You may have noticed that we really like to talk about Canadian wine. That’s because we’re Canadians! Our passion for wine has been deeply influenced by Canada’s wine communities. Many of our fellow Canadians don’t know how rich the wine culture here is, or the quality and variety of wine products that are produced in the north.
Canadian Winemaking Regions
Canada has nine main wine growing regions. Most people are familiar with three: the Niagara Peninsula in Ontario, the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia, and the Nova Scotian Peninsula. The remaining six produce smaller quantities or get grouped in with the other three. The six regions are: Lake Erie North Shore and Prince Edward County in Ontario, the Similkaan Valley, Naramata Bench, Vancouver Island, and Fraser Valley in British Columbia.
We will cover each of these regions individually and in more depth in future posts, but you should also know that this list of regions is not the end rule. There are wineries scattered throughout Canada that produce outstanding wines, such as Dunhams’ Run in New Brunswick and some unique wineries from Québec.
The History of Canadian Wines
Stories say that Vikings landed in Newfoundland for the first time, saw wild grapes and named Newfoundland Vinland. This roughly translates to wine land. The uncovered ruins at L’Anse Aux Meadows show that the Vikings did produce wine there, though we can’t say how it tasted. Jacques Cartier also found wild grapes when he arrived at the St. Lawrence River, but settlers soon found that the wild grapes were not of the same quality as those grown in Europe. While these are the first experiences with wine in Canada, they were not pursued into winemaking.
The real beginning of Canada’s wine culture began with a German soldier in 1784. Johann Schiller was a soldier that had worked in winemaking on the Rhone before coming to Canada. He obtained 400 acres of land in the Niagara region and began producing his own wine with grapes he grew himself. He utilized and adapted wild Ontario grapes, while also importing grape varieties from the US and Europe. In 1811 he opened Canada’s first commercial winery, and because of this is often touted as The Father of Canadian Winemaking.
Canadian Red Wines
Canada produces most of the “standard” red wines that are popular throughout North America:
- Merlot (British Columbia and Ontario)
- Cabernet Sauvignon (British Columbia and Ontario)
- Malbec (British Columbia and Ontario)
- Pinot Noir (British Columbia, Ontario, and Nova Scotia)
- Cabernet Franc (British Columbia and Ontario)
- Zinfandel (British Columbia and Ontario)
There are also local wines made from hybrid varieties and less popular varieties that have been adapted from Europe:
- Barbera (British Columbia)
- Baco Noir (British Columbia, Quebec and Ontario)
- Carmenere (British Columbia)
- Gamay (British Columbia and Ontario)
- Marechal Foch (British Columbia, Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia)
These are just a few. Since Canada’s grape growing regions are so diverse, many varieties can be found throughout the country, not just in the regions listed here. The wines listed with associated regions are most commonly associated.
In general terms, typically “cool climate” grape varieties perform well in Canada. Hybrid grapes that have been adapted to our climate and topography also perform well. When selecting varieties that will perform well in our climate, growers look to other northern countries, with the most grape varieties coming from Europe.
Canadian White Wines
We produce many delicious white wines in the great white north. We’ve compiled a list of both the popular and unique varieties:
- Sauvignon Blanc (British Columbia, Nova Scotia, and Ontario)
- Riesling (British Columbia, Nova Scotia, Ontario, and Quebec)
- Seyval Blanc (Nova Scotia and Ontario)
- Chardonnay (British Columbia, Nova Scotia, Ontario, and Quebec)
- Gewurztraminer (Ontario and Quebec)
- Cayuga White (Nova Scotia)
- L’Acadie (New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Québec)
- Pinot Gris (British Columbia and Ontario)
- Reichensteiner (British Columbia, though we’re surprised that this predominantly German variety isn’t more widely grown in Ontario)
- Sémillon (British Columbia and Ontario)
Much like with red grape varieties, hardy grapes perform better. Growers throughout Canada often look to other northern countries when selecting grape stalks. Some vineyards produce more fragile varieties, but they pay special attention to these grapes to ensure that they are protected from inclement weather, pests, and winemaking slips.
Icewine – Canada’s Pride and Joy
Canada is know around the world for our signature Icewines. Icewine is wine made only using grapes that were frozen on the vines before they were picked. To be certified as a VQA Icewine, the temperature at harvest must be at least -8℉ when the grapes are picked. No artificial refrigeration is permitted during the Icewine-making process.
While Canada is not the only country producing ice wines, the use of the term “Icewine” is regulated by the VQA. No wines can carry the label “Icewine” without being certified by the VQA.
Icewine can be made from many varieties. The most popular are Vidal Blanc, Seyval Blanc, Riesling, and Cabernet Franc. Ontario, Nova Scotia and British Columbia all produce Icewine. Ontario produces and exports the highest volume of Icewine.
There are More Wines Out There
Take it from us: the more you learn about wine the more it seems that the varieties are endless. That’s because we believe that they are. Each region puts its own spin (or terroir, if you’re feeling fancy) on the grapes and wines that they produce. Canada has a long history of wine and and ever-emerging wine culture, though short compared to countries like Spain and France. Each region has its own adventures and history. Let us know what your favourite Canadian wines are in the comments!