Prowein 2017: The Maple Leaf Takes Root Overseas

“This year it felt like Canadian wine was at a real tipping point, and that there is huge potential to break into various export markets.”

Canadian Wine Report – April 2017
by David Lawrason

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

There was a palpable buzz around Stand D48, Hall 9, at the recently concluded Prowein trade fair in Dusseldorf, Germany. Twenty-five Canadian wineries from three provinces set up shop in the “Overseas” pavilion, one of nine buildings at the world’s largest wine fair. Overall there were over 6,500 wineries from over 60 countries at Prowein, making it difficult for any one region to stand out.

Even within Hall 9, Canada was in tough. We stood next to New Zealand, South Africa, Argentina, Uruguay and Chile – each dwarfing the Canada stand in terms of acreage. But we were at the crossroads of the building and the booth design was excellent, with the bold vermillion maple leaf overhead, and great photos, maps and graphics telling the story to passers-by, without having to taste a drop.

Prowein is all about statement! I have serious doubt about how much business any single winery in the world actually does at Prowein, and whether by that direct measurement it is financially worth their expense. This show is just so massive – and too short at three days – that even the world’s largest wineries seem reduced to grain-of-sand importance.

But Canada is in a unique and enviable position. It is such a small producer in the global context (world’s 27th largest wine exporter) that it actually doesn’t need to export, or even be at Prowein, in a business sense. Canadians could easily consume all of Canada’s homegrown wines, once the inter-provincial trade silliness allows us to actually do that, and once Canadians themselves buy into their own.

So Canada was at Prowein largely to let the world – including Canadians – know that we have arrived as a wine nation. And perhaps to begin to open a few small markets that may just actually be more lucrative than selling heavily taxed wine across difficult provincial borders within Canada. Will our best end up overseas?

Thirteen of the 25 Canadian wineries at Prowein already had some kind of international agency/distributor representation, mostly in Europe. The other half were actively seeking any kind of international representation worldwide.

The moment is just right because there is a huge, positive awareness and curiosity about Canada in the world, and that alone will lead people to try our wine, with the expectation at the very least that the wine should be “nice”.

Canada attracted good crowds at the world's largest wine fair.

Canada attracted good crowds at the world’s largest wine fair.

The design of the Canada stand played into this with brightness and a sense of comfort. It was one of the busiest booths in Hall 9. I took a photo at noon on Day One that showed people bunched around Canada. I had just returned from the Spanish building next door where one could have set up bowling lanes. But in fairness the Overseas building always seemed busier. Europe is no longer blind to New World wine.

Who Was There from Canada?

Canada has been represented at Prowein since 2014 when Ontario went solo with a handful of wineries. B.C. wineries joined in 2015. In 2016 the expedition to Dusseldorf came under the Wines of Canada banner with 20 wineries participating, and Nova Scotia joining in. This year the number increased to 25 wineries from three provinces.

Wines of Canada is the national umbrella for the marketing and promotion of Canadian wine. It is administered by the Ottawa-based Canadian Vintners Association – a voluntary membership industry body – in partnership with Wines of British Columbia, Wine Country Ontario and Wines of Nova Scotia.

“The Wines of Canada presence at ProWein allowed our producers to showcase their incredible wines to a global palate” said Asha Hingorani, director of government and public affairs at the CVA.  “I was told by producers that this year it felt like Canadian wine was at a real tipping point, and the potential is huge to break into various export markets.”

There was a surprisingly diverse assortment of wineries. But Canada’s two largest wine companies – Constellation (Jackson-Triggs/Inniskillin) and Andew Peller (Peller Estates/Calona/Sandhill/Trius) – were not there.

From British Columbia there was a solid contingent of established, mid-size wineries – Quails’ Gate, Burrowing Owl, Painted Rock, Poplar Grove, Okanagan Crush Pad, Culmina and Wild Goose – plus some smaller newcomers like Bench 1775, Gold Hill, Bordertown (syrah!) and Quidni Estate (viognier!). Great to see the initiative from these small wineries!

From Ontario the larger wineries included both Colio and Pelee Island from Lake Erie North Shore which poured VQA wines, plus Henry of Pelham, Vineland Estates and Pillitteri (big icewine exporter) from Niagara. In the small to mid-size range there was Flat Rock Cellars, Hidden Bench, Pondview (plus Burnt Ship Bay), Sue-Ann Staff and Lakeview Cellars.

The smallest but loudest contingent was from Nova Scotia, with three wineries aboard. Benjamin Bridge poured its sparkling range plus Tidal Bay. Blomidon Estate poured a fine late picked chardonnay sparkler as well. Domaine de Grand Pre had an excellent Tidal Bay and a killer under-the-table Pomme d’Or, sweet apple wine.

Going forward I would hope Quebec will participate next year. And that Canada might be able to afford a larger ‘footprint’ in Hall 9. I would also suggest an open tasting station on the four corners of the booth where people can taste rotating varietal, region, style themes etc. without having to engage a single winery. Many regions have adopted this approach.

The Canadian Forums

At Prowein there are seminars, tasting and educational opportunities galore. The “Events” booklet ran to 130 pages, (the show was only open for 27 hours). Many of the events took place within the pavilions of the host regions. But there were “Forum” stages for larger events – 20 in total. Canada booked two of those slots for masterclasses – one for red wines, another for whites. Only two other countries double-booked Forums – host Germany and Australia.

