz.

This extremely cold-hardy and vigorous vine typically produces red wines with tannic strength. The grapes also typically have extremely high natural acidity, and low sugar levels.

Petit Verdot

Petit Verdot is a variety of red wine grape that is mainly used in classic Bordeaux blends. It adds tannin, colour and flavour, in small amounts, to the blend. Petit Verdot has attracted attention among winemakers in the New World, where it ripens more reliably and has been made into a single varietal wine. It is also useful in ‘stiffening’ the mid palate of Cabernet Sauvignon blends.  It is grown in British Columbia and Ontario.

Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir is a red wine grape that is grown around the world, mostly in the cooler climates.  It is chiefly associated with the Burgundy region of France. Pinot noir is now used to make red wines around the world. Regions that have gained a reputation for red Pinot Noir wines include Oregon, California, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and the wine regions of Canada.

When young, wines made from Pinot Noir tend to have red fruit aromas of cherries, raspberries and strawberries. As the wine ages, there is the potential to develop more vegetal and barnyard aromas that can contribute to the complexity of the wine.

Syrah

Syrah, also known as Shiraz, is a dark-skinned grape variety grown throughout the world and used primarily to produce red wine.

The style and flavour profile of Syrah wines are influenced by the climate where the grapes are grown.  Moderate climates tend to produce medium to full-bodied wines with medium-plus to high levels of tannins and notes of blackberry, mint and black pepper. In hot climates, Syrah is more consistently full-bodied with softer tannin, jammier fruit and spice notes of licorice and earthy leather.

Syrah is used as a single varietal, as well as in blends. It can be found all over the world from France to Chile, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, California, Washington, British Columbia and Ontario.

Zweigelt

Widely planted in Austria, Zweigelt vines have made inroads in Washington and the Canadian wine regions of Ontario and British Columbia.  There are some plantings in Hungary. In the Czech Republic it is known as Zweigeltrebe and is the third-most widely planted red-grape variety, comprising approximately 4.7% of total vineyards. It grows in most of the wine regions in Slovakia and now in Belgian and Polish vineyards.

Sláinte mhaith

White Varietals Grown in Canada

Photo credit: WinesInNiagara.com

In Canada, the two main commercial grape-growing areas are southern Ontario’s Niagara Peninsula and British Columbia’s Okanagan and neighbouring Similkameen valleys.   Smaller industries have been established in the other eastern provinces, most notably Nova Scotia and Québec.

For the purposes of this article and the following one next week I will focus solely on British Columbia, Ontario and Nova Scotia.

This week the focus will be on white wine grapes grown in these 3 provinces.

Bacchus

The Bacchus is a white wine grape that was created by the Geilweilerhof Institute for Grape Breeding in Siebeldingen, Germany in 1933.   In Canada it is grown in British Columbia.

Bacchus wines can have powerful flavours and character.  It is low in acidity, which does not always make it very well suited for varietal wines under typical German growing conditions. Bacchus is often used for blending with other varietals.

Chardonnay

Chardonnay is said to be the world’s favourite white wine.  It can be produced in a youthful, fruity style that’s ready for to be drunk soon after bottling, or as a complex, barrel-fermented wine capable of aging for years.

Chardonnay wines are medium to full-bodied and pair with a range of simple or complex foods.

In France, Chardonnay is labelled by the region in which it is grown, like Chablis. It is also a key variety in Champagne.

Chardonnay is native to the Burgundy region of France but is now grown in all 3 of Canada’s wine provinces.

Chasselas

Chasselas or Chasselas blanc is a wine grape variety grown mainly in Switzerland, France, Germany, Portugal, Hungary, Romania, New Zealand and Chile.  In Canada it is grown in British Columbia and Nova Scotia.

Chasselas is usually used to make a full, dry and fruity white wine. However, it is also suitable as a table grape.  It is grown in Turkey and Hungary for this purpose.

