Canadian Wine Report – May 2017

Speaking Up for The Rest of Canada
Remove Niagara Peninsula and the Okanagan Valley from the national census, and the ‘Rest of Canada’ has – get ready – 335 wineries!

by David Lawrason

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

Here at WineAlign we are now counting down the days to the judging of the National Wine Awards in Wolfville, Nova Scotia from June 15 to 19. The judges and venue are selected, registration is open, shipping is teed up and entries are pouring in. We are again expecting a record number of entries somewhere over the 1500 mark.

A call to action for all wineries! The deadlines are looming for registration and getting wines to shipping consolidation points – BC wineries May 18, Ontario wineries May 31, Nova Scotia wineries June 7. Wineries from other provinces should ship directly to the Atlantic Consolidation point. Full details are at here. And please note wines do not have to be VQA to enter; only guaranteed by the winery to be 100% Canadian content.

We are all very excited to be going to Nova Scotia to get a close-up on the fast evolving and creative wine scene there. Some of us are going early to attend the Atlantic Canada Wine Symposium in Halifax June 11 to 13.

Nova Scotia is also symbolically a fitting locale because it represents “The Rest of Canada”. By that I mean regions other than the Niagara Peninsula or the Okanagan Valley; the dual engines of Canada’s wine industry. Remove them from the national census and the Rest of Canada has – get ready – 335 wineries!

This number is derived from, an on-line province-by-province winery directory published by the Canadian Vintners Association. It breaks down by province/region as follows: British Columbia has 116 wineries outside the Okanagan, Prairies 9, Ontario 91 outside of Niagara, Quebec 81, Atlantic Canada 38. Together these regions are producing less than 20% of Canada’s wine volume, but they are growing just as fast or faster than Niagara or the Okanagan.

This year at the Nationals (#NWAC17) I am expecting a surge in interest from the Rest of Canada. New and less well known wineries often look to awards as a way to achieve some recognition, or at the very least get some feedback on how they are doing. This year I want to encourage them in particular because I will be behind the scenes monitoring, tasting and looking for trends.

National Wine Awards of Canada

This year we are also officially addressing the distinctiveness of the wines from less well known regions. We are creating a new category for Nova Scotia’s Tidal Bay wines, a unique white wine style with a maximum of 11% alcohol. Once we see the numbers we may also develop “flights” for white and red hybrids. Also new this year we will be judging 100% Canadian grown ciders to acknowledge that growing market from coast to coast. As well, we have always had fruit wine categories and will continue to judge the products from Canada’s orchards and berry farms.

Once you move outside of the Okanagan and Niagara, which are blessed with fine conditions for ripening mainstream European vinifera varieties (chardonnay, cabernet franc et al), you run into generally cooler, more marginal conditions, and a much higher production of hybrid varieties and fruit-based wines. You also encounter much smaller, family-based operations that are brimming with enthusiasm and can-do spirit, although sometimes lacking experience.

The number of wineries and wines from these areas is growing quickly, along with my encounters with quality within their ranks. I am tasting them during the national Gold Medal Plates tour each autumn and in classes for the Fine Vintage Ltd. Canadian Wine Scholar course where students east and west are being impressed by wines from Quebec, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward County, emerging regions of the BC interior and Vancouver Island.

And so I have come to two conclusions. First, the wines from these areas are every bit as Canadian, and perhaps even more reflective of Canada’s terroir, than those of the Okanagan and Niagara. And second, these wines have long been and are still currently being treated by many, and even by the Vintners Quality Alliance, as second class citizens.

VQA was created by a small core of vintners in Niagara and the Okanagan in the late 1980s who were rightly and righteously anxious to promote and protect perception of quality in a very young industry. At the time hybrid based wines and fruit wines were generally of less good quality. Sometimes this was due inherent inferior quality of the grape varieties, but more often due to winemaking approaches that treated them as bulk and/or cheap wines.

In any event they were penalized by being excluded from the regional Niagara and Okanagan appellations. They could only wear provincial designations, i.e. Ontario. There were even a few hybrid varieties not authorized for VQA status at all, which remains a major inhibition to their marketing success today.

Too, new hybrids and some quite good hybrids have been created since 1989, that are not “on the list”, especially University of Minnesota-developed hybrids like marquette and frontenac that are gaining wide adoption in eastern Canada, and the Swiss Blattner hybrids gaining traction in coastal B.C. These need to included on updated lists, or perhaps, the list needs to disbanded.

The lack of hybrid inclusion remains a major reason why Nova Scotia and Quebec have not adopted VQA as their regulatory umbrella, and if we are ever to develop truly national wine standards (which export markets expect) that must change. It will only change if winemakers who are making these wines strive for quality, and when the quality is recognized by consumers. And when Niagara and Okanagan wineries accept that hybrids are grapes too, and can also make good wines.

It is my sincere hope that the National Wine Awards of Canada will go along way toward achieving these goals, and that all wines of Canada will one day be treated equally.

A Selection of Hybrid Wines

Here are hybrid-based wines from four provinces that provide a snapshot of the state of the rest of the nation, with reviews from various WineAlign and Chacun Son Vin critics. (Some vintages may have been updated in recent weeks). And after the NWACs in Nova Scotia I trust we will have many more to discuss.

British Columbia

Quails’ Gate Old Vines Foch Reserve 2014

Unsworth Vineyards Petit Milo 2015

Averill Creek Foch Eh 2014

Quails' Gate Old Vines Foch Reserve 2014Unsworth Vineyards Petit Milo 2015Averill Creek Foch Eh 2014


Henry Of Pelham Speck Family Reserve Baco Noir 2015

Trail Estate Baco Nouveau 2016

Sandbanks Estate Baco Noir 2015

Henry Of Pelham Speck Family Reserve Baco Noir 2015Trail Estate Baco Nouveau 2016Sandbanks Estate Baco Noir 2015


Domaine St Jacques Classique Blanc 2015

Côteau Rougemont Versant Rouge 2015

L’orpailleur Seyval Blanc Et Vidal 2015

Domaine Les Brome Cuvée Julien 2014

Domaine St Jacques Classique Blanc 2015Côteau Rougemont Versant Rouge 2015l'Orpailleur Seyval Blanc et Vidal 2015Domaine Les Brome Cuvée Julien 2014

Nova Scotia

Jost Tidal Bay 2015

Domaine De Grand Pré Tidal Bay 2015

Benjamin Bridge Nova 7 Sparkling 2016

Jost Tidal Bay 2015Domaine De Grand Pré Tidal Bay 2015Benjamin Bridge Nova 7 Sparkling 2016


David Lawrason
VP of Wine

The Canadian Wine Report brings you News and commentary on Canadian wine from a national perspective. Which means that the subject matter, events and tastings have elements or implications beyond provincial and appellation boundaries.

Past issues:

Prowein 2017: The Maple Leaf Takes Root Overseas

February was a HUGE Month for the Canadian Wine Conversation

New Wineries That Turned My Head in 2016

Trends and Winners from Gold Medal Plates 2016

Speaking up for Canadian Wines

Judgments on Canadian Wine

Canadian Wine: One Grape at a Time


Calliope Figure 8 Cabernet Merlot 2014