In honour of Canada Day on July 1st, we’re doing a deep dive into Canadian wine, including some colourful history and surprising facts that you can drop casually at your barbecue gathering as you crack open a bottle.
From the zoological phase of the 70s and 80s to award-winning, delicious modern wines, Canada now stands with the best of the best on the world’s wine stage. So what do Canadian wine regions have to offer visitors? Why do Canadian wines make up only 1/3 of the wine we buy in Canada? We’re also testing your vinous savvy with The Great Canadian Wine Quiz. I’d love to hear how you did – email me or tag me on social media.
- How far back does Canada’s vine and grape history go?
- What were the Canadian wines of the 70s and 80s like?
- Why are Canadian wines often less expensive than imported wines?
- Have you tested your vinous savvy with The Great Canadian Wine Quiz yet?
- What is the Celine Dion-Shania Twain Syndrome that Canadian wines are suffering from?
- Why should we be drinking more Canadian wines?
- Why do Canadian wines only account for 1/3 of the wine purchased in Canada?
- What experiences can you have when visiting a Canadian winery?
- Unreserved Wine Talk Episode 26 | Wine & War: The Vinous Insurrection
- Inniskillin Wines
- Free My Grapes
- My reviews of Canadian wines
- To find out more about Canadian wine and wineries you can visit, check out:
- My online wine and food pairing class
Tag Me on Social
Tag me on social media if you enjoyed the episode:
- @nataliemaclean and @natdecants on Facebook
- @nataliemaclean on Twitter
- @nataliemacleanwine on Instagram
- @nataliemaclean on LinkedIn
- Email Me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thirsty for more?
- Sign up for my free online wine video class where I’ll walk you through how to taste wine and pair it with food like a pro – without the snobbery ;)
- Join me on the Sunday Sipper Club on Facebook Live Video every Sunday at 6 pm eastern.
- You’ll find my books here, including Unquenchable: A Tipsy Quest for the World’s Best Bargain Wines and Red, White and Drunk All Over: A Wine-Soaked Journey from Grape to Glass.
- The new audio edition of Red, White and Drunk All Over is now available on Amazon.ca, Amazon.com and other country-specific Amazon sites; iTunes.ca, iTunes.com and other country-specific iTunes sites; Audible.ca and Audible.com.
Transcript & Takeaways
Welcome to episode 30!
To celebrate Canada Day on July 1st, we’re chatting about Canadian wine today, including some colourful history and surprising facts that you can drop casually at your barbecue gathering as you crack open a bottle.
Canada has a long history with the grape. Viking Lief Erickson first named the country “Vineland” in 1001 BCE when he discovered so many vines growing in Newfoundland. In 1535, French explorer Jacques Cartier found so many grapes growing on Quebec’s Ile d’Orleans that he named it Ile de Bacchus after the Greek god of wine.
But let’s skip ahead to more recent times. Can you remember when Canadian wines sounded more like a trip to the zoo than something you’d put on the table? There was Gimli Goose, Pink Flamingo, Little White Duck, Fuddle Duck, Luv-a-Duck, Pussycat, Baby Deer, Baby Bear and everyone’s favourite, Baby Duck.
Many of us still remember the nasty hangover these sweet, simple wines made in the 1970s and 1980s gave us.
And if you don’t remember these wines, you either had too much of them, or you were born after they exited the market … lucky you.
Happily, this vinous menagerie has gone the way of long sideburns and large lapels, replaced with delicious, modern wines. Now before I share with you just how that remarkable transformation happened, let’s play the wine version of Jeopardy.
I call it The Great Canadian Wine Quiz. Test your vinous savvy with the following questions to see how much you know about red, white and booze.
1. Which famous Canadian comedian owns a Canadian winery?
a) Mike Meyers
b) Dan Aykroyd
c) Justin Trudeau
d) Rich Little
2. What does VQA stand for?
a) Vintners Question Authority
b) Vineyards Quality Assurance
c) Vintner’s Quality Alliance
d) Vin Que Allemangne
3. The father of Canadian wine is known as:
a) Johann Schiller
b) John Niagara
c) Johnny Grapeseed
d) Gordon Lightfoot
4. Many Canadian winemakers make extensive use of:
a) Oak aging
b) Carbonic maceration
c) Hand harvesting
5. There are how many wineries in Canada:
6. The first commercial winery in Canada opened in:
7. The largest producer of icewine in the world is:
8. Approximately what percentage of the current price of wine in Canada is government taxes:
9. Which of the following does not belong?
a) Prince Edward County
b) Niagara Peninsula
c) Lake Erie
d) Thunder Bay
10. Grapes for ice wines are picked at which temperature?
a) Below –8C
b) Below freezing
c) Below 8C
d) A nippy winter night
11. White Zinfandel is made from which of the following?
a) Red Zinfandel grapes
b) Blend of Chardonnay and Zinfandel
c) Traditional rosé grapes
d) An industrial pre-mix solution
12. What is noble rot?
a) Grapes are damaged by cold temperatures.
b) When good wine is left in poor storage conditions.
c) A benevolent fungus attacks the grapes which can result in sweet wine but not icewine.
d) When good winemakers go bad.
