Canada: northern exposure
A relative newcomer to the world of fine wine, grape production now stretches from coast-to-coast in Canada. You can enjoy the delights of BC Gamay, Ontario Pinot, Nova Scotia sparkling, or Icewine amid the country’s famously spectacular, unspoilt scenery.
With a country the size of Canada, the second largest in area on the globe at nearly ten million square kilometers, you can imagine that wine touring is not a quick affair. That said, the three main wine regions are neatly grouped west, central, and east, so you can, quite easily, devote your time to one region in great detail before a few hours’ flight, or few days’ drive, over to the next. With a few thousand kilometers between regions, the diversity in wines, climate and terroir is vast; Canada is really three different regions in one massive country. There are some distinct ties that bind Canadian wine together, however, they’re not carved in ice. Though icewine has certainly greenlit Canada into the world wine stage, it’s a minor drop in what is produced, and certainly not what Canadians are drinking themselves. This precious elixir, with up to 450 grams per liter of residual sugar, goes a long way, and quite literally at that, with icewine exports dwarfing local sales, and the majority of the latter is for gifting or special occasions.
There are more than 670 wineries, 1,770 grape growers, and 12,150ha planted coast to coast, with the wine industry contributing C$9 billion (Canadian dollars) to the nation’s economy annually. The three main regions encompass British Columbia (BC) in the far west, Ontario in the center, and Nova Scotia in the east. It’s true that what grows together, goes together; the majority of wine drinkers live in the two largest wine-producing provinces (British Columbia and Ontario), and local wine makes up a large proportion of all liquor sales. Almost any standard restaurant, and certainly every quality one, will have a number of Canadian wines on the list, with some restaurants proudly selling entirely Canadian wines (as well as beer, spirits and ciders). This homegrown support means that visitors have easy access to local wine ambassadors and supporters in most places you’ll visit.
Canada’s western-most province is structured with mountains, sided by the breezy Pacific Ocean, dotted with lakes and holds the only classified desert in Canada at the foot of its main wine region. All of which creates diverse climates capable of producing a wide variety of grapes, and wine styles. The unifying factor is purity, reflecting the area’s pristine environment.
It’s a good idea to focus in the center of it all, the Okanagan Valley. A scenic five-hour drive over the Coast Mountains from Vancouver (or a tidy 45-minute flight from Vancouver International Airport) brings you to the top of the valley, and its main city of Kelowna. From there you can follow the main highway due south, passing through every sub-region (official and not) along the way. The Okanagan Valley is a long, narrow stretch that follows a chain of lakes south to the American border, 130km from Kelowna. There are more than 200 wineries in the valley, clearly signposted, and clustered together, and on both sides. Wineries further north are afforded a cooler climate, and where you’ll see Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Gamay and sparkling wines shine. By the time you reach Oliver and Osoyoos, at the bottom of the valley, you’ll notice the ample sage brush and cacti, and if you’re (un)lucky, you can come across rattlesnakes in the vineyards. Here, in the southern Okanagan is where you’ll find powerful reds of Syrah, Merlot, Cabernets Franc and Sauvignon, as well as full-bodied white wines of Chardonnay, Roussanne, Viognier and others. In the center, the various benches and altitudes offer assorted microclimates that are well suited to a variety of grapes from Chenin Blanc to Pinot Gris to Grüner Veltliner. The youthful age of the industry, and the western spirit of adventure means that new grapes can be planted anywhere. Watch for more Albariño, Tempranillo, Dolcetto, Semillon and Verdejo to pop up in near future.
Ontario’s wine region is situated between 41 and 44 degrees north, sharing the same band on the globe as Burgundy. A short drive from Toronto, and a mere bridge across the US border at the majestic Niagara Falls, Ontario wine country is easily accessible. Though the main region, Niagara, makes up the majority share of vineyard land and wineries, Ontario’s appellations stretch across the bottom of the province, all benefitting from the moderating effect of the Great Lakes, without which vine growing would be impossible. The breezes cool the vineyards in the hot, humid summers, when temperatures reach the mid-30s celsius, and warm the frigid air in the depths of winter, when the thermometer can plummet to minus 20 celsius. At that freezing temperature, even winter-hardy hybrids, regularly spotted in Ontario, are impossible to cultivate.
Though there are fewer wineries than western Canada’s British Columbia wine region, there are more hectares planted here, as Ontario is home to Canada’s largest wineries and vineyard-owners. There are 165 wineries here and 6,900ha under vine in the province, with most of that on flat benches and gentle hills, and on soils layering sedimentary rock, clay till and sandy loam.
Chardonnay excels in Ontario, so much so that an annual July event, the International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration, “i4C,” draws wine fans and producers from around the globe. Cabernet Franc, Gamay, Riesling also thrive, as does sparkling wine, primarily in the traditional method. Ontario’s unique climate has also enabled it to be the icewine producing capital of the world. Ontario alone produces 80 percent of the world’s icewine, an industry valued at C$17.1 million in 2016. Pack up some to bring home; bottles range from 50 to 375ml.
Blend a cuvée from “good things come in small packages” with “great wines come from fringe places” and you’ve nailed Nova Scotia’s wine industry. Canada’s smallest wine region, the island of Nova Scotia hangs off the Atlantic side of the continent, an extreme, wind and sea-swept frontier.
Its location between 44 and 46 degrees on the far eastern coast affords Nova Scotia the cooling sea breezes and moderating effects of the Atlantic, key to its cool-climate, acid-bright wines. With soils carved by the ice age, no community more than 30km from the sea, and marine-hardy hybrid grapes given preferential treatment, the wines of Nova Scotia are as singular as they come.
Today there are more than 70 growers, approximately 20 wineries, and 320ha (800 acre) under vine in seven different regions across Nova Scotia. Annapolis Valley and Gaspereau Valley are the main regions, two east–west valleys unfolding directly into the Bay of Fundy, which features the highest tides in the world. The heightened daily tidal shift (up to 53.5ft) transforms the valleys into two corridors of moderation, making for cooling summer breezes and a large unfrozen body of water in the winter, allowing grapes to not only survive, but thrive, with the maritime climate.
Sparkling wine rules supreme here, with the extremely long growing season and natural acidity both placing a starring role in world-class fizz. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir factor heavily, while hardy hybrid grapes such as L’Acadie, Muscat, Seyval Blanc, Lucy Kuhlman, Leon Millot and Marechal Foch are common. Nova Scotia is home to Canada’s only official appellation of style: Tidal Bay. This unique style-based appellation must use approved grape varieties, be no more than 11% ABV, and demonstrate the distinctive taste profile that reflects the classic Nova Scotian style: lively fresh green fruit, dynamic acidity and characteristic minerality.
In the heart of downtown Vancouver’s Granville Island, this busy bistro and retail shop revels in all things Canadian, including the best of BC wines, beers and craft spirits.
1596 Johnston Street, Vancouver, BC V6H 3R9 | +1 604 682 6681 | www.ediblecanada.com
Chef Mark Filatow, also a certified sommelier, is a master at understanding how food and wine complement each other, and seasonally fills the menu with local Okanagan Bounty. A must for industry insiders, but no minors allowed.
1180 Sunset Drive 104, Kelowna, BC V1Y 9W6 | +1 250 979 1222 | www.waterfrontrestaurant.ca
Absolutely lakefront and private, choose from two different dwellings on the property of one of Okanagan’s top wineries. The Lake House includes four bedrooms and a loft, contrasting the intimate Nest, a beautifully modified A-frame on the beach.
3303 Boucherie Road, Kelowna BC V1Z 2H3 | +1 250 769 4451 | www.quailsgate.com
Mediterranean-themed luxury suites high above the Hester Creek Estate Winery on Golden Mile Bench boast sweeping southern valley views. Open mid-February through the end of November.
877 Road 8, Oliver, BC V0H 1T0 | +1 250 498 4435 | www.hestercreek.com
The stalwart leader in farm-to-table food, with a chic room, fine dining and the top Ontario wine list in the region.
114 Queen Street, Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON L0S 1J0 | +1 905 934 9797 | www.treadwellcuisine.com
One of Canada’s most renowned chefs, Jamie Kennedy, runs a series of summer farm dinners from a one-room restaurant on his 40ha (100 acre) farm in Hillier, Prince Edward County. If you’re visiting the County in the summer it’s certainly worth booking onto an exceptional evening.
