Canadian Wine Insider – June 2021

News and New Releases on Canada’s 154th Birthday

By David Lawrason

Canada was making wine when it became a nation in 1867 but it is a little unclear whether our first winery – Vin Villa on Pelee Island – was an American or Canadian winery depending on when it opened in 1866, 1867 or 1868. I have seen all three dates referenced. Pelee Island sits in the middle of Lake Erie virtually on the US border, and Americans from Sandusky, Ohio were growing vines here and on other islands in the archipelago. It doesn’t really matter but it is being claimed as Canadian by Canada, so let’s allow this shall we, without a 14-day fact checking quarantine.

The photo below is of a Vin Villa replica painstakingly built in miniature and standing to this day at an otherwise empty crossroads in the centre of Pelee Island, Canada’s most southerly land holding.  The original winery burned out in the 60s though its overgrown stone shell remains. I think the Canadian industry should pool resources to make something more out of this site.

Replica of Vin Villa, Canada's First Winery on Pelee Island
Replica of Vin Villa, Canada’s First Winery on Pelee Island

But only after pooling all its resources to get Ontario, Quebec and Alberta to drop their opposition to inter-provincial shipping of Canadian wine between provinces. Dan Paskowksi, head of Winegrowers of Canada recently tweeted:

“June 28th will mark nine years since Dan Albas’ Bill C-311 removed federal barriers to the transport of wine across provincial borders. (Some) Provinces still do not allow wine 🇨🇦🍷 to be shipped to your home from a winery in another 🇨🇦 province! @fordnation @jkenney @francoislegault”.

So that’s how this Canada Day edition of the Canadian Wine Insider is going to go. A bit of a newsy ramble based on the past, upcoming events and summery new releases.



Staying with the idea that history informs, there are recent departures of three men who have had great impact on Canada’s industry.  Two are retirements, one is a sad loss to ALS.  

Adrian Baker was not widely known in Canada, but he came with his family to the Okanagan’s Lake Country in 2011 from top notch Craggy Range in New Zealand to head up one of most ambitious vineyard and winery developments Canada has ever seen at O’Rourke Peak Cellars. He passed away in May. I got to know him better than most winemakers through personal connections in Kelowna and so admired his passion, intelligence and generosity.  The O’Rourke project, which includes massive cave tunnelling, is still not complete, but will stand among Canada’s great wine endeavours, and Adrian will stand in my memory as one of those many gentle New Zealanders who so believe in Canada and have furthered our wine. One day I will write a complete piece on them, and it will shock you how much of Canada’s best wine has been made at the hands of our flipside compatriots from the South Pacific.

The two retirements are happier stories. One is David Sheppard, who has made wine in Niagara for 40 years. He was a protégé of Karl Kaiser at Inniskillin and was key in his post there as Inniskillin went through its formative years. He was involved in some of the very first pinots and chardonnays, in particular, that were made in Ontario. He left at one point to help launch Coyote’s Run that burst onto the scene in St. Davids Bench with, again, some exciting, totally terroir driven Left Paw and Right Paw chardonnays and pinots based on an abrupt soil seam that dissected the vineyard. The next stop was Flat Rock Cellars, which again focuses on estate chardonnay and pinot. On June 18 he was the recipient of the 2021 Ontario Wine Awards Winemaker of the Year Award presented by colleague Tony Aspler, at a distanced ceremony at Flat Rock Cellars. Thank you, David.

On the same day senior winemaker Randy Picton of Nk’Mip Cellars in Osoyoos announced his retirement after 19 years, handing off to Justin Hall who has had the official title of Winemaker since 2017. Nk’Mip is a partnership between Arterra Wines, Canada’s largest wine company, and the Osoyoos Indian Band, of which Justin Hall is a citizen.  At a political level Nk’Mip is long been hailed as one of the great indigenous business success stories in Canada. At a wine level I would say the same. I tasted with Randy and Justin last September and completely understand why this winery continues to rack up awards from its home within the Spirit Ridge resort complex. The wines are bright, generous and accurate to their grape and region.

Coming Up in July

From looking back to looking ahead there are two items of note in the works in July.

In B.C., to seguay from Nk’Mip, one is the opening of the District Wine Village on Osoyoos Band land in the shadow of the famed MacIntyre Bluff just north of Oliver, B.C. Based on a community tasting area concept now underway in California and elsewhere, sixteen pavilions featuring wineries and other local artisan producers are circled around a central performance area. Some of the pavilions actually have tank and barrel production facilities. It has ‘softly’ opened but some construction continues. Nk’Mip Cellars is one of the featured wineries, opening on July 15. At this point I have not seen a list of the other residents on-line but you can follow here.

District Wine Village opening in Oliver, B.C.
District Wine Village opening in Oliver, B.C.