Ehrenfelser

Ehrenfelser is a white wine grape variety of German origin. Outside Germany, Ehrenfelser has found some success mainly in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley. B.C. wineries including Cedar Creek, Lake Breeze, Gray Monk, Gehringer Brothers, Mount Boucherie, Quails’ Gate and Summerhill make both still and ice wine styles using this grape.

Geisenheim

The Geisenheim Grape Breeding Institute was founded in 1872 and is located in the town of Geisenheim, Germany. In 1876 Swiss-born professor Hermann Müller joined the institute, where he developed his namesake grape variety, Müller-Thurgau, which became Germany’s most-planted grape variety in the 1970s.

In Canada Geisenheim is grown in Nova Scotia and Ontario.

Gewürztraminer

Gewürztraminer is an aromatic wine grape variety used in white wines and performs best in cooler climates.

Gewürztraminer is a variety with a pink to red skin colour, which makes it a white wine grape as opposed to the blue to black-skinned varieties commonly referred to as red wine grapes. It has a high amount of natural sugar.  The wines are usually off-dry.

In Canada, Gewürztraminer is grown in British Columbia and Ontario.

Kerner

The Kerner grape is an aromatic white grape variety.  It is the 8th most planted variety in Germany.  Kerner is most commonly planted in Germany but it is also grown in Austria, Switzerland, the island of Hokkaido in Japan and Italy.  It is now grown in Ontario.

L’Acadie Blanc

L’Acadie Blanc is a white Canadian wine grape variety that is a hybrid crossing of Cascade and Seyve-Villard. The grape was created in 1953 in Niagara, Ontario at what is now the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre. Today the grape is widely planted in Nova Scotia, with some plantings in Ontario. It is considered to be Nova Scotia’s equivalent to Chardonnay.

Muscat Ottonel

Muscat Ottonel was created in Loir, France.  It is a white grape that is easier to cultivate in cooler climates than the other Muscats, as it ripens early and produces more delicate wines than Muscat Blanc a Petits Grains or Muscat of Alexandria.

It is popular in Alsace, France, Austria, Yugoslavia, Croatia, Hungary and Ontario.

New York Muscat

These grapes are used in dry wines and Icewines. Bold and exotic, New York Muscat produces aromatic but dry, full-bodied white wines with intense aromas of roses, grapefruit and exotic fruit.  These grapes are grown in Nova Scotia.

Pinot Blanc

Pinot Blanc is a versatile white-wine grape variety that is used in the production of still, sparkling and sweet dessert wines.  It is grown in all 3 wine provinces.

Pinot Gris

Pinot Gris, Pinot Grigio or Grauburgunder is a white wine grape variety. It normally has a grayish-blue fruit, but the grapes can have a brownish pink to black, and even white appearance. The wines produced from this grape also vary in colour from a deep golden yellow to copper and even a light shade of pink.

Pinot Gris is grown around the world including in all 3 of the Canadian provinces.

Riesling

Riesling is a white grape variety which originated in the Rhine region of Germany. Riesling is an aromatic grape variety displaying flowery, almost perfumed aromas as well as high acidity. It is used to make dry, semi-sweet, sweet, and sparkling white wines. It is one of the top three white wine varieties along with Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.

It is grown in all 3 Canadian wine provinces.

Sauvignon Blanc

Sauvignon Blanc is a green-skinned grape variety that originates from the Bordeaux region of France. Sauvignon Blanc is planted in many of the world’s wine regions, producing a crisp, dry, and refreshing white varietal wine. The grape is also a component of the famous dessert wines. Sauvignon Blanc is widely cultivated in France, Chile, Romania, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Bulgaria, the states of Washington and California and the 3 Canadian wine regions.

Depending on the climate, the flavour can range from aggressively grassy to sweetly tropical. In cooler climates, the grape has a tendency to produce wines with noticeable acidity and the flavour of green grass, green bell peppers and nettles with some tropical fruit and floral notes. In warmer climates, it can develop more tropical fruit notes.

Sémillon

Sémillon is a golden-skinned grape used to make dry and sweet white wines, mostly in France and Australia. However, it is also grown in British Columbia and Ontario.

