Covering two thirds of the North American continent, Canada is known for its liberal, peace loving people and jaw-dropping mountain scenery. It boasts the longest coastline of any nation on Earth, is home to more than half of the planet’s lakes and consistently ranks amongst the world’s most desirable places to live. With a seemingly endless variety of landscapes, a host of vibrant cities and a fascinating cultural diversity, it is no surprise that Canada has become such a popular destination for holiday makers and immigrants in search of something better.
Given its synonymity with winter sports and a climate not usually considered conducive to high quality winemaking, Canada’s wine industry has been built on the production of sweet Ice Wines - mostly from Riesling and the hybrid grape Vidal Blanc - but increasingly from more surprising varieties like Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc and even Cabernet Sauvignon. However, over the last thirty years, Canada has invested in its viticultural infrastructure, established a free trade agreement with the United States and adopted a more sustained commercial focus; subsequently it has become increasingly recognised for its dry wines which are produced from both red and white grape varieties.
Only a tiny fraction of Canada’s almost ten-million square kilometres of land is planted to vine, with the vast majority of vineyards found in the provinces of Ontario and British Columbia. Within these regions it is the Niagara Peninsula and Okanagan Valley that are perhaps best known for their wines - both in terms of quality and quantity, but other less densely planted areas such as the Fraser Valley are also growing in reputation. The climatic influence of the lakes here is integral to the ripening of grapes and the subsequent production of wine. Were it not for their moderating effect on temperature (similar to that of Finger Lakes in New York), viticulture of this kind would likely be impossible.
Burgundy varieties such as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir along with Bordeaux style blends built around the Cabernet Sauvignon grape, have all found success in Canadian vineyards. In fact, the diverse terroir and wide-ranging microclimates across the length and breadth of the country, allow a huge number of North American hybrids and the more favoured Vitis Vinifera grapes to thrive here. A number of notable examples from the Cabernet Franc, Syrah and Riesling varieties have recently received high acclaim in both the Canadian and International media, confirming that Canada’s viticultural industry offers so much more than just Ice Wine.
Despite significant growth since the turn of the twenty-first century, production in Canada remains small when compared with its more established southerly neighbour. However, quality is high and there is no doubt that Canada’s best wines are hugely underrated. The Vintners Quality Alliance (VCA) is a regulatory body established in 1988 in Ontario and two years later in British Columbia; it exists to ensure high quality and authenticity in the country’s wine industry.
Winemaking is British Colombia is dominated by the Okanagan Valley, which sits in the heart of the region. Internationally, the area is best known of its ice wines, although only a small amount of the production leaves BC. British Columbia produces more than 20 million litres of wine annually.
Ontario is the most important wine growing region in Canada. With the majority of the country’s wine appellations located here, this essentially cool climate region is home a broad range of wine grapes and styles. Perhaps the most obvious reference point is the Niagara Peninsula, a diverse terroir of sheltered slopes and lakeside vineyards.