In Ontario, the 11th International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration (I4C) is set to go, virtually, from July 23 to 25. There are 30 Ontario wineries in the field this year, with 12 international participants. The big day for deep dive wine education is Friday, July 23 with virtual presentations by three specialists with Canadian connections. Master of Wine Michelle Cherutti-Kowal, with dual Canadian/Italian citizenship, who sits on the Education Committee of the Masters of Wine in London, England, will delve into the notion of “taste like a detective and argue like a lawyer”.  From his World Lab in Barcelona, Quebec-based food and wine author Francois Chartier will elaborate on Taste Buds and Molecules. And from the U.K. prolific science-based author and WineAlign National Wine Awards judge Dr. Jamie Goode will focus on chardonnay and sustainability.  Full details are at Cool Chardonnay

The National Wine Awards are a Go

After a COVID time out in 2020, the 2021 National Wine Awards of Canada are set for Penticton from October 2 to 6.  They were normally held in June giving WineAlign time to process and publish the results well ahead of the busy fall winery touring season. This year we hope to begin rolling our results by the end of October-early November for the Holiday wine buying season.  The later judging date might also give us a look and some later released 2020 wines, a vintage that is the best pan-Canadian vintage ever experienced. See full 2020 report here.

NWAC Medal 2021

It will be interesting to see how the wine entries go this year. We are hoping to top 2000 wines, making the 20th National Wine Awards of Canada the largest domestic wine competition ever held in Canada. It also includes cider, by the way, and that market is really heating up.

Currently, 21 judges from five provinces have accepted our invitation to Penticton. If entries increase so will the number of judges. There is, as must be, a strong core of veteran, competition savvy judges, as it is not easy work to be tasting about 90 wines per day for five days straight. It takes an objective mindset and stamina developed through experience to get through.

This year we welcome six new judges, all from western Canada, who will all be tasting under seasoned panel “captains”.  When we return to Ontario next year the new judges will be drawn from the east. The new or graduated “apprentice” judges include Jenny Book of Calgary, Christina Hartigan of Vancouver, Sebastian Le Goff of Vancouver, Bryant Mao of Vancouver, Michaela Morris of Vancouver and Geoffrey Moss of Penticton, who earned his Master of Wine accreditation in 2020.  Dr. Jamie Goode of the UK returns to the fold again this year. The complete roster can be found here.

The National Wine Awards presents five major awards: The Canadian Winery of the Year, The Best Performing Small Winery, Icewine of the Year, Fruit Wine of the Year and Cider of the Year. Within each of the 37 categories, wines are awarded Gold, Silver or Bronze medals, all topped by Platinum medals presented to the top one percent highest-scoring wines across all competition categories.

Wineries can register for the Awards on-line until September 3. Shipping to the Ontario consolidation point closes August 31, to the B.C. consolidation point September 17.

Twenty Summery New Releases

It has been a busy spring tasting new releases from B.C. and Ontario. They are not necessarily all 2020s, although most are summery aromatic whites and rosés.  Full reviews can be found by following the links. My brief comment indicates why I have selected the wine. You can direct order from the winery through the WineAlign review.

Ontario Whites

Huff Estates Buried Vine Pinot Gris 2020

Huff Estates Buried Vine Pinot Gris 2020
Prince Edward County, Ontario ($24.00)
Year in year out pinot gris has been a quiet, tidy and quite sophisticated accomplishment at Huff Estates. The 2019 South Bay chardonnay is also very fine.

Southbrook Whimsy Laundry Vineyard Riesling 2020

Southbrook Whimsy Laundry Vineyard Riesling 2020
Niagara, Ontario ($34.95)
This organic vineyard atop Vinemount Ridge delivers a classy, detailed riesling with ripe, late harvest but not overtly sweet tendencies.

Bachelder Les Villages Chardonnay 2019

Bachelder Les Villages Chardonnay 2019
Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($34.95)
This neatly encapsulates the complexity, energetic yet sophisticated style Bachelder brings to his various chardonnays, for less.


Trail Estate Chardonnay Vintage Four Unfiltered 2019

Trail Estate Chardonnay Vintage Four Unfiltered 2019
Prince Edward County, Ontario ($40.00)
Walking a very fine line between natural and conventional flavours, the solid structure, finesse and depth are impressive.


Two Sisters Unoaked Chardonnay 2019

Two Sisters Unoaked Chardonnay 2019
Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($38.80)
Pure, pristine and sophisticated chardonnay that goes way beyond being merely unoaked. There is a region in Burgundy called Chablis that does this too.


Ontario Rosé and Light Reds

Marynissen Estates Heritage Collection Pinot Noir Rosé 2020

Marynissen Estates Heritage Collection Pinot Noir Rosé 2020
Niagara, Ontario ($24.95)
Off my radar for years, Marynissen serves up a snappy, intense and pure pinot noir rosé. Heralding a comeback?


Westcott Vineyards Pinot Noir Rose 2020

Westcott Vineyards Pinot Noir Rosé 2020
Niagara, Ontario ($23.95)
From estate wines high on cool Vinemount Ridge this lean, elegant rosé struck me with its sleek verve and authenticity.