Seyval Blanc

Seyval Blanc is a hybrid wine grape variety used to make white wines. It is grown mainly in England, the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York, Oregon, as well as, to a lesser extent in Nova Scotia.

Seyverni (NS)

Seyverni is the name of a Russian red-grape variety. The variety has been imported to the Finger Lakes area of New York as well as Nova Scotia.  The grape is very resistant to frost.

Vidal

Vidal is a white hybrid grape variety. It is a very winter-hardy variety that manages to produce high sugar levels in cold climates with moderate to high acidity.  Due to its winter hardiness, this grape variety is cultivated most extensively in the Canadian wine regions of Ontario, British Columbia and Nova Scotia where it is often used for ice wine production.

The wine produced from Vidal tends to be very fruity, with aroma notes of grapefruit and pineapple. Due to its high acidity and sugar potential, it is particularly suited to sweeter, dessert wines. In particular, because of the tough outer skin of the fruit, it is well adapted for the production of ice wine.

Viogner (BC, ON)

Viognier is a white wine grape variety. It is the only permitted grape for the French wine Condrieu in the Rhône Valley. Outside of the Rhône, Viognier can be found in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Israel, the United States, British Columbia and Ontario.

Viognier has the potential to produce full-bodied wines with a lush, soft character. It has aromatics that include notes of peach, pears, violets and minerals.

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The Annapolis Valley

Grapes have been grown in Nova Scotia since the 1600s, and wine has been an evolving, increasingly sophisticated part of the cultural landscape for almost 25 years. The soils and climate of the Annapolis Valley encourage wines with a strong sense of provenance, and as winemakers continue to gain a greater understanding of their land, the wines are only going to get better and better.

Though Chardonnay and Riesling are grown there, the warm, short growing season, combined with the direct cooling influence of the Atlantic Ocean and the severe winters, have necessitated the cultivation of winter-hardy grapes. Hybrid varieties such as L’Acadie Blanc, Seyval Blanc, Lucie Kuhlmann and New York Muscat form the backbone of this region’s aromatic, fresh, characterful white wines. Pinot Noir is grown too, for use in the expressive sparkling wines for which Nova Scotia is becoming increasingly well-known.

Nova Scotia has one appellation, which is called Tidal Bay. It was initiated in 2012 and there are now 70 grape growers and more than 800 acres of grape vines.  Though each winery may develop their own unique take, strict rules of production and a rigorous evaluation process ensure that Tidal Bay wines reflect a distinct Nova Scotian aromatic character and a consistent flavour profile.

The Wineries of the Annapolis Valley

Below I have profiled the larger producers in the Annapolis Valley but there are a handful of others that I have not included here.

Avondale Sky Winery

Avondale Sky’s objective is to grow the best grapes possible in Nova Scotia.  They have one of the oldest vineyards in the province, but the winery itself is one of the newest.

Their retail shop is a restored 180-year-old former church that was transported 40 kilometres over the highest tides in the world.  They produce small lots of wine that are crafted with care.

Varietals

White: 

  • Geisenheim
  • L’Acadie
  • New York Muscat
  • Petite Milo
  • Vidal Blanc
  • Ontario Chardonnay and Riesling grapes are used in some of the wines

Red:

  • Baco Noir
  • Castel
  • DeChaunac
  • Léon Millot
  • Lucie Kuhlman
  • Maréchal Foch
  • Marquette
  • Pinot Noir

Benjamin Bridge Vineyards

Benjamin Bridge is Canada’s most acclaimed sparkling wine house, situated in Nova Scotia’s picturesque Gaspereau Valley. Its cool climate is moderated by the Bay of Fundy, promoting natural acidities and the ability for the grapes to remain on the vine for an extended period of time.  This is required for the classic Champagne varietals, which are critical to producing sparkling wines of richness, structure, and finesse.  The climate has a close resemblance to France’s Champagne region.

