Canadian Wine Report – October 2018

Canadian Wine Insider
By David Lawrason

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

Welcome to the first Canadian Wine Insider report. It’s a name you will hear more frequently as I focus on the rapidly expanding world of quality Canadian wine. In fact the Canadian Wine Insider will become a unique on-line newsmagazine for those working with, and deeply engaged with, Canadian wine. It will be developed by and housed within WineAlign, but it will offer independent editorial content containing news, comment and profiles by me and other authorities on Canadian wine. It will not publish wine reviews or ratings, but it will link to reviews of Canadian wines on WineAlign. And it will have an active presence on Twitter and Instagram.

Tasting the B.C. Lieutenant Governors Awards Platinum Winners

For years the Okanagan Wine Festivals Society has staged a fall wine judging linked to its annual Fall Okanagan Festival, which just wrapped up – incredibly – its 38th Edition on Thanksgiving weekend. This year the wine awards competition was held under the auspices of the office of B.C. Lieutenant-Governor Janet Austin. There are almost 300 wineries now in B.C.

I joined a terrific panel of judges from B.C., Ontario and Washington for the three-day competition in Penticton in early September. There were just over 700 wines entered, all tasted blind by six panels over two days. On the third day the golds were re-tasted by all the judges and 13 were selected as top-rung Platinum medal winners. And finally, based on the highest number of platinum votes, one wine was elevated and given the Lieutenant Governor’s Wine of the Year Award. Please click on the links below for my reviews on WineAlign.

Burrowing Owl Meritage 2014


Lieutenant-Governor’s Wine of the Year Award 

Lake Breeze 2016 Pinot Noir

Sparkling Whites & Sweet

Sperling Vineyards 2011 Traditional Brut

Hillside 2017 Reserve Pinot Gris

Nk’Mip Cellars 2016 Qwam Qwmt Chardonnay

Wild Goose 2017 Mystic River Pinot Blanc

Wild Goose 2017 Riesling

Quails’ Gate 2017 Totally Botrytis Affected Optima Late Harvest


Black Hills 2016 Syrah

Kismet 2016 Reserve Syrah

Kismet 2016 Reserve Cabernet Franc

Little Engine 2016 Silver Pinot Noir

Moon Curser 2016 Touriga Nacional

Rust Wine Co 2016 Syrah

Although all winners were from the Okanagan Valley, the competition was open to wines across British Columbia. For full results go to

New Brunswick: Starting Late and Starting from Scratch

New Brunswick is among Canada’s oldest provinces, signing on to Confederation in 1867.  But through the wine lens it is Canada’s newest province, thanks to a continental climate at 46 degrees of latitude, equally chilling government regulation that actually forbade wineries until the late 90s, and the dominance of beer culture in these parts.

I visited New Brunswick wineries for the first time in late September, having been in Moncton – its largest city –  for the inaugural  Canada’s Great Kitchen Party (see details below). And I tacked on two days to visit the province’s leading wineries. Not exhaustive but a start.

New Brunswick has about 20 wineries and growers, most with a fruit wine base. Fruit wines seem to be popular commercially – with Verger Belliveau Orchards making awesome fruit wines and SCOW cider,  But there is a fast-growing interest in grape-based wines as well.

It all begins with climate, of course. The westerlies that sweep across the cold 5,000 km landmass of northern North America to arrive in New Brunswick are a challenge. Winters in New Brunswick are cold, and the growing season is short (in the north the spring temps can also be delayed by ice pack accumulation in the Gulf of St. Lawrence). The climate is more difficult than in nearby Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley, which is protected from those westerlies by North Mountain on the shore of the Bay Fundy, and warmed in winter by air movement created by the Bay of Fundy’s legendary tides.

Vinifera grape varieties are thus non-starters in New Brunswick. There have been trials but the vines just don’t make it.  “Vinifera are a license to back in the juice truck,” said Sonia Carpenter of Motts Landing Vineyard, who has tried them.  Even French-American hybrids like baco noir and vidal are not winter hardy enough, although there is some L’Acadie Blanc that does very well in Nova Scotia.

Motts Landing

Mott’s Landing vineyard in the St. John’s River Valley

So, it has only been the advent of the extremely winter hardy and disease resistant hybrids developed at the University of Minnesota – that withstand -30C or lower temperatures – that has opened the door for New Brunswick viticulture. And I must say that grapes like Frontenac (the first out of the gate in 1996), Sabrevois (2001), Marquette (2006), and Petite Pearl (2012) are capable of making good wines without the “foxy” taste of the French American species.

Mott’s Landing in the St. John’s River Valley began trialling varieties in 2001, opening their winery overlooking the river in 2009. Winemaker Sonia Carpenter’s first career was in agricultural pest management, then she went to New Zealand to study oenology and work as a winemaker. She and partner David Craw have settled on seven Minnesota varieties.

I was particularly taken by Mott’s Landing 2017 Sabrevois with its slightly meaty Rhonish character. But the star is a Mott’s Landing Classic Brut, a traditional method blend of Frontenac Gris and L’Acadie Blanc that exhibits fine complexity and poise (It took Best of Show at the Moncton Kitchen Party). She also makes a very good muscat-like aromatic white from a Minnesota hybrid called Osceola.

“First I work on balancing the chemistry, then balancing the palate,” she said. “If I had vinifera it would be a cakewalk.”

Farther down the St. John’s River Valley that flooded to historic levels this spring, Tony Ricketts of Dunhams Run began planting about the same time, opening a modern, sophisticated and tourism destination winery in 2011. His 18 acres are planted to many of the Minnesota hybrids mentioned above plus a white called Prairie Star.

