Canadian Wine Insider – November 2021

The Numbers Behind the Nationals, and a Look at the Rest of Canada

By David Lawrason

The National Wine Awards of Canada has announced its big winners, with all the medallists listed by category. The 2021 NWAC judges have written great overviews for each category, providing solid direction for consumers and winemakers alike. But it is time to delve deeper into the larger numbers, then focus on some of the smaller regions that often don’t get the recognition they deserve in this vast, maddeningly over-regulated and complex country we call Canada.

The first stat of importance is the 1,409 medal winners out of 2,065 entries. So, about 68% won Bronze, Silver, Gold or Platinum. Some would suggest the ratio is too high, to which I can only say we would hope that most Canadian wines entered would achieve at least a “very good” 87-point Bronze medal. And, we are here to measure and benchmark the quality of each wine, not just the very top winners.

Burrowing Owl Estate Winery

After every competition, there is the inevitable comparison of results between B.C. and Ontario. Inter-provincial one-upmanship is a Canadian’s birthright. Scanning the list of medals, it is quickly apparent that B.C. won considerably more medals than Ontario. What is less obvious is that B.C. entered considerably more wines than Ontario. One major reason is that there are considerably more wineries in B.C. than Ontario – 288 in BC and 201 in Ontario, according to, a winery directory published by Wine Growers Canada. When comparing the two provinces’ performance, the medal ratios as a percentage of entries are virtually the same, leaving one to deduce that the winemaking standard is on par east and west.

Entries and Medals by Province


Another important stat is the number of wineries that entered the competition, 260 in all. The same website says Canada has over 700 wineries (dozens of which are bottlers, not land-based wineries). Still, many did not enter. There are myriad reasons wineries don’t enter competitions. For example, some do not believe in the blind tasting process. Others feel that medals are not aligned with their marketing strategy. As well, many small wineries fear not having enough wine to sell should they do very well. But let me assure you that the wineries that did enter this year represent the lion’s share of Canada’s most important and quality-oriented wineries, large, medium and small.

Beyond The Okanagan and Niagara

From here, I would like to shine a light on places and wines that often get overlooked- regions beyond the established Okanagan and Similkameen Valleys in B.C. and beyond Niagara, Prince Edward County and Lake Erie North Shore in Ontario. Three other regions, in particular, are strutting their stuff – Quebec, Nova Scotia and Vancouver Island. And there are “new or emerging” regions in both B.C. and Ontario that are worth keeping an eye on as well. Finally, we include links for wines with the average score from all the judges at this year’s awards, tasting notes from NWAC judges and, in some cases, tastings by WineAlign critics outside of the Awards.

Before going to specific regions, it’s time to make a case for Quebec, Nova Scotia, and, yes, New Brunswick. These regions recently developed their regulations for wines 100% grown in their province but are yet to be part of a national VQA program – which drives me nuts as a Canadian. I blame the disinterested even exclusionary Ontario and B.C. establishments for this shortcoming. If they are waiting for some quality epiphany that N.S. and Quebec are worthy of, I would argue it is at hand. In Nova Scotia, 54% of the wines won medals. In Quebec, 48% of the wines took medals. The sample size for New Brunswick is too small, but I have tasted enough good N.B. wine from Minnesota hybrids to consider them in the mix as well.

Nova Scotia

It is now well established that Nova Scotia has two very strong style categories – Sparkling and Tidal Bay. Seven of the NS medals, including one Gold went to sparkling wines. Four medals went to Tidal Bay wines, a blended white style developed in the last decade to promote crisp, fruit driven whites ideal with local seafood. Among single varietal whites two chardonnays took medals including one Gold. There were also medals for single varietals like Domaine de Grand Pre Ortega, L’Acadie Vineyards L’Acadie Blanc and Sainte Famille Lost Bell Rosé (97% riesling, 3% maréchal foch).


Blomidon Chardonnay 2018

Blomidon 2018 Chardonnay, Nova Scotia

 L’acadie Vineyards Vintage Cuvée Méthode Traditionelle 2018

L’Acadie 2018 Vintage Cuvee Traditional Method Organic, Nova Scotia


Blomidon Brut Réserve 2014, Anapolis Valley

Blomidon 2014 Brut Réserve, Nova Scotia

Blomidon Crémant Extra Dry

Blomidon N/V Crémant Extra Dry, Nova Scotia

 Blomidon Cuvée L'acadie Brut, Annapolis Valley

Blomidon N/V Cuvée L’Acadie Brut, Nova Scotia

 Gaspereau Vineyards Tidal Bay 2020

Gaspereau 2020 Tidal Bay, Nova Scotia

Jost Tidal Bay 2020

Jost 2020 Tidal Bay, Nova Scotia

Planters Ridge Tidal Bay 2020

Planters Ridge 2020 Tidal Bay, Nova Scotia


Domaine de Grand Pré N/V Extra Dry Sparkling Riesling, Nova Scotia
Gaspereau N/V Cuvee Brut Traditional Method Sparkling, Nova Scotia
Lightfoot & Wolfville 2018 Ancienne Chardonnay Wild Fermented, Nova Scotia
L’Acadie 2020 Estate L’Acadie Organic, Nova Scotia
Sainte Famille Lost Bell Rosé 2020, Nova Scotia


