Though one might not necessarily expect it from a land associated with
mounties and maple syrup, Canada has been making wine for over 200
years and has a flourishing industry. The heartlands of the Canadian wine
industry are found across four regions:
- British Columbia
- Nova Scotia
Something these regions have in common is their proximity to large bodies of
water (lakes, seas, and sometimes both), which shield the vines from the
devastating effects of the severe winters.
The first Canadian wine-makers tried to cultivate the European vitis
vinifera. After only limited success they turned their attention instead to
native American vines such as vitis labrusca (to be carefully
distinguished from menispermum canadense, a poisonous local plant also called
Canadian Moonseed) and vitis riparia. Wine-makers concentrated on these
vines until the 1970s when French hybrids – Vidal Blanc, Seybal
Blanc, Baco Noir and Maréchal Foch (aka ‘Foch’)
– were introduced.
Initially, the majority of Canada’s production was fortified wines,
styled after Port
and Sherry, but when
the hybrid vines were introduced, consumer demand gradually shifted towards
table wines with a much lower alcoholic content.
Since the late 1980s, the growing success of vinifera wines such as , both
for the home and international Canadian market has shifted emphasis on these
varieties (esp. Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Merlot and even Pinot Noir in warm pockets
of the country).
Though each region has its own specialities, Canada is particularly
renowned for high quality sweet wines such as Icewine (of which
it is the world’s largest producer) and late harvest wines from
Riesling, Vidal, Ehrenfelser or Optima.
Canadian wines are governed by an appellation system known as the VQA
(Vintners Quality Alliance) which guarantees the quality of the wines made
under its auspices. Wines bearing an appellation designation must be made
exclusively from vinifera grapes. The only exception to this is Icewine,
which can be made from Vidal.
Considered as the most famous quality ambassador for Canada’s wine
industry, Icewine is produced in British Columbia, Québec and Ontario. Though it is
speculated that the Romans may have produced something similar to Icewine and
that it was first accidentally made in Germany in 1794, the first intentional
production of Icewine occurred in the Rheingau region in 1830.
Canada’s appellation system, the VQA, strictly regulates the
wine-making process. Icewine must be made exclusively from either vitis
vinifera grapes or from the hybrid Vidal; the addition of sweet
reserve is forbidden. The harvest takes place by hand, after temperatures
have dropped below 13˚C (usually around December) and the grapes have
frozen naturally on the vines - no artificial grape freezing is permitted.
The process of freezing and thawing during this wintry exposure shrivels the
grapes and concentrates its sugars, acids and extracts. This means that
by the time grapes are harvested an “icewine vine” will produce, on
average, only one-fifth the amount of the juice of a typical vine.
The production of Icewine is a laborious, elaborate and expensive process.
If left too long, grapes run the risk of being eaten by animals or becoming too
frozen to yield any juice. As grapes must be pressed while still frozen,
pickers and cellar-workers must work in bitter cold and at unsociable hours to
ensure the finest quality is achieved. Due to their high sugar content,
Icewines can take several months to ferment – considerably longer than
Icewine is lusciously sweet, seductive and intensely flavoured,
however the fruit sweetness is perfectly balanced by vivid, refreshing acidity.
Signature flavours include mango, peach, lychee, passion fruit and pineapple.
Classic grapes for Icewine production are: Riesling, Seyval
Blanc, Vidal Blanc and, notably, the red grape Cabernet Franc. Cabernet
Franc Icewine displays a light pink colour, similar to a Rosé