It's hard to believe that Canada has a thriving wine industry with
over 24,000 acres of vines. The main growing areas are Ontario,
British Columbia, Quebec and Nova Scotia. Grapes are almost exclusively
grown near large bodies of water to moderate the effects of the
weather. The Canadians have also put their emphasis on vinifera
vine varieties. Riesling and Chardonnay are particularly important
in Ontario while Pinot Blanc and Merlot are specialities of British
Columbia. In warm pockets Viognier, Syrah, and Petite Sirah can
be found and some success has been recorded with Cabernets and Pinot
Noir in warmer years.
Perhaps the most notable accomplishment has been the consistently
high quality of sweet wines produced here, especially ice wine,
late harvest Riesling, Vidal, Ehrenfelser, and Optima. Now producing
more than 50,000 cases a year, Canada is the world's largest producer
of Icewine, primarily due to the consistent temperatures of 16°
F that can be relied upon each winter.
The Canadian wine industry dates from the early 19th century when
retired German corporal, Johann Schiller, domesticated the labrusca
vines. He planted a 20-acre vineyard along the Credit river west
of Toronto. In 1866 the country's first major winery was established
on Pelee Island on Lake Erie. By 1890 there were 41 commercial wineries
across the country, 35 in Ontario.
Prohibition hit Canada in 1916. Unlike the US, however, it was actually
a boon to the wine trade. Wine was exempted from the scourge accounting
for 57 new wineries being founded in Ontario by the time it ended
in 1927, six years before the failed experiment ended in the US.
Unfortunately, the prohibitionist spirit was still alive because
that same year The Liquor Board was created which sold alcohol and
collected millions of dollars in tax revenues as it does today.
Things began to normalize in 1974 when Inniskillin, near Niagara
Falls, was granted the first commercial winery licence since Prohibition.
The wineries that followed in Ontario and British Columbia were
dedicated to satisfying the new found taste for dryer wines. Inniskillin
has continued to make oustanding wines, proving that vinifera vines
could survive the worst of Canadian winters.
The major concentration of Canadian vineyards is on the same latitude
as the Languedoc and Chianti, but polar temperatures and unpredictable
weather at harvest rank Canada as a cool climate wine region.
While some of Canada's vineyards may enjoy hotter summers than either
Bordeaux or Burgundy, the growing season tends to be shorter. According
to one estimate, average sunshine hours during the growing season
are 1,430 in Niagara, Ontario; 1,420 in British Columbia's Okanagan
Valley; and 1,150 in Dunham, Quebec. As a comparison, Burgundy averages
Ontario is Canada's largest wine province. It boasts over 60 wineries
and over 18,000 acres of vineyards. It has a climate similar to
the Finger Lakes region in New York state, ameliorated by two bodies
of water, Lakes Ontario and Erie. The major concentration of vineyards
around the Niagara Peninsula is further protected by an Ice Age
lake. This bluff above the vineyards encourages onshore air drainage
which dissipates fog and minimizes frost damage.
Ontario produces excellent Rieslings in the Kabinett to Beerenauslese
range as well as impressive Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc and Merlot
in warm years. Good to excellent Pinot Noir has been made at Inniskillin
in concert with the house of Jaffelin in Burgundy. Other successful
grape varieties include Grüner Veltliner and Pinot Grigio.
Hybrids still play a significant role, however, especially Vidal,
treasured for its Icewine which can easily be on a par with the
finest German versions.
British Columbia houses 55 wineries and 4,000 acres. It is much
nearer to the vineyards of Washington state than any other Canadian
wine region. It is centred on the arid Okanagan Valley in the south
east of British Columbia where the deep Okanagan Lake warms the
vineyards in winter. The southern part of the valley is just across
the border from Washington's Columbia Valley and is influenced by
the same dry and warm conditions that Washington enjoys. As the
district spreads North, however, the influence of the Arctic becomes
greater and makes grape ripening more of a challenge.
Quebec's 330 acres houses 30 wineries. The wineries found primarily
along the American border. Despite the low temperatures, there are
a few warm spots that allow the hardiest vines to survive, if not
flourish. Quebec's cottage wineries produce lighter-styled white
wines from Seyval Blanc, Vidal, Chardonnay, and Riesling grapes.
Midway between the equator and the North Pole, Nova Scotias four
wineries and 150 acres concentrate mainly on hybrids. The short
growing season severly limits the number of varieties that can be
planted with the most successful being Vidal, Seyval Blanc and Marechal