When you think of Canadian food products, wine doesn’t exactly spring to mind. Back bacon and maple syrup, yeah, but wine? Mention Canadian wine and the first reaction you’re likely to get is either laughter or a blank stare.
That’s beginning to change as vintners in the Great White North are proving themselves.
The history of Canadian wines goes way back. Even the Vikings, who visited eastern Canada a thousand years ago, called the place Vinland after the vines of native grapes they found. The Native Americans (called First Nations up here) only used the grapes for eating, but it wasn’t long after British and French immigrants showed up that the first attempts at wine production were made. By the mid-nineteenth century it had become big business.
The major wine growing regions are British Columbia (shown here) and Ontario, with much smaller levels of production in Quebec and Nova Scotia. It should come as no surprise that most of vineyards hug the southern border and much of the wine they make is icewine.
Icewine is produced from grapes that have frozen on the vine. They aren’t harvested until the temperature dips lower than -8 Celsius, which means harvest is often as late as December. The frozen grapes only produce a tiny bit of juice rich with acid and sugar. The resulting wine is a very sweet dessert wine that comes in smaller bottles and is best served chilled and in small glasses. The expensive production process leads to a corresponding price tag. Canadian icewine is considered some of the best in the world.
Some Canadian producers actually import grapes and press them in Canada or mix them with Canadian grapes. These are labeled “Cellared in Canada” and are not true Canadian wines. All Canadian ice wine is the real stuff. Frozen grapes aren’t hard to come by here.
But icewine isn’t the whole story. According to the Canadian Vintners Association, more than thirty varieties are produced in the country. The Rieslings of Ontario were the first to show promise back in the Seventies, and Vidals, Chardonnays, and other varieties have become prominent. Pinot Noir, grown in Niagara, has done so well that Boisset, the largest producer in France’s famous Burgundy region, has joined with Vincor International, Canada’s largest wine company, to build a winery in Niagara dedicated to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
If the French have faith in Canada’s potential, that means something. Who knows? With global warming, Canada may become the new southern Europe.