History Of Wine in Canada

  • Canadian wine is primarily produced in Ontario and British Columbia, the two largest wine-producing provinces in Canada, with two-thirds of Canada’s vineyard acreage situated in Ontario[1]. However, wine-producing regions are also present in other areas, including AlbertaQuebecNew Brunswick, and Nova Scotia.
  • Canadians have been making wine for over two centuries, but Canada’s modern-day success and the high-quality vinifera-based wines date back only a quarter-century.
  • In 2015, Canada produced 56.2 million liters of wine, with 62% of the total originating from Ontario. The second-largest wine-producing province, British Columbia, contributed 33 percent of Canada’s wine production.[2]
  • Between 2006 and 2011, 68% of Canadian wine exports came from Ontario-based wineries, with 14 percent of exports originating from British Columbia, 12 percent from Quebec, and six percent from Alberta.[3]
  • Ice winecan be reliably produced in most Canadian wine-producing regions. As a result, Canada is the world’s leading ice-wine producer, with more ice wine produced in Canada than all other countries combined.[4]
  • More than 90% of Canadian ice wines originate from Ontario,[5]although the product is also produced in British Columbia, Quebec, and Nova Scotia.[6] In addition to standard grape wines and ice wines, the country also generates several fruit wineries and meaderies, found in provinces such as Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba, provinces whose local climate is not favorable for grape production.[7]
  • History of Canadian Wine: Canadian wines have been produced for almost 200 years. Early settlers tried to cultivate Vitis viniferagrapes from Europe with minimal success. As a result, they focused on the native species of Vitis labrusca and Vitis Riparia, along with various hybrids.
  • European settlers to Canada in the early 1800s tried to cultivate European grape varieties of the species Vitis Vinifera. Still, they found their vines succumbing to diseases associated with hot, humid summers and severely low winter temperatures. However, the native species of grapevines that grew freely along the streams and amongst the trees that forested the wilderness ripened with healthy abundance.
  • While research continued into the probability of growing Vinifera varieties, the Canadian wine industry for the next 100 years was based upon the grapes grown successfully from the native and domestic species and their varieties of American hybrids and crosses, such as Niagara, Duchess, Concord, and Catawba.
  • Table wines made from these indigenous and native-based grapes had a peculiar and very different taste, often described as “foxy,” which to those more tolerant, tasted like “boiled strawberries,” and to the more critical, like a “throat-catching pitch.”
  • When fortified and strengthened into sherry- or port-styled wines, their flavors were passable, the products were inexpensive, and their purchase accessible to every consumer. With a steady export market to England, the wine industry in Canada, particularly in Ontario, grew, for a time, to be among the largest and the major markets in North America.
  • In 1866, the first commercial winery opened in Canada, situated on Pelee Islandin Ontario.
  • Developments and the modifications in the Canadian wine industry over the next 50 years competed with other New World industries, particularly those in countries settled by immigrants from the British Isles and northern Europe who brought a religious patrimony a “Puritan Ethic.”
  • The ethic advocated strict adherence to a simple way of life, admonishing anything that interfered with the vital institutions of society, particularly the family. The consumption of alcohol was on top of the list of socially disintegrating evils. This attitude to the consumption of beverage alcohol, from tempering attitudes of restraint to a non-negotiable insistence on total abstinence, was to have a significant influence on the acceptance of wine as part of a healthy diet and is believed to be good for health.
  • Temperance movements, Prohibition, during which time there were scandalous abuses of the system and two World Wars, and consumer demand for bolster, fortified and sweet wines constrained the development of the Canadian wine industry much the same as in other New World wine regions. But modification and transformation were on their way.
  • During the first half of the 20th century, the temperance movementand later consumer demand for fortified and sweet wines hampered the development of a quality table wine industry. Consumer demand did not shift from sweet and fortified wines to drier and lower alcohol table wines until the 1960s.
  • By the 1960s, the wine market started to shift. Consumers began switching from a preference for sweet table and fortified wines and began to prioritize the dryer, lower alcohol table wines.
  • This forced Canadian and other New World producers wanted to stay in business to transform their products to accommodate world trends.
  • Coincident with this change in tastes, several factors simultaneously played a role in revolutionizing the modern wine industry: better wine-growing and winemaking technologies, increased access to more delicate grape varieties and disease-resistant clones, and new centers of research and development dedicated to advancing the wine industry.
  • At the same time, there were significant and illustrious improvements in winemaking technology, access to better grape varieties and disease-resistant clones, and systematic research into viticulture.
  • After the revoke of alcohol prohibition in Canadain 1927, provinces strictly restricted the number of licenses to produce wine. A nearly 50-year moratorium on issuing new winery licenses was eventually dropped in 1974.
  • A new era in Canadian wine began in Ontario in 1974 when partners Donald Ziraldo and Karl Kaiser convinced the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) to grant them a license to produce and sell wine.
  • The almost five-decade moratorium on new wine-producing licenses had finally ended. From a little boutique winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake called Inniskillin Wines, Messrs. Ziraldo and Kaiser would be the possible model for other like-minded small producers.
  • In British Columbia, Harry McWatters, founder of Sumac Ridge Estate Winery in 1979, would take the lead. Messrs. Ziraldo and McWatters were to become the driving forces behind Canada’s modern industry, centered in Ontario’s Niagara Peninsula and British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley.
  • Public and private experimental trials began to show that the better and the finest quality of wines European grape species (V. Vinifera) could be grown successfully. Brights Wines in Ontario, as early as the 1950s, had produced wines made from 100 percent Vinifera (Chardonnay and Riesling) from their experimental vineyards in Niagara. Between 1977 and 1985 in British Columbia
  • For example, the Becker Project, led by the prestigious and reputable Dr. Helmut Becker from the Geisenheim Institute in Germany, demonstrated an exciting experiment. It was determined that if Vinifera were cropped lower than the usual 5-10 tons per acre to which growers had been accustomed, and if proper trellising and canopy management systems were used, high-quality wines could be manufactured.
