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Second largest country of the world, but not in terms of vineyards or wine production. Only 12500 hectares are under vines. That’s 1/8 of Germany. Canada is quite a young wine country, started in 1974 with boutique wineries and vinifera production. The official start of the modern industry dates from 1980, when the Free Trade Agreement was signed with the USA.
Canada experienced prohibition from 1916 till 1927, but the wine industry wasn’t that much affected as wine was excluded from prohibition. However, when the prohibition laws were repealed, a system of government-run liquor board stores were introduced, which still control the sales of alcohol today.
Canada’s two major regions for viticulture are Ontario and British Columbia. They are located on opposite sides of the country, separated by 4000 km.
Hot summers, cool nights, autumn arrives early.
Okanagan Valley: largest region of British Columbia (4000 ha), rain shadow, 200 km east of Vancouver, high diurnal range, drought is a concern (irrigation necessary)
Fraser Island: near Vancouver, frost-free
Vancouver Island: cooler and wetter than Okanagan, cool climate varieties dominate.
Similkameen Valley: southwest of Akanagan, second most important region, big in reds
Large bodies of water delay budbreak in spring and prolong ripening in autumn by storing summer sunshine in the relatively warm water.
Niagara Peninsula: biggest region of the country (5500 hectare), semi-continental climate with lots of geographical quirks like Lake Ontario (moderates temperature in winter and summer). Warm, long summers (great for dry wines)
Niagara Escarpment: responsible for Niagara Falls, keeps the cooling breezes circulating, which helps minimize frost damage and fungal disease. Coolest part of the peninsula.
Niagara On-the-Lake: mostly flat lands. Slightly warmer. Better suited to producing Bordeaux blends.
Lake Erie: southern coast near US border, dependent on Lake Erie to temper the climate. Warmest area. Bordeaux blends (ripe fruit flavours). Longer growing season than Niagara.
Pelee Island: southernmost point, surrounded by the lake, longer growing season than Niagara.
Prince Edward County: on Lake Ontario’s north shore, much cooler, shallow limestone soil is perfect for producing premium chardonnay and pinot noir. Serious frost in winter (vintners bury the vines)
Overall, Canada has a continental climate. Winters are long and harsh (-20 degrees), summers are hot (30 degrees). Hotter than Bordeaux, for example. That’s why all Canadian vineyards are located around lakes.
Funnily enough, the wine regions of Canada have the same latitude as southern France and Tuscany.
Canopy management is crucial in humid areas around the lakes. Open canopy stimulate air flow and reduce risk of fungal diseases. VSP is therefore most commonly used.
Most regions have a super short growing season with budbreak typically in May and harvest starting late August (till November, depending on the micro climate, e.g. in Lake Erie).
Since the adoption of vinifera grapes, quality has risen. Canadian producers are looking at European examples and are trying to minimize interventions with ambient yeast, unfiltered wines and less use of new oak.
Hybrids dominated the industry for many years. They still play a major part in Ontario, taking up 40% of the harvest. The most important is vidal, a French hybrid of ugni blanc and seyval blanc. Can have a foxy character, with leafy aroma, is thick-skinned and a slow but steady ripener. Mostly used for the production of Icewine. Vidal produces wines that are high in acidity and have aromas of ripe stone fruit like peach and apricot.
The rest of Ontario and the most part of British Columbia is planted with international grape varieties. It’s cooler in Ontario, so you’ll find the cool climate varieties there, but there are exceptions like the warmer Lake Erie, which is planted with Bordeaux varieties. In British Columbia, there’s a mix of varieties. There’s Bordeaux varieties, but it’s also a perfect spot for pinot blanc, riesling and chardonnay – depending on the cooling influences you’ll get from the lake or altitude.
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I always put a new region on instagram first. If you have any additions or comments on a region, please do share. You can drop a comment on instagram or on the website – see below. Your help is much appreciated!
- Jancis Robinson – Wine Atlas
- Marion Barrel – Canada
- WSET All the wines of the world