A brief overview
Wine has been made here for 200 years, though it has not been until the last 20 years that Canada has evolved into a notable wine producing country. However, there is much more to Canada than Ice wine! While this luscious elixir did put us on the map, we are producing award winning table wines from racy Rieslings to saturated Cabernets. Even so, we are still off the radar to many oenophiles. As you read on, you’ll discover it’s all about location, location, location! Our country has a full range of growing conditions, and the wines reflect this diversity.
Let`s go back to 1988 with the introduction of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).This legislation removed the tariffs from imported wines and opened the market, thus putting pressure on wine growers to focus on quality. Rather than throw in the towel, vintners rose to the challenge, replacing many of their hybrid vineyards with noble European varietals. A grant of $28 million was allocated for a replanting program. Growers were paid to remove undesirable Vitis Labrusca varieties and replant with Vitus Vinifera and French hybrids.
The Vintners Quality Alliance quickly formed, first in Ontario, then British Columbia, setting standards in our winemaking practices. This governing body ensures what’s in the bottle is 100% Canadian, identifies geographical regions and even pockets within those regions. The wines are tested by a panel to assure typicity and quality before given the stamp of approval.
In addition to the requirements regarding sources of grapes, the VQA wines are made from vinifera and approved hybrid grapes. In British Columbia, VQA wines are made primarily with vinifera varietals, while Ontario uses a range of vinifera and permits the use of selected hybrids, most notably Vidal and Baco Noir. VQA wines may be made with grapes from relatively small agricultural yields per vine (which increases quality), they must meet specific sugar or brix levels at harvest, and the use of additives is regulated. There are also standards regulating the use of certain types of packaging and closures. For complete regulations, visit www.vqaontario.com and www.winebc.com
Quebec winemakers are faced with cold climate and as such, much of what is produced in Quebec is based on hybrid grape varieties such as Vidal and Seyval plus a myriad of red varietals. However, what they are most noted for is their exquisite Iced Cider from Cortland apples, and other apple varieties.
The Maritimes in general is able to vinify some Vinifera varietals, depending on the province, and also hybrids. You’ll find several wineries producing luscious soft fruit wines as well. Watch for this side of the country though, because it’s doing some excellent work with ice wines and sparklers.
Note: The Canadian wine industry also vinifies imported grapes and juice. These products are labeled Cellared in Canada and are not required to conform to the strict Vintners Quality Alliance content regulations. But that`s another subject entirely……….we’ll be adding more on this contentious topic later.
Participation in the VQA program is voluntary, but you can see the marketing clout this symbol would carry. Still, there are many wineries that do not join the program, but make stellar wines from 100% Canadian grapes, whatever the varietal.
Suffice it to say, if you want to be assured you’re tasting the real deal, look for the VQA logo., or better yet, do some research–in person!