  • In the late seventies and early eighties, pioneer producers in Ontario, such as Paul Bosc and Len Pennachetti, among others, went against the tide of the prevailing opinion that scoffed at the planting of the more tender Vinifera grapes. In BC, George Heiss, Robert Shaunessy, and Robert Combret did the same by taking calculated risks to prove the naysayers wrong. Today these innovators have some of the oldest Vinifera vineyards in Canada.
  • Even in the relentless, unpitying, and implacable climate of Québec, experimental plantings of French hybrids encouraged growers to plant more.
  • By 1979 they had formed a political organization, the Association des Viticulteurs du Québec, to convince the government to issue permits to allow them to produce and sell wine on a commercial scale.
  • In Nova Scotia, Roger Dial planted winter-hardy Russian varieties, Michurinetz and Saperavi Server, in the verdant Annapolis Valley. Others in the Valley and along the North Cumberland Straight soon followed, producing winter-hardy French hybrids.
  • During the same period, demonstration planting began to show that Vitis viniferacould be successfully grown in Canada. Other growers found that high-quality and finest wines could be produced if Viti’s vinifera vines were grown with reduced yields, new trellising techniques, and appropriate awning and canopy management.
  • Vintners Quality Alliance(VQA) label on a Canadian bottle of wine was established in 1988 as a regulatory and appellation system for British Columbia and Ontario wines.
  • Three significant events marked the eighties, each occurring around the pivotal year of 1988 — free trade with the USA, a meaningful grapevine pull-out /replacement program, and the establishment of the Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA) standard.
  • The signing of the Canada/USA Free Trade Agreement in 1988, together with a ruling under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), meant Canada had to abandon the protection it offered its wine industry.
  • While many producers felt threatened, many more responded by reaffirming the belief in their capacity to produce premium wines and redoubled their efforts to substantiate it.
  • To adjust to new trade rules and to better assure competitive wines in the marketplace, Ontario and British Columbia growers, with the support of the federal and provincial governments, undertook a significant program to replace native grape varieties with vinifera grapes.
  • New vineyards were planted with only the finest grapes — Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and others.
  • In 1988, the Vintners Quality Alliance was launched in Ontario, culminating in six years of voluntary initiatives by the leaders of Ontario’s wine industry. Together, this group set the standards with which they agreed to comply with, elevating the quality of Canadian wines and providing quality assurances to the consumer.
  • In 1988, three significant events occurred: free tradewith the United States, the establishment of the Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA) standard, and a significant grapevine replacement/upgrading program. The VQA acts as the regulatory and appellation system that intends to ensure “high quality” and “authenticity of origin” for Canadian wines from the provinces of British Columbia and Ontario. All these events served (in one way or another) to improve the viability of the wine industry in Canada.
  • During the 1990s, Canadian vintners demonstrated that fine grape varieties in colder growing conditions could possess complex flavors, delicate yet persistent aromas, tightly focused structure, and longer aging potential than their counterparts in warmer growing global regions.
  • British Columbia adopted similar high standards in 1990, under the VQA mark.
  • The 1990s was a decade of rapid growth. The number of commercial wineries grew from about 30 in 1990 to well over 100 by the decade’s end, and consumers began to recognize the value represented by wines bearing the VQA medallion.
  • Canadian vintners continued to demonstrate that fine grape varieties in colder growing conditions could possess complex flavors, delicate yet persistent aromas, tightly focused structure, and longer aging potential than their counterparts in warmer regions.
  • In 1997, the Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute [CCOVI] at Brock University in Ontario became the first research center in the world dedicated to growing grapes and making wine in cool climates.
  • Every great wine-producing region has a research institute associated with its industry.
  • Today, CCOVI graduate students with a B.Sc. in Oenology and viticulture have a two-year certificate program for returning professionals and maintain a responsive continuing education program for the general public and members of the wine community of Canada.
  • The University of British Columbia (UBC) also has a research center devoted to performing the latest studies on wine. Both Niagara College in Niagara, Ontario, and Okanagan University College in British Columbia have technical courses geared to the wine industry.
  • Other centers throughout the country have emerged to meet the educational needs of professionals and enthusiasts alike.
  • The decade ended with more events that would raise the bar of quality in Canada. Until 1999, the VQA of Ontario was a voluntary organization with only the force of censure to reprimand violators of the rules and regulations set by the VQA. In June 1999, the Proclamation of the Vintners Quality Alliance of Ontario became a provincial statute, which meant that the force of law could be brought to bear against violators.
  • Today’s Condition of Canadian Wine: Today, Canada’s wine sector is characterized by new investments in world-class wineries in both Ontario and British Columbia, aggressive new plantings of vinifera varietals, diversified wine offerings, new technology, expanding exports, and greater recognition of its ability to produce fine wines at competitive prices.
  • New access for Canadian wines, especially ice-wine, in the European market and expanding market opportunities in the USA and Asia are giving Canadian wines greater market exposure. In Canada, despite increasing import competition, sales of Canadian quality wines are growing as consumers move up the quality/price scale.
  • Despite a world glut of wine and aggressive competition in Canada and internationally, Canada’s small wine sector (today) is relishing significant success and facing these challenges with a degree of optimism.
  • In 2015, the province of Quebec was the largest consumer of wine, with each resident consuming an average of 23 liters a year.[8]
  • However, Canadian wines make up less than 50 percent of the Canadian wine market, making Canada one of the few wine-producing countries where domestically produced wines do not hold a dominant share. Wine, in general, has been improving its market share against other alcoholic beverages (beerand spirits). Since the late 1990s, wine has increased its market share from 21% to 28%, and since 2007 wine sales have increased by 9.5% to C$5 billion.[9]
  • In 2017, Canadian wineries exported 2.1 million liters of wine (valued at C$39.6 million), constituting 0.1 percent of global exports. The largest export markets for Canadian wine in China, the United StatesSouth Korea, the Netherlands, and Japan.[10]Between 2006 and 2011, 68 percent of Canadian wine exports came from Ontario-based wineries, with 14 percent of exports originating from British Columbia, 12 percent from Quebec, and six percent from Alberta.[11]