Malivoire Rose Moira 2020

Malivoire Rosé Moira 2020
Niagara, Ontario ($24.95)
Long the pink standard in Niagara, this very pale single vineyard pinot-based rosé delivers high class Provencal sophistication. Fragrant aromatics, sensuous texture.


Hidden Bench Gamay Unfiltered 2019

Hidden Bench Gamay Unfiltered 2019
Niagara, Ontario ($29.95)
The debut gamay from organic Hidden Bench is tidy, firm and delicious – adding another wrung in the ladder to this grape’s ascendancy in Ontario. Climb gamay climb.


Kin Vineyards Pinot Noir 2019

Kin Vineyards Pinot Noir 2019
Ottawa Valley, Ontario ($34.95)
Limestone underpinned Carp Ridge in the Ottawa Valley is becoming a serious thing. Very light, tight, refined pinot noir from Kin’s Brian Hamilton.


British Columbia Whites

O'Rourke's Peak Cellars Broken Granite Gewürztraminer 2020

O’Rourke’s Peak Cellars Broken Granite Gewürztraminer 2020
Okanagan Valley, British Columbia ($30.00)
Not your normal blowsy gewurz, this is pure, linear, understated Lake Country styling with pinpoint gewurz aromatics.


Tantalus Riesling 2020

Tantalus Riesling 2020
Okanagan Valley, British Columbia ($21.74)
The excellent vintage pumps in petrol-free, apricot, honey and spice ripeness, more roundness but no less acid grip. Textbook 2020?


Hillside Unoaked Pinot Gris 2020

Hillside Unoaked Pinot Gris 2020
Okanagan Valley, British Columbia ($20.00)
Lots going on here, faint blush, complex aromas, lovely texture. Normally Hillside uses passive oak, but this is all vintage and fruit.


Quails' Gate Chenin Blanc 2020

Quails’ Gate Chenin Blanc 2020
Okanagan Valley, British Columbia ($24.95)
The staple BC chenin blanc on almost every serious wine list in BC and AB achieves a touch more ripeness and complexity in 2020. Fine with me, chenin is not just another refreshing white.


Blue Mountain Chardonnay 2019

Blue Mountain Chardonnay 2019
Okanagan Valley, British Columbia ($28.95)
The best value under $30 Cdn chardonnay tasted so far this year. So detailed and the length needs a stop watch.


BC Rosé and Lighter Reds

Tantalus Rosé 2020

Tantalus Rosé 2020
Okanagan Valley, British Columbia ($19.13)
Finds a sweet spot that is not sweet. Lovely aromatics, texture and amiability with 30% pinot meunier in the mix.


O'Rourke's Peak Cellars Pinot Noir Rosé 2020

O’Rourke’s Peak Cellars Pinot Noir Rosé 2020
Okanagan Valley, British Columbia ($24.00)
In the shadow perhaps of the edgier, intense, new Granite Rosé, this is a calmer, refined edition with a lovely pinot essence.


Cliff And Gorge Peasant Wine Rose 2020

Cliff And Gorge Peasant Wine Rosé 2020
Lillooet, British Columbia ($15.00)
This random selection from the mountainous Lilloet region in the upper Fraser, speaks to the unreasonable passion driving many in Canadian wines. Tasty, off-dry, balanced, not simple.


Foxly Pinot Noir 2018

Foxly Pinot Noir 2018
Okanagan Valley, British Columbia ($22.99)
Naramata premium pinot specialist Foxtrot has launched affordable Foxly. Deft dance step pivot!


Hillside Merlot Malbec 2018

Hillside Merlot Malbec 2018
Okanagan Valley, British Columbia ($26.00)
Merlot-Malbec doesn’t sound light, but ambient charm and complexity shows what B.C. can do affordably well if not trying too hard with Bordeaux varieties.

Up Next – Deep Dives into Canadian Terroir

The July edition to be published at the end of the month – maybe it will be a July/August summer edition – will look at projects by wineries exploring sub-regional terroir by making at least three wines from the same grape variety and vintage in three different sites.  I will be discussing Thomas Bachelder’s gamay project in Niagara, Spearhead’s pinot noirs in the north Okanagan, and Rust Wine Company’s syrahs in the South Okanagan, already tasted. If you know of other projects that should be included, please advise asap to [email protected]. Wines must be in bottle and on the market shortly, and shipped for sampling by mid-July.

May Canada Day bring you peace and personal pride, no matter how you wish to observe it.

David Lawrason, VP of Wine

Go to the complete Guide to Canada’s Best Wines.

Sponsored Toronto Wine Storage - Fine Wine Reserve

The Fine Wine Reserve provides discerning collectors with the highest standards of fine wine storage in Toronto. Their facilities are purpose-built and specifically engineered to protect your fine wines. With two locations in the GTA, The Fine Wine Reserve offers the widest range of storage options and styles in Canada - allowing them to serve the unique and evolving needs of novice and expert collectors alike.