I was very pleased to see increased participation from Quebec this year. With the help of National Wine Awards judge Nadia Fournier of Magog in the heart of Quebec’s wine country, Quebec is in the midst of a major terroir-based appellation, regulation, marketing and quality drive. The delightful ciders of Quebec – ice and otherwise – are the strongest performers, and shockingly under-represented in the rest of Canada. But in Quebec, single variety wines are ascending – pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot gris in particular. And who knew Quebec could make Gold medal level gewurztraminer. My sense is that, although vineyards are young and climatically challenged, there is a very intense core of Quebec winemakers out to make a statement with styles derived from northern France.


Cidrerie Michel Jodoin Une Petite Finale Glacée (375ml)

Cidrerie Michel Jodoin Une Petite Finale Glacée / Ice Cider, Quebec


Union Libre Gewurztraminer 2020

Union Libre 2020 Gewürztraminer, Quebec

Friga Cidre De Glace / Ice Cider 2019 (200ml)

Friga 2019 Cidre de Glace / Ice Cider, Quebec


La Cantina Vallee D'oka Rosé Du Calvaire 2020

Rivière du Chêne 2020 La Cantina Rosé du Calvaire, Vallée d’Oka, Quebec

La Cantina Pinot Noir 2017, Vallee D'oka, Quebec

Rivière du Chêne 2017 La Cantina Pinot Noir, Vallée d’Oka, Quebec


Vignoble Ste Petronille VSP 2018 Brut, Île d’Orléans, Quebec 
Vignoble Ste Petronille Voile De La Mariée 2020, Quebec
Vignoble Camy 2020 Pinot Gris, Quebec 
Vignoble Camy 2019 Chardonnay Réserve, Quebec
Union Libre 2020 Rosé Union, Quebec
Rivière du Chêne 2020 La Cantina Chardonnay, Vallée d’Oka, Quebec
Rivière du Chêne 2020 William Rouge, Quebec
Union Libre 2020 Seyval Blanc-Vidal, Quebec
Vignoble Rivière du Chêne N/V La Cantina Blanc de Blanc, Vallée d’Oka ,Quebec

Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands

A Platinum Medal for Rathjen’s 2018 Saison Vineyard Pinot Noir signals that Vancouver Island and the nearby Gulf Islands have arrived. British Columbia’s coastal regions have been included in the BC VQA program since the nineties. Still, production has been so small and vintage variation so challenging until recently, it seems, that there is not much Island wine showing up elsewhere. With three medals for pinot noir, two for pinot gris and one for chardonnay, it is clear which vinifera are dominant. There are also interesting charmat sparklers now banding together under the Charme de L’Île banner, plus assorted Germanic crosses like Ortega that can be very good.


Rathjen Cellars Pinot Noir Saison Vineyard 2018

Rathjen Cellars 2018 Pinot Noir Saison Vineyard, Vancouver Island, British Columbia


 Rathjen Cellars Saison Vineyard Pinot Gris 2019

Rathjen Cellars 2019 Pinot Gris Saison Vineyard, Vancouver Island, British Columbia


Rocky Creek Pinot Gris 2020

Rocky Creek Pinot Gris 2020, Cowichan Valley, British Columbia

Unsworth Pinot Noir 2019

Unsworth 2019 Pinot Noir, Cowichan Valley, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Rathjen Cellars Crème De Cassis (375ml)

Rathjen Cellars Crème de Cassis, Vancouver Island, British Columbia 

Enrico Red Dragon Rosé 2020

Enrico 2020 Red Dragon Rosé, Cowichan Valley, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Unsworth Rosé 2020

Unsworth 2020 Rosé, British Columbia


Unsworth 2019 Chardonnay, Vancouver Island, British Columbia  
Garry Oaks 2017 Estate Pinot Noir, Salt Spring Island, British Columbia
Blue Grouse Estate Ortega 2020, Vancouver Island, British Columbia 
Enrico 2018 Braveheart, Cowichan Valley, Vancouver Island, British Columbia
Enrico 2018 Cabernet Foch Long Sword, Cowichan Valley, Vancouver Island, British Columbia
Rocky Creek 2020 Pinot Gris, Cowichan Valley, Vancouver Island, British Columbia
Garry Oaks 2019 Estate Pinot Gris, Salt Spring Island, British Columbia
Unsworth 2019 Pinot Noir Saison Vineyard, Cowichan Valley, Vancouver Island, British Columbia
Enrico 2020 Ortega Tempest, Cowichan Valley, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Other New Regions

In 2018, B.C created four new VQA regions whose labels first appeared on bottles at this year’s 2021 National Wine Awards. Canadians are becoming more familiar with the geography of B.C.’s southern interior this year due to fires and floods. As a result, such appellations like Lillooet, Thompson Valley and Shuswap (all north of the Okanagