The Okanagan Valley and Niagara Peninsula tend to hog the spotlight when it comes to Canadian wine, but a number of other regions exist throughout the country as well.
I attended a seminar on emerging Canadian wine regions back in March at the Northern Lands festival, which provided a fascinating look at some of these regions. What follows is my summation of some of the key points discussed; all quotes are from the seminar panelists.
The so-called little brother to the big brother of the Okanagan, the Similkameen is a lesser-travelled, windswept valley west of the Okanagan. Similkameen wines are notable for their beautiful floral aromatics, herbal/sagebrush undertones and pure minerality, while the valley itself is famous for its incessant wind. While that wind can be an annoyance and sometimes even a danger when it gets too strong, it’s also the reason why the Similkameen is known as a mecca of organic farming: the wind’s drying effect acts as a natural pesticide and fungicide, creating very disease-free growing conditions.
“Beyond being organic, we also farm biodynamically,” says Michael Clark, winemaker and managing director of Clos du Soleil Winery. “Basically it’s a philosophy of farming that puts you in harmony with natural cycles: the natural cycles of the seasons, the natural cycles of celestial bodies, and the life energy of the earth. We feel it’s an exceedingly important part of our farming practice in terms of getting the very best grapes possible.”
The East Coast is a rugged place for grapevines but a few wineries eke out a living here, growing mainly hybrid varieties and cool-climate varieties that can withstand the harsh winters and short growing season. This is the land of lean, almost angular white wines with beautiful aromatics and bracing acidity. Nova Scotia sparkling wines are some of the best I’ve tried—the region styles itself after Champagne in many ways, and there are some definite truths to that comparison.
“Since we have a highly specialized and eccentric growing environment, the odds that we’ll be a jack-of-all-trades wine region are very low,” says Jean-Benoit Deslauriers, head winemaker at Benjamin Bridge Winery in the Gaspereau Valley on the Bay of Fundy. “It only makes sense, from a linear logic point of view, that a highly specialized climate is going to translate into a highly specialized portfolio of products. At Benjamin Bridge we take pride in that climate, and the story of Benjamin Bridge is the story of that climate as well.”
Prince Edward County
The name is deceptive: this region isn’t located in the Maritimes, but rather on the northern shore of Lake Ontario. Here the bitter cold winter temperatures, unmitigated by the moderating effect that the lake has on vineyards to the south of it, necessitate extreme winemaking practices. Chief among those is burying: each fall the grapevines must be completely buried under a mound of dirt to insulate them from the cold, and then dug up again in the spring. This is prime Pinot Noir territory, in large part due to the limestone-rich soils that are similar to Pinot’s ancestral home, Burgundy.
“I’ve always had a firm belief that the best wines have always been made on the edge of ripeness,” says Norman Hardie, owner and winemaker of his eponymous winery. “You look at the classical French regions: Syrah tastes best in the north of the Rhone and they just get away with it. In Burgundy they just get [Pinot Noir] ripened six out of 10 years. Champagne, they just get it to that point. Everyone thinks, from an international standpoint, that we’re the Great White North … but these new emerging regions that are on the edge, I think are going to provide some of the most exciting wines not only within Canada but globally, in a very short period of time.” V
Mel Priestley is a certified sommelier and wine writer who also blogs about wine, food and the arts at melpriestley.ca