Sunday, April 21, 2013

The mystique of Canadian wine

The mystique of Canadian wine

November 27, 2028

Weekly Report Posted: December 04, 2012 09:20

Canadian wine is produced in mainly southern British Columbia and southern Ontario. There is also a growing number of small scale producers of grapes and wine in southern Quebec and Nova Scotia. The two largest wine-producing regions in Canada are the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia and the Niagara Peninsula of Ontario. Other wine-producing areas in British Columbia include the Similkameen valley, the Fraser Valley region near Vancouver, southern Vancouver Island, the Creston Valley, in the Kootenay area and the Gulf Islands. Other areas in Ontario include Pelee Island, the north shores of Lake Erie and Prince Edward County.

The Canadian wine industry also vinifies imported grapes and juice. These products are labeled Cellared in Canada and are not required to conform to the strict Vintners Quality Alliance content regulations.

Icewine, which can be produced reliably in most Canadian wine regions, especially the Okanagan Valley, is the most recognized product on an international basis. Canada produced 75.9 million litres of wine in 2002 (0.3% of world production).

Canadian wine has been produced for over 200 years. Early settlers tried to cultivate Vitis vinifera grapes from Europe with limited success. They found it necessary to focus on the native species of Vitis labrusca and Vitis riparia along with various hybrids. However, the market was limited for such wines because of their peculiar taste which was often called "foxy". However, this became less apparent when the juice was made into Port- and Sherry-styled wines.
During the first half of the twentieth century, the temperance movement and later consumer demand for fortified and sweet wines hampered the development of a quality table wine industry. However, during the 1960s consumer demand shifted from sweet and fortified wines to drier and lower alcohol table wines. At the same time, there were significant improvements in wine-making technology, access to better grape varieties and disease-resistant clones, and systematic research into viticulture.

After the repeal of alcohol prohibition in Canada in 1927, provinces strictly limited the number of licences to produce wine. A nearly 50-year moratorium on issuing new winery licences was finally dropped in 1974. During the same decade, demonstration planting began to show that Vitis vinifera could be successfully grown in Canada. Other growers found that high quality wines could be produced if Vitis vinifera vines were grown with reduced yields, new trellising techniques, and appropriate canopy management.

In 1988, three important events occurred: the free trade with the United States, the establishment of the Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA) standard, and a major grape vine replacement/upgrading program. Each of these events served in one way or another to improve the viability of the wine industry in Canada.

During the 1990s, Canadian vintners continued to demonstrate that fine grape varieties in cooler growing conditions could potentially possess complex flavours, delicate yet persistent aromas, tightly focused structure and longer ageing potential than their counterparts in warmer growing regions of the world.

Canadian wines have a less than 50 percent share of the Canadian wine market, making Canada one of the few wine-producing countries where domestically produced wines do not hold a dominant share. Wine in general has been increasing its market share against other alcoholic beverages (beer and spirits): since the late 1990s wine has increased its market share from 21% to 28% and since 2007 wine sales have increased by 9.5% to $5 billion.

While there are many small Canadian wineries, the domestic wine market has long been dominated by two companies, Vincor International and Andres Wines. In 2006, Vincor International, which had grown aggressively in previous years by acquiring wineries in California, Australia and New Zealand, was itself acquired by Constellation Brands, a U.S. based company and one of the primary consolidators of the global wine business.

Ice wine (or icewine; German Eiswein) is a type of dessert wine produced from grapes that have been frozen while still on the vine. The sugars and other dissolved solids do not freeze, but the water does, allowing a more concentrated grape must to be pressed from the frozen grapes, resulting in a smaller amount of more concentrated, very sweet wine. With ice wines, the freezing happens before the fermentation, not afterwards. Unlike the grapes from which other dessert wines are made, such as Sauternes, Tokaji, or Trockenbeerenauslese, ice wine grapes should not be affected by Botrytis cinerea or noble rot, at least not to any great degree. Only healthy grapes keep in good shape until the opportunity arises for an ice wine harvest, which in extreme cases can occur after the New Year, on a northern hemisphere calendar. This gives ice wine its characteristic refreshing sweetness balanced by high acidity. When the grapes are free of Botrytis, they are said to come in "clean".

Ice wine production is risky (the frost may not come at all before the grapes rot or are otherwise lost) and requires the availability of a large enough labour force to pick the whole crop within a few hours, on a moment's notice, on the first morning that is cold enough. This results in relatively small amounts of ice wine being made world-wide, making ice wines generally quite expensive.

Ice wine production is obviously limited to that minority of the world's wine-growing regions where the necessary cold temperatures can be expected to be reached with some regularity. Canada and Germany are the world's largest producers of ice wines. About 75 percent of the icewine in Canada comes from Ontario.

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