The vote on Bill C-311, a private member’s bill introduced by Okanagan-Coquihalla Conservative MP Dan Albas, received unanimous support on third reading late Wednesday night. The legislation now goes to the Senate.
Supporters of the bill, including national wine experts Natalie MacLean, editor of Canada’s largest wine site at www.nataliemaclean.com, Kurtis Kolt, a B.C. wine consultant and Norman Hardie from Norman Hardie winery in Prince Edward County, Ontario, say the news is fantastic for winemakers and wineries.
While beer and liquor are not included in the bill (it remains illegal to ship those beverages across provincial borders), many think the bill reduces unnecessary, inter-provincial trade barriers, while promoting jobs and growth in Canada’s wine industry.
Ontario and B.C. are the largest producers of Canada’s grape-based wines. Global News caught up with the wine experts from coast-to-coast to discuss the bill and talk – a lot of – wine.
Global News: What are your thoughts about Bill C-311?
Kurtis Kolt: This is fantastic news for B.C. winemakers and wineries. Not only because it enables others across Canada to have the opportunity to try our wines, but it will help make their business and our industry more sustainable, finally being able to say “Yes” when tourists have cash in hand wanting to buy a couple of cases of wine to be shipped back to their home province.
Norman Hardie: It’s great because the reality is across Canada most of the provinces have a liquor control board of some form and it makes it very difficult, especially for the smaller wineries, to get their products to Canadians. I’d rather Canadians drink Canadian [wines] rather than French or Italian.
Natalie MacLean: It used to be easier to bring in California wine into Ontario than B.C. wine – so the bill is great news.
Global News: Which province has better wine?
Kurtis: I really can’t comment on B.C. versus Ontario wines, since it has been very difficult for me to try Ontario wines due to the barriers that Bill C-311 will alleviate. I’m looking forward to this not being an issue.
Norman: I looked at B.C. a number of years ago, and in the end, I settled in Ontario because here we have a wonderful foundation to start with [soil] and cool climates in the summers. In Niagara and Prince Edward County we have a wonderful clay-limestone mix soil, which is very similar to what you find in France (the arc of limestone).
Natalie: Both B.C. and Ontario have terrific soils and both excel at what they do best. I think Ontario is fantastic at Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Riesling [and Norm Hardie is very good at Pinot Noir]. Out in B.C., I find they make the more robust style wines very well: Cabernet and Syrah.
Global News: What’s the best grape that each province produces?
Kurtis: Tough one. Due to our various micro-climates (everything from Kelowna Lake Country to the Osoyoos Desert that harbours cactus and rattlesnakes), cool-climate Riesling can burst with delicious, mineral-driven citrus fruit, yet heartier grapes like Syrah and Cabernet Franc can really have a good balance of rich, concentrated fruit with good tannins and acidity.
Norman: We do a number grapes well. Traditionally, Riesling does well, but we’re seeing Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Savs, but aromatics as well, like Pinot Gris and Savignon Blanc [also do well].
Global News: Best region to grow in the province?
Kurtis: Really depends on the style you’re looking for, but Oliver – down in the South Okanagan – can really knock it out of the park with everything from golden, sunny Chardonnays to rich, robust reds.
Norman: I’m obviously slightly biased in the fact that I’m located in Prince Edward County. But there are some fantastic sites in Niagara as well. To me, those are the two strongest.
Natalie: In B.C., the Oliver region does produce spectacular big reds. It’s the last leg of the Sonora Desert. It gets these really intense warm days in the summer that help to ripen the red grapes that make for bigger reds. In Ontario, Norm is right, Prince Edward County has a lot of the same conditions as you would find in Burgundy, France. Niagara is also definitely the key region and producer.
Global News: The wine that got your province’s claim to fame?
Kurtis: Mission Hill Family Estate’s 1992 Reserve Chardonnay winning the Avery Trophy for “Best Chardonnay Worldwide” at the International Wine and Spirit Competition in London in 1994 was a game-changer, showing our wines had the capacity and quality to stand up with some of the best wines around the globe.
Norman: The spotlight seems to be on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. We had 20 of the top Ontario Chardonnays that went to London last year [for a competition]. They wines were evaluated by top journalists, in particular, Jancis Robinson [a prominent wine expert]. She was incredibly impressed with the caliber of Chardonnays we had.
Natalie: In 2009, Niagara’s Le Clos Jordanne winery rocked the wine world and put Canada on the map for dry table wines when it won a blind taste test against 16 top Burgundian and Californian Chardonnays. It was dubbed it “the Judgment of Montreal” after the similarly upsetting 1976 Judgment of Paris tasting in which French critics chose a couple of Californian reds over Bordeaux.
Global News: What’s a misunderstood fact about our wines?
Kurtis: That we can only do aromatic whites and/or icewine well. I look forward to the rest of the country exploring and enjoying the diversity of what we do.
Norman: The vision is changing significantly. The wine that initially came out of Ontario wasn’t particularly good, but over the last 15 years, and more so over the last 10 years there has been tremendous stride in winemaking. Amongst the younger generation that don’t have preconceived notions, the desire to drink Ontario and local has really gone through the roof.
Global News: How does it compare to California, Washington State and Oregon?
Kurtis: We can offer a broader variety of styles due to the above-mentioned range of micro climates (from delicate Rieslings and Pinot Noirs to hearty, stain-your-teeth Cabernets and Syrahs). Also, most of our wineries are smaller, offering premium handcrafted wines more often than not.
Norman: Oregon and California don’t have the same foundational soil that we do, and they tend to make bigger, richer more alcoholic wines that have less finesse in [their] style. With our climate and soils, we can make wines with delicacy and finesse. We’re in a lucky position from a world perspective because there are very few regions that have the climate and the soil we do.
Global News: What can we expect to see in the future out of each province?
Kurtis: Diversity of smaller-batch, handcrafted styles made with premium fruit and a distinct representation of our various unique terroirs.
Norman: I think we’re going to continue to get more and more world recognition. I think outside recognition is important to Canadians. A lot of European winemakers are coming here.
Global News: Icewine: Who makes it better?
Kurtis: I wish I could say. Once inter-provincial wine shipping is allowed, send me some Ontario icewine and I’ll get back to you!
Norman: I would go with Ontario. We have the wonderful soils, Ontario has been making great icewine for a long time. They moved into making Riesling icewines and they’re second-to-none in the world.
Natalie: I would say Ontario has a stronger base for icewine, in terms of the history and how long it has been producing it. With any wine, including icewine is that the winemakers learn what works best in their soil and in their climate over time. They get one chance each year to learn that and to do it right – or not. It’s a long learning cycle. Niagara has been doing that part of it longer than B.C. Given the climatic conditions here in Ontario, we have a stronger base. With that said, B.C. also makes some spectacular icewines.
Global News: Your favourite wine?
Kurtis: I have a bottle of Tantalus Old Vines Riesling in the fridge for when I get home which I’m quite looking forward to.
Norman: I would say there are a number of wonderful Chardonnays that are made both in Prince Edward County and in Niagara. I could name off five or six of them that I would drink on a daily basis.
As a self-professed wine cheapskate, MacLean’s favorite wine is the one someone else pays for, she says. However, when she’s shelling out the cash herself she loves Le Clos Jordanne’s Claystone Terrace Pinot Noir: “Fleshy cherries wrapped in liquid silk.”