Canadian Wines Rediscovered in London
The wines did Canada proud
On May 16, over one hundred wines from several dozen Canadian wineries were on display in London at a trade and media tasting at Canada House, Canada’s High Commission on Trafalgar Square. The wines did Canada proud. The world, or at least some of the top palates of London, got to know more about what Canada is doing and most were enthusiastic and excited by the developments, progress and most importantly the quality of the wines we are making.
The guest list for the Rediscover Canadian Wine event included sommeliers from high profile London restaurants such as River Café, China Tang, The Cinnamon Club, Hakkasan and Manoir aux Quatre Saisons, buyers from The Wine Society, Marks and Spencer, Berry Brothers and Rudd, Harrods and Harvey Nichols, wine trade writers from business publications such as Drinks Business and Just Drinks, along with well-known wine writers such as Jancis Robinson, Steven Spurrier and Oz Clarke.
The last time Canadian wines were featured in London was in 2010, when a group of Ontario wineries came to show off their “Cool Chardonnay” to rave reviews. This time around the varietal focus was expanded to include Chardonnay and Riesling, reds such as Pinot Noir, Bordeaux varieties or blends, Syrah and Gamay Noir, as well as traditional method sparkling wine from across Canada. And yes there was a smattering of Icewine.
In other words, the main tasting which featured 18 wines from nine British Columbia wineries along with 71 wines from 28 Ontario wineries, sought to showcase the grape varieties and wine styles that many in the Canadian trade and media often put forward as what we do best in Canada. Apart from Icewine, Canada is little known abroad for any of our still or sparkling wines.
To put our best foot forward, wineries from across Canada were invited to participate and submit their wines for a blind screening by a panel of wine judges, who taste both Canadian and foreign wine extensively. The screening took place at, and was supported by, the Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI) at Brock University.
The Canadian judges were asked to assess the wines and only put forward wines to which they would award a high silver or gold medal in a competition and which were suitable to pour for international trade and media. They were asked “is this wine representative of the best of what we do in Canada and will it make us proud?
The Event & Reaction
The day began with an export seminar for Canadian wineries by Gerard Basset MW MS and Jo Ahearne MW, about how to sell and price wine for the UK market, what our competitive advantage or unique selling proposition might be, as well as how to get inside the mind of the sommelier, who are often among the key influencers and gatekeepers in the competitive London wine market.
Gerard Basset commented that after his recent visit to Ontario and British Columbia this winter, he is certain that Canadian wines have “the quality and are different”. While Jo Ahearne told the group that because Canada is already known for Icewine and has a positive country image in the UK, many trade and media are curious to learn more about the other wines they hear we are producing.
Then came a sparkling wine master class for members of the wine trade that featured ten traditional method sparkling wines from across Canada and included well-known Canadian bubbly from Benjamin Bridge and L’Acadie Vineyards from Nova Scotia, Cave Spring Cellars, Henry of Pelham, 13th Street and Hinterland from Ontario along with Blue Mountain, Tantalus, Sperling and Summerhill from British Columbia. The main tasting event included a sparkling wine table which included the above along with 10 other sparkling wines from across Canada.
As the main walk around tasting unfolded we began to hear reaction from the guests that continued after on Twitter.
Writer Oz Clarke was very enthusiastic. He felt that Canadian wines had shown a massive improvement from the last tasting three years ago and the fizz was a “revelation” with real stylistic differences between the regions. I overheard him say several times that the sparkling wines, in particular those from Nova Scotia, were very classy and nothing at like what he tasted when he was last in Canada years ago.
Clarke was also impressed with the Chardonnays and Rieslings from Ontario’s Prince Edward County and sang the praises of Ontario and British Columbia Syrah (in particular Church & State and Moon Curser from the Okanagan and Lailey and Stratus from Niagara), saying that “Canada could be the next truly cool climate Syrah sensation – if it believes in perfume and beauty, not over-oaking, over-extraction & over-alcohol”.
Master of Wine Patricia Stefanowicz remarked that the Cabernet Francs, from both BC and Ontario were surprising and very well done, and that not many countries in the world can make very good Cabernet Franc. She said it could be Canada’s competitive advantage for reds.
Head buyer for the Wine Society, Pierre Mansour, also stated that he had his “expectations exceeded” and that he “will definitely be doing something as long as price and allocations work out”.
When asked for her impressions, writer Jancis Robinson said she was “impressed by both the turnout (especially of trade buyers) and by the overall quality of the wines, especially the Syrahs and some Chardonnays.
Steven Spurrier, who will be a keynote speaker at this summer’s International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration (I4C) in Niagara in July, spent the good part of the day tasting what was on offer, and was also impressed.
I also repeatedly heard comments that Canada excels with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and that the best can and should be compared to some of the upper end cru burgundies and have nothing to do with the rest of the New World in general.
Finally, one of the participants commented that perhaps the name Rediscover Canadian Wine was a misnomer, since many in the UK wine trade and media have yet to even discover Canadian wines, let alone know much about any of the wines we make with the exception of Icewine.
Where it Goes From Here
The Rediscover Canadian Wine tasting was the culmination of many months of organization and collaboration by the Wine Council of Ontario, the Canadian High Commission in London, Westbury Communications –a London PR firm, and Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada in Ottawa.
I, and many others there, was pleased with the way it all unfolded. The Canadian wine industry has shown that it is able to come together to fly the flag, and it let London know that our wine industry is maturing and our wines just keep getting better and better each year.
Most of the wineries who came to London to pour their wines also seemed satisfied with the turnout and caliber of the trade and media in attendance, with several having leads to follow up from interested buyers and importers.
Harald Thiel, owner of Hidden Bench Winery, Allison Slute, Export Director for Pillitteri Family Estate and Bill Milliken, International Director at Closson Chase Winery, all agreed that tastings of this type and magnitude are essential for the branding and promotion of Canadian wine and need to be carried out regularly in key markets like London, New York and Hong Kong.
Similarly, Jak Meyer, of Meyer Family Vineyards and the sole producer from British Columbia in attendance, echoed that it is important to be able to spend time to pour and sample his wines with key media, sommeliers and buyers, so as to be able to tell them the stories about his wines and winery, and so that the wine world knows what we are doing, as not everyone will be able to come to us.
However, events like this cannot be one-offs or happen in isolation from a long term game plan to promote and raise awareness about Canadian wines to trade, media and educators. Although the capacity of the Canadian wine industry is small in comparison to many other New World (and Old World producers), now more than ever, there appears to be a growing desire among producers and Canadians wine drinkers themselves to tell the wine world more about our wines and to enable them to try and buy them, even if they are not able to visit Canada. Rediscovering Canadian wine in London was just one small part of this longer term effort, with hopefully more to come.
For a complete list of the wines from British Columbia, Ontario and Nova Scotia that were featured at the Rediscover Canadian Wines tasting, as well as further background on the London tasting and events, link to Wine Country Ontario’s backgrounder piece here.
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