I had the privilege of co-presenting both seminars with Janet Dorozynski, a fellow WineAlign National Wine Awards judge and “the trade commissioner for wine” with Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada. Janet has done an amazing job getting Canadian wines into diplomatic missions and events around the world, and was recently featured in a National Post article.

Settling in for Canada's sold out white wine seminar at Prowein.

Settling in for Canada’s sold-out white wine seminar at Prowein.

We ran a red wine seminar at 4pm on the first day, with about 70% attendance. It was the last slot of the day. Canada decided to focus on its “core” red styles – pinot noir (four wines) and cabernet franc (three), plus a glimpse into B.C. syrah (which I would argue is the most unknown and exciting category in the country). There was also a cabernet franc icewine.

The next day at the prime 2pm slot we ran a white wine seminar to a standing-room only crowd. There was a real buzz to this event – I could see the interest and curiosity on the faces of the 80+ faces arrayed in front of me. The tasting focused on sparkling (three, with two from Nova Scotia), an NS Tidal Bay, riesling from ON and BC, and a very strong chardonnay grouping from Tawse, Hidden Bench, Haywire and Quails’ Gate. Plus a Mission Hill Riesling Icewine.

“Canada’s presence at the Canadian pavilion and at the masterclasses made me very proud”, Janet said as the show wound down. “The industry is to be commended for their tremendous efforts to showcase Canadian wines from coast to coast, allowing our wines to stand shoulder to shoulder with the rest of the wine world at one of the world’s most influential trade shows”.

Back at the Canada booth itself there was active promotion as well. Acclaimed British wine blogger, and National Wine Awards international judge Jamie Goode led small groups of visitors on a tour of Canada’s wines.

What a show!

Here are ten Canadian wines poured at Prowein that caught my attention for any number of reasons.


Vineland Estates 2015 Cabernet Franc, Niagara Peninsula
This authentic, approachable, perfectly ripened cab franc is one of the largest production cab francs in Canada at over 10,000 cases. No oak here, and no over-extraction – just a delicious young cab franc.

Burnt Ship Bay 2016 Chardonnay, Niagara Peninsula
Pondview Winery is seeing some success with their straightforward, bright and approachable Burnt Ship Bay varietals. Pristine winemaking by Fred DiProfio.

Vineland Estates Cabernet Franc 2015Burnt Ship Bay Chardonnay 2016Pelee Island Vinedressers Meritage 2012Hidden Bench Estate Pinot Noir 2014

Pelee Island 2012 The Vine Dressers Meritage, Ontario
This now maturing blend is from estate vineyards on Pelee Island despite the Ontario VQA designation. I was very impressed by the Bordelais likeness with ripe fruit and all kinds of cedary, spicy complexity.

Hidden Bench 2014 Pinot Noir, Beamsville Bench
The 2014 vintage has produced lighter reds in Niagara, but this linear, bright pinot captures authenticity and fine nerve and tension. Textbook “Bench” pinot.

British Columbia

Haywire 2013 Canyonview Chardonnay, Okanagan Valley
This silver medalist at the National Wine Awards raised eyebrows at the Prowein white wine seminar by the fact it has seen no oak, being wild yeast fermented and aged in concrete. It is texturally very refined and aromatically different.

Wild Goose 2015 Stony Slope Riesling, Okanagan Valley
Wild Goose has been making excellent, award-winning aromatic whites (riesling, gewurz) for years. The maturing vines on stony slopes in Okanagan Falls are now delivering real depth as well. This showed very well in the Prowein white wines seminar.

Haywire Chardonnay Canyonview Vineyard 2013Wild Goose Stoney Slope Riesling 2015Painted Rock Cabernet Franc 2014Bordertown Syrah 2014

Painted Rock 2014 Cabernet Franc, Okanagan Valley
This is the best Painted Rock cab franc to date, in my view, revealing a sense of purity, lightheartedness and franc authenticity not often achieved in BC.

Bordertown 2104 Syrah, Okanagan Valley
Mohan Gill and family opened Bordertown in the spring of 2015, after growing several vinifera varieties in their Osoyoos (Bordertown) vineyard for almost 20 years.  From estate fruit this dark, swarthy syrah is shows ripe black cherry, peppery, tarry notes generously embellished with barrel notes.

Nova Scotia

Domaine de Grand Pre 2015 Tidal Bay, Nova Scotia
Tidal Bay is catching hold, a light, vibrant style of wine made to a maximum of 11% from 100% Nova Scotia grown grapes. This is one of my favourite versions, explained in the tasting note.

Blomidon Estate 2011 Late Picked Chardonnay Brut, Nova Scotia
Normally grapes for traditional method sparklers are picked early to ensure there is plenty of acidity. But in this cool, late ripening NS vintage the acidity in the grapes remained very high as the grape flavour ripened. They were picked in November 7. The result is a complex, balanced and intriguing bubbly.

Domaine De Grand Pré Tidal Bay 2015Blomidon Late Pick Chardonnay 2011

And that’s a wrap for this month. Registration for the 2017 National Wine Awards of Canada has opened, and we judges look forward to being in Wolfville, NS from June 15 to 19. A note to wineries to pay attention to earlier shipping deadlines for far eastern Canada.


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:

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


Matua Hawke's Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2015