18662 Loyalist Parkway, Hillier, ON K0K 2J0 | +1 647 993 4464 | www.jamiekennedy.ca
In Niagara-on-the-Lake is Ontario’s only 5-star country inn, and a comfortable place to stay in the heart of wine touring.
48 John Street, Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON L0S 1J0 | +1 905 468 2123 | www.vintage-hotels.com
Wine Bar is a small, family-owned (you may have heard of the musical Rankin Family) and casual wine bar in the heart of downtown Halifax, with numerous wines by the glass, artisan cheeses and local charcuterie.
1600 Barrington St, Halifax, NS B3J 1Z6 | +1 902 405 4505 | www.obladee.ca
For more restaurants with award-winning wine lists click here.
BC’s first custom crush facility, and home to Haywire Winery, the most progressive in the country, working with Pedro Parra and Alberto Antonini. Expect concrete eggs, organic farming, vineyards filled with animals and impressive, terroir-driven wines, including a great sparkling program based around The Bub.
16576 Fosbery Rd, Summerland, BC V0H 1Z6 | +1 250 494 4445 | www.okanagancrushpad.com
From the memorable west coast First Nations masks on the front labels, to the spectacular light and art filled LEED certified winery (BC’s first) to the striking wines produced from their Kelowna estate grapes, Tantalus is rightfully an icon winery for Canada. Don’t miss tasting their legendary Old Vines Riesling, planted in 1978, and worthy of aging for at least a decade.
1670 DeHart Rd, Kelowna, BC V1W 4N6 | +1 250 764 0078 | www.tantalus.ca
This is the winery that put BC on the world wine map. Their spectacular hilltop winery overlooking their estate vines in West Kelowna has graced the pages of Architectural Digest, while their on-site Terrace Restaurant has been named among the top 10 winery dining experiences in the world. The wines range from entry level to premium collectable, and they have committed to farming all their acreage, BC’s largest single holding, organically.
1730 Mission Hill Road, West Kelowna, BC V4T 2E4 | +1 250 768 7611 | www.missionhillwinery.com
Moray Tawse is a Burgundy fan, collector and expert, and it’s evident in the striking Chardonnay and Pinot Noirs coming out of his winery tucked into the Niagara Escarpment. There's a cult following for their single-vineyard Rieslings, and Tawse was named Canadian Winery of the Year in 2010, 2011 and 2012.
3955 Cherry Avenue, Vineland, ON L0R 2C0 | +1 905 562 9500 | www.tawsewinery.ca
This biodynamically farmed, certified-organic vineyard rests on the historic upper Lowrey Farm, on St. David’s Bench. The Lowrey family has proudly farmed this 14ha (34 acre) land since land since 1867. You will probably see winemaker Martin Werner at the al fresco ping pong table, though be sure to taste his Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Chardonnay.
1366 York Road, St. David’s, ON L0S 1P0 | +1 905 262 8463 | www.ravinevineyard.com
When Jonas Newman and Vicki Samaras decided to begin their family winery in the cool County in 2003, they focused on translating their vines’ pristine, natural acidity into striking sparkling wines. From their cavernous, converted dairy barn, the winery releases fizz from ancestral, to Charmat, to traditional method, all sustainably farmed from their 6ha (15 acre) vineyards.
1258 Closson Road, Prince Edward, ON K0K 1T0 | +1 613 399 2903 | www.hinterlandwine.com
Positive proof that no matter how small your backyard (Nova Scotia) or how lofty your goal (among the top sparkling wines in the world), you can achieve it. This exceptionally innovative sparkling-centric winery on the south facing slopes of the Gaspereau Valley produces world-class traditional method sparkling wines.
1842 White Rock Rd, Wolfville, NS B4P 2R1 | +1 902 542 1560 | www.benjaminbridge.com
One of Nova Scotia's newer wineries, but one of Nova Scotia's pioneering quality grape-growers, situated in Annapolis Valley's glacial till soils. After years of selling off their pristine Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, they’re now making their own highly detailed and age-worthy wines, including striking sparkling wines. Exciting one to watch.
11143 Evangeline Trail, Wolfville, NS B4P 2R1 +1 902 542 7774 | www.lightfootandwolfville.com