Ontario is Canada’s biggest wine-production area. It’s considered a relatively new wine region, although vines have been planted here over a hundred years ago. (First commercial winery in Canada was established on Pelee island in 1866).
Here is a wrap-up of what I’ve learned about Canadian wine during my recent trip to Toronto.
VQA Ontario (Vintners Quality Alliance)
Ontario has 3 major grape-growing appellations: Lake Erie North Shore, Niagara Peninsula, and Prince Edward County. Within Niagara Peninsula there are 2 regional appellations (Niagara Escarpment and Niagara-on-the-Lake) and 10 sub appellations, which are even smaller areas within regional appellations, such as Beamsville Bench, Niagara Lakeshore, etc.
When you see VQA Ontario on a bottle, it means the wine is made 100% from Ontario-grown grapes, which have been approved by the quality control program.
Climate & Soil
Ontario’s wine appellation sits in the middle of the northern grape growing belt, at roughly the same latitude as northern Italy. Lakes that surround the vineyards (Lake Erie on the South, Lake Huron on the West and Lake Ontario on the East) moderate the climate, protecting the vines during the cold winters and cooling them during the warm summer days (moderating effect of shore breezes). In such a climate wine grows and accumulate flavor slowly, and tend to have high acidity and more mineral flavors.
Soil: Mostly sand, silt, clay, loam and gravel
Most common white grape varieties: Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, Vidal Blanc, Gewurztraminer.
Most common red grape varieties: Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Baco Noir, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Gamay Noir.
Wine production is so small here that local wine is almost never exported, but sold for local consumption. As a protective measure, wines from other parts of Canada are hard to find here either.
Wine produced: Table wine, Still, Sparkling, Late Harvest, Icewine; More about varietals and styles here
Number of wineries: 168
Alcohol trade in Canada is controlled by the government. An Ontario government enterprise is one of the world’s largest buyers and retailers of alcohol. It owns and runs more than 630 retail stores in the province. It has also established minimum prices for alcohol products bought at on-trade premises, such as bars and restaurants. One of the exceptions is Peller Estate, a huge wine corporation, which owns many different wine brands and has its own retail chain all over Ontario.
To sum up, I found Canadian wine very interesting and definitely worth exploring. It’s delicious and very competitive in terms of quality and price.
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