He has made a complex, fresh non-vintage Long Reach White blend and a very good Sabrevois Reserve, but his most interesting work is with the floral, high acid red Frontenac. Dunhams Run Frontenac Reserve is blend of whole cluster and free run lots aged a year in barrel. A library bottle of Frontenac Proprietors Reserve aged three year in Hungarian oak had the elegance and allure of a fine pinot noir.

Dunham Runs portfolio also includes a range of fruit wines, ciders and meads, including an exotic vermouth-like Black Mamba made from ‘black honey” (the honeycombs are toasted).

Dunhams Run

Magnetic Hill Winery (approaching 10,000 cases) is New Brunswick’s largest winery, smartly located within Moncton’s city limits and overlooking the famous Magnetic Hill tourist attraction. Over five acres of Minnesota varieties are grown on a south-facing slope below the newly expanded winery, with fruit also purchased from other growers, and another site nearby being groomed for planting.

“When you understand the new truths of making wine here the sky is the limit,” says Zach Everett.  “We have to embrace the Minnesota hybrids (many have very high natural acidity and low tannin) and adjust our winemaking with proper selection of cold temperature yeasts and malolactic fermentation. And most importantly we should be looking at blending rather than single varietal wines,” he said. For perspective, that is the mantra of Champagne as well, at similar latitude.

I was impressed by his Magnetic Hill 2017 Benchmark Red, a complex, balanced compilation of Marquette, Petite Pearl, St. Croix and Sabrevois. And they have a solid stable of fruit wines led by a delicious Cranberry, Evangeline Blanc (strawberry-rhubarb) and a gorgeous Maple Wine aged five years in barrel.

“It will take us ten years to be where Nova Scotia is today,” says Everett, “but we started so much later, and have had to work with new varieties that have also have to go through years of quarantine before we can plant them, let alone mature them.”

Magnetic Hill Winery rises in Moncton

Magnetic Hill Winery rises in Moncton

Yet all the winemakers and consumers and fellow local wine judges at the Moncton Kitchen Party said the wine is getting better and that commercial momentum is building. On the commercial side tourism and the recent introduction of New Brunswick wines, along with imports, in New Brunswick supermarkets is helping the cause.

B.C. Wine Loses Supermarket Exclusivity

As the result of the new USMCA tri-lateral agreement recently signed by the US, Mexico and Canada, B.C. VQA wine loses its exclusive position in B.C. supermarkets, and California wine, almost certainly followed by all imports from other countries, will begin arriving on grocery shelves in the months ahead.

The B.C. VQA wine exclusivity had been challenged by the U.S. before the current NAFTA trade talks began, and I was not the least surprised. The move to put VQA into grocery stores in 2015 was a clear if gutsy breach of the original 1998 NAFTA and GATT agreements, made in full expectation that the US would respond at some point (Trump or no Trump).

So from here it remains to be seen how the arrival of imports will affect B.C. sales and how it will look on store shelves. British Columbia Trade Minister Bruce Ralston has said the B.C. wine exclusivity would likely be phased out by November 2019. Let’s hope it is all done as sensibly as possible for the good of consumers.

Save-On-Foods, which sells B.C. wine at more than a dozen of its stores, is quoted by the CBC as saying the new trade deal “definitely does not affect our long-standing commitment to supporting our local B.C. wineries.”

Another effect could be the arrival of non-VQA B.C. wines on supermarket shelves. Until now the grocery store program only allowed VQA wines. The new arrangement could now include B.C. fruit wines, which are not included in the VQA program, as well as wines from wineries who have chosen not to join VQA for political or economic reasons, or those who have chosen not to submit individual bottles for VQA certification.

Everybody in, I say!  We need to give consumers as much choice as possible and let them decide who stays and who goes – voting with their wallets. I am not the least concerned that B.C. will lose its position as the number 1 regional wine sold in B.C.

Canada’s Great Kitchen Party Rolls Out in October

Newly branded as Canada’s Great Kitchen Party, the largest consumer showcase for Canadian wine in the country has begun its annual eleven-city tour.  The national chef competition – culminating in the Canadian Culinary Championship in Kelowna in Feb 2019 – was formerly a fund-raiser for Canada’s Olympic athletes, raising over one million dollars a year. The funds will now be directed to three organizations helping Canada’s youth excel in athletics, music and culinary pursuits. Still presented by Deloitte, the events follow a similar but more casual format with more stage time by some of Canada’s best musicians, led by Jim Cuddy and his many, many musical friends.

Canada's Great Kitchen Party

Each year close to 100 Canadian wineries, breweries and distillers donate 100% Canadian products to the competing chefs and for the Celebration music and auction portion of the event. The chefs are responsible for selecting the paired wines as their abilities in this area are graded by the judges.

I am responsible for donations to the Celebration, which this year is being heavily supported by Mission Hill Family Estate Winery as a National Sponsor. Others include from B.C – The Chase Wines, La Stella and 50th Parallel; from Ontario – Cave Spring, Chateau des Charmes and The Foreign Affair, and from Nova Scotia – Devonian Coast Wineries and L’Acadie Vineyards. Individual city donation opportunities remain for the Celebration portion in Calgary, Saskatoon and Winnipeg.

If you want to attend the events, the city schedule is as follows:  Ottawa October 11, Edmonton Oct 17, Halifax Oct 18, Victoria Oct 25, Saskatoon Oct 27, Toronto Oct 29, Calgary Nov 1, and Winnipeg Nov 8. Please go to for further information and tickets.

And that is a wrap for the first CWI report.

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

National Wine Awards of Canada