Benjamin Bridge is primarily a traditional method sparkling wine producer.  Their portfolio is also comprised of brisk, aromatic whites – wines that take full advantage of the same, unique climatic traits that produce world-class sparkling wines. Nova 7, coined “Nova Scotia’s iconic wine,” pioneered an effervescent, off-dry style in the province, crafted on a foundation of quintessential freshness.

Varietals

White:

  • Chardonnay
  • Geisenheim
  • L’Acadie
  • Muscat
  • Ortega
  • Riesling
  • Seyval
  • Vidal

Red

  • Pinot Meunier
  • Pinot Noir

Blomidon Estate Winery

Blomidon is a boutique winery that crafts small lots of 100% Nova Scotian wines from estate-grown grapes.   They have won numerous national and international awards and acclaim for their wines

They are located in a scenic 10-hectare setting on the edge of the Minas Basin near Canning, a unique micro-climate for grape-growing.

Varietals

White:

  • Chardonnay
  • L’Acadie Blanc
  •  Seyval Blanc
  • New York Muscat
  • Riesling

Red:

  • Baco Noir
  • Pinot Meunier
  • Pinot Noir

Gaspereau Vineyards

Gaspereau Vineyards is a boutique winery best known for outstanding Rieslings and elegant white and robust red wines. They have had award-winning, premium, estate-grown wines.

Varietals

White:

  • Chardonnay
  • New York Muscat
  • Riesling
  • Seyval Blanc
  • Vidal Blanc

Red:

  • Lucie Kuhlmann

Awards

  • Silver at 2018 The National Wine Awards of Canada
  • Double Gold at 2017 All Canadian Wine Championships
  • Silver at 2017 The National Wine Awards of Canada
  • Best in Class for Tidal Bays at 2017 Atlantic Canadian Wine Awards
  • Silver at 2015 Atlantic Canadian Wine Awards
  • Top Scoring for Tidal Bay at 2014 Atlantic Canadian Wine Awards
  • Silver at  2014 Wine Align’s National Wine Awards of Canada

Domaine de Grand Pré Winery

Domaine de Grand Pré is the oldest farm winery in Atlantic Canada. The Swiss-born Stutz family re-opened the doors to the public in 2000 displaying a European sensibility for quality and a passion for wine.

They grow specialty grapes that are developed for Nova Scotia’s specific climate and landscape. The result is an array of award-winning vintages.

Varietals

White:

  • L’Acadie Blanc
  • New York Muscat
  • Ortega
  • Seyval Blanc
  • Vidal Blanc

Lightfoot and Wolfville Vineyards

Lightfoot & Wolfville is a 4th generation family-farm.  They are certified organic (Ecocert) and biodynamic (Demeter).  Their focus is on classic Burgundian-inspired Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, Rieslings and other German-styled white wines, as well as traditional method prestige cuvée sparkling wines.

Varietals

White:

  • Chardonnay
  • Chenin Blanc
  • Geisenheim-318
  • L’Acadie Blanc
  • Ortega
  • Riesling
  • Sauvignon Blanc
  • Siegerrebe
  • Vidal

Red:

  • Frontenac Noir
  • Léon Millot
  • Marquette
  • Pinot Meunier
  • Pinot Noir
  • Petite Pearl

Luckett Vineyards

Luckett Vineyards aims to capture the magic of Nova Scotia’s distinctive character through their wines. They are situated by the Bay of Fundy where they produce unique white wines.

Varietals

White:

  • L’Acadie
  • Osceola Muscat
  • Traminette
  • Ortega
  • Seyval
  • Vidal

Mercator Vineyards

Mercator Vineyards is distinctive for its authentic heritage and its timeless, relaxed and simple focus on old-world style wines.

Located just east of the town of Wolfville and adjacent to the Grand-Pré National Historic site, the vineyards are located on a bluff overlooking the historic Acadian dykelands where the Cornwallis River enters the tidal bay of the Minas Basin.

The winery is devoted entirely to growing exceptional grapes and making extraordinary limited-edition wines.