More resource: VQA laws in Canada

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References

  1. “Market Analysis Report: A Global Export Market Overview for British Columbia’s Wine Industry” (PDF). Government of British Columbia. 2012.
  2.  Jump up to:a b c Lupescu, Mihai (7 April 2017). “The Wine Market in the Province of Quebec”. USDA Foreign Agricultural Service.
  3.  “Market Analysis Report: A Global Export Market Overview for British Columbia’s Wine Industry” (PDF). Government of British Columbia. 2012.
  4. “Market Analysis Report: A Global Export Market Overview for British Columbia’s Wine Industry” (PDF). Government of British Columbia. 2012.
  5.  Jump up to:a b c d e f g h i j k “Canada On the World Map” (PDF). Wine Marketing Association of Ontario. 2015. Archived from the original (PDF) on 16 June 2016. Retrieved 8 March 2019.
  6.  “Market Analysis Report: A Global Export Market Overview for British Columbia’s Wine Industry” (PDF). Government of British Columbia. 2012.
  7. “Canada’s Wine Regions”. www.winesofcanada.com. Retrieved 27 May 2017.
  8. ^ Jump up to:a b c Lupescu, Mihai (7 April 2017). “The Wine Market in the Province of Quebec”. USDA Foreign Agricultural Service.
  9. “Red, red wine: Health pros and cons”. Retrieved 27 May 2017.
  10.  Jump up to:a b “Industry Statistics”. Canadian Vinters Association. 2017. Retrieved 8 March 2019.
  11. “Market Analysis Report: A Global Export Market Overview for British Columbia’s Wine Industry” (PDF). Government of British Columbia. 2012.

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