Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

October 19, 2017

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The state of wine in Canada

How far have we come in 25 years?

When you think of popping a cork, Canadian wine might not be the first to come to mind. But in the past 25 years, wine has really come of age in Canada. These days, Canadian vintages regularly scoop up international awards. In 2007, Canada produced an estimated 55 million litres at the some 500 wineries coast to coast.

The main wine regions are east and west: in the east, Ontario (known for its icewine), and in the west, British Columbia, “Napa North.” Though talented vintners are cropping up more and more in places like Quebec, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick and most recently, on the prairies in Saskatchewan. Here, a primer to sipping the North:

Ontario

Ontario’s 130-plus wineries produce about 80 percent of Canada’s total wine volume. The premier areas are in the south of the province at roughly the same latitude as southern France’s Provence and Languedoc-Roussillon regions. They include the Niagara Peninsula, Lake Erie North Shore and Pelee Island. A broad range of varieties from Auxerrois to Zinfandel are grown, many tailored to thrive despite harsh winters and humid summers. A specialty is icewine, for which Canada is world-renowned.

Experimentation for hardy new varieties continues between winemakers, grape growers and the Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute at Brock University. Henry of Pelham’s ( henryofpelham.com) Baco Noir Reserve is an iconic Ontario red wine. Two of the biggest and best-known wineries are Inniskillin (inniskillin.com) and Jackson-Triggs (jacksontriggswinery.com), with properties in both British Columbia and Ontario. Famous Canadians — from hockey star Wayne Gretzky to comedian Dan Aykroyd — are among winery owners.

British Columbia

British Columbia is Canada’s second-largest wine region with almost 200 wineries — many of them boutique operations — throughout the Okanagan Valley (a four-hour drive east of Vancouver, BC), the agricultural Fraser Valley, and on Vancouver Island plus the Gulf Islands (also nicknamed the Wine Islands).

Roughly half of British Columbia wines are white. Some of the most sought-after reds come from the southern Okanagan and Similkameen valleys with the hot, dry microclimate of Canada’s only true desert. Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer are popular whites; Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Pinot Noir are widely planted reds.

Some of the best-known and awarded wineries are in Kelowna: Mission Hill Family Estate (missionhillwinery.com ) has a restaurant terrace spectacularly perched on a hilltop and Summerhill Pyramid Winery (summerhill.bc.ca ), stores organic sparkling wines in a replica of an Egyptian pyramid; and Nk’Mip Cellars (nkmipcellars.com ), North America’s first Aboriginal-owned and -operated winery in Osoyoos. There are wine festivals in spring, summer, winter and during fall harvest in the Okanagan Valley.

Icewine success

Canada’s iconic wine is icewine, a sweet dessert wine created mostly from frozen Riesling and Vidal grapes harvested and pressed at a temperature no higher than -8ºC. Although icewine originated in Europe, consistently cold winters — mainly in Ontario’s Niagara Peninsula and British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley — make Canada the world’s largest icewine producer. BC produced 70,000 litres of icewine in 2009 while Ontario made 900,000 litres in the same year.

A Niagara winery, Inniskillin, introduced icewine in Canada and went on to win France’s highest award — the Grand Prix d’Honneur — at the 1991 Vinexpo for its 1989 vintage (sound California-ish, anyone?). Every winter, icewine festivals are held in British Columbia at Sun Peaks Resort (sunpeaksresort.com) and in Ontario’s Niagara region.

And in Nova Scotia, a surprise entry in this category, Jost Vineyards (jostwine.com) on the province's northern shores was named Best Icewine in the country at the 2007 All-Canadian Wine Championships.

Trails and Tours

You can tour wine country on walking, driving and cycling tours in British Columbia. There’s even a scenic route along the old Kettle Valley Rail Trail (kettlevalleyrailway.ca).

Head to Ontario’s Niagara wine country from Toronto by train or road trip or cycle 'n sip. In Ontario at Strewn (strewnwinery.com) and in British Columbia at Mission Hill (missionhillwinery.com), culinary classes combine the pleasures of wine with learning how to cook.

In Quebec, you can drive or cycle along an established Wine Route (laroutedesvins.ca) in several regions, including one through the historic Eastern Townships.


Courtesy of the Canadian Tourism Commission. The text has been modified from the original.

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.

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