13. Which hockey player has his name on a Canadian wine?
a) Mario Lemieux
b) Wayne Gretzky
c) Mark Messier
d) Sidney Crosby
14. Which of these is not a Canadian winery?
a) Dirty Laundry
b) Organized Crime
c) Laughing Stock
d) Vine and Punishment
15. What factor contributes most to the loss of grapes for icewine?
a) predators such as birds and deer
b) mold, mildew and rot
c) government bureaucrats
d) temperatures too warm to harvest
16. Ontario produces what percentage of Canadian wines?
17. Niagara lies on the same latitude as:
Even though we may be past the zoological phase, Canadian wines still suffer from the Celine Dion-Shania Twain Syndrome: Sometimes it requires international acclaim before you’re fully embraced at home.
Canadian wines have indeed made it on the world stage. Niagara’s Inniskillin Estates, first brought international recognition to the country when its 1989 Vidal Icewine won France’s 1991 Grand Prix d’Honneur in a blind tasting against more than 4,000 of the world’s best wines.
Since then, Canadian wineries have racked up the awards. Here are a few more reasons why we should drink Canadian wines now—and several reasons why we still don’t.
- Wide selection
Choice isn’t a problem with 700 wineries in six provinces producing the equivalent of 257 million bottles worth $1.24 billion a year. Canadian vintners now make a wide range of styles, from dry red and white table wines to bubbly and dessert wine.
- Improved taste and quality
Canada has benefited from improved winemaking technology and techniques that vintners around the world now use. Our wines also naturally complement our cuisine because the raw ingredients spring from the same soil and have the same cultural influences.
- Excellent value
Since Canadian wines are still trying to fight old stereotypes, they haven’t escalated in price to the extent that more fashionable wines from California and Tuscany have, for example, over the last five to ten years.
Local wines also don’t have import taxes and long-haul shipping costs. In some cases, the provincial liquor stores give consumers a small break on prices. In Ontario, for example, provincial wines are marked up by 58%, compared to those from outside the province and country at 64%.
So if all this is true, why is only one-third of the wine we buy Canadian?
- Not enough marketing
Aside from breaking the old stereotypes of Canadian wine, our country’s vintners face daunting competition from foreign competitors. It’s hard to compete with the much larger marketing budgets of New World producers or the subsidies for those from the Old World.For example, New World regions, such as Australia and California, and Old World regions such as France and Italy, have budgets large enough to finance full-time staff in Canada just to market their wines here.
- Lack of availability
The Liquor Control Board of Ontario, for example, is the single largest purchaser of alcohol in the world but many Canadian wineries don’t produce enough wine to satisfy its requirements or the other provincial liquor stores.B.C. has about 5,000 acres of vines planted whereas Australia has close to 400,000. The challenge is small production and the fact that about 90% of B.C. wine is consumed in the province.It’s more profitable to sell wine inside the province than it is to sell it in other provinces. Markups are more the issue; wineries will tell you that the markups that liquor boards have in place make selling in those markets not very profitable.
The provincial liquor boards, in turn, must balance business objectives, such as turning over a certain amount of revenue to the government, with supporting domestic wines.
The hot button issue though continues to be the barriers to buying and shipping wine between provinces. While the federal government has enacted legislation to free trade, a number of provinces have not. In fact, it’s easier to buy a handgun and ship it across this country, than it is a bottle of merlot. You can find more info on this issue at freemygrapes.ca.
- Lack of national standards
Although the Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA) provides quality standards for wineries volunteering to adopt them, there is no national quality standard imposed on Canadian producers that is similar to France’s Appellation d’Origine Controllé (AOC) or other European systems.A lack of a national standard impedes a coherent domestic marketing strategy: There is no one, simple logo consumers can trust when it comes to buying Canadian wine. And while a national standard wouldn’t guarantee that all Canadian wine would taste great, raising the base quality level would increase our odds of buying a better bottle.Currently, these standards are being worked on by the Canadian Vintners Association with the provincial wine councils.
So what can you? Start by buying the Canadian wines that are available to you. According to Dan Paszkowski, president of the Canadian Vintners Association, an Ottawa-based industry lobby group, every bottle of 100% Canadian wine sold in Canada injects $89.99 economic impact to the national economy (through jobs, tourism and the wine industry itself) as compared to just $15.73 for an imported bottle of wine. This doesn’t count the liquor store mark-ups which are common to both.
The Canadian wine industry provided a total of $9 billion economic impact to the national economy and 37,300 full-time equivalent jobs and attracts almost 4 million tourists per year which contributes $1.5 billion to the national economy.
So in addition to tasting Canadian wine this summer, why not visit one of our wine regions? Most of the wineries are nestled in spectacular settings, and they pair wonderfully well with local cuisine, making the trip a gastronomic delight. A number of wineries also have spectacular restaurants that pair their wine with fresh, local cuisine. These regions offer lots of activities apart from visiting the tasting room, from bike tours to balloon rides. I’ll include links in the show notes at nataliemaclean.com/30 where you can find more info on travelling to these regions.
This Canada Day—and all year round—let’s dig down to our roots.
I hope you enjoyed this episode! If you did, please tell a friend about it, especially one who’s interested in Canadian wines. My podcast is easy to find: just search for it on Google — Unreserved Wine Talk, or my name.
You’ll find links and resources in the show notes at nataliemaclean.com/30.
Finally, if you want to take your wine and food pairing to the next level, join me in a free online video class at nataliemaclean.com/class.
I can’t wait to share more personal wine stories with you.
Thank you for taking the time to listen to this one. I hope something great is in your glass this week!