Varietals

White:

  • Chardonnay
  • L’Acadie
  • Léon Millot
  • Seyval
  • New York Muscat
  • Petite Milo

Red:

  • Marquette

Planters Ridge Winery

Planters Ridge is situated in a unique microclimate where it is bordered in the north by the basalt and granite of the North Mountain that rises from the shores of the Bay of Fundy. To the south it is sheltered from the cooler air of the Atlantic Ocean by South Mountain and Wolfville Ridge.

Planters Ridge is housed in a renovated 156-year-old timber frame barn that combines historical features with modern flourishes. This artisanal winery has invested in state-of-the-art equipment, producing highly acclaimed wines. With a focus on blends, they have developed a reputation for crafting aromatic whites and well-balanced, silky-smooth reds.

Varietals

White:

  • Frontenac Blanc
  • Frontenac Gris
  • L’Acadie
  • Muscat Ottonel
  • New York  Muscat
  • Seyval

Red:

  • Castel
  • Lucie Kuhlmann
  • Marquette
  • Pinot Noir

Sainte-Famille Wines

Sainte Famille Wines Ltd. is a small family owned vineyard and winery located on an original Acadian Village site known as “La Paroisse Sainte-Famille De Pisiquit” which was settled around 1685.  It has one of the warmest vineyard sites in Nova Scotia. The result is rich full bodied reds such as their premium Old Vines Marechal Foch, produced from the oldest vines in Nova Scotia. They have also produced whites of exceptional character such as the 2004 L’Acadie Blanc, which was chosen Best of Appellation.

Varietals

White:

  • Geisenheim #318
  • L’Acadie
  • Muscat
  • Riesling
  • Seyval
  • Siegfried

Red:

  • Cabernet Franc
  • Marechal Foch.

Even though the Annapolis Valley produces more native grapes than Ontario and British Columbia, who produce more European varietals, the wines of Nova Scotia should not be discounted when considering quality and taste.  The vintners of Nova Scotia have made the most out of the harsher grape growing climate and produce some excellent wines.

If you ever travel to the Annapolis Valley, taking the time to explore some of these wineries would be well worth the time.

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BC’s Okanagan Valley Wine Region

Viticulture began in British Columbia around 1859, but it wasn’t until the 1990s that a quality-focused approach saw the emergence of consistent, comprehensive excellence in their wines. The Okanagan Valley is situated in the rain shadow of the Coast and Monashee mountain ranges, which protect the valley from rain and help create ideal conditions for over 60 grape varieties to flourish.

The valley stretches over 250 kilometres, experiencing a temperature differential of about 5°C from north to south which, along with numerous site-specific mesoclimates, has a significant impact on the style and type of wines produced.

With 84% of the province’s vineyard acreage, the valley stretches over 250 kilometres, across four 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 four sub-regions are Golden Mile Bench, Naramata Bench, Okanagan Falls and Skaha Bench.

With both quiet family-run boutique vineyards and world-class operations, the Okanagan Valley wineries are rich in tradition and character, consistently ranking among the world’s best at international competitions.  Nearly every style of wine is produced across the whole spectrum of sweetness levels that include still, sparkling, fortified and dessert wines—most notably ice wines.

The more than 60 grape varieties grown in the Okanagan include Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Auxerrois Blanc, Marechal Foch and Cabernet Franc. Additionally many German varieties are still found throughout the Okanagan including Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Bacchus, Optima, Ehrenfelser, Kerner and Siegerebe.

Recently, growers have been planting warmer climate varieties typically not associated with the Canadian wine industry. These varietals include Sangiovese, Syrah, Tempranillo, Trebbiano, Pinotage, Malbec, Barbera and Zinfandel.

The Okanagan Valley is on my bucket-list of places I would like to visit once we reach the post-COVID-19 era.  The valley provides not only great wines but is a hiker’s and biker’s dream, with awe-inspiring vistas, theatre, music, boating, art galleries, craft breweries, boutiques, artisanal bakeries and great restaurants.

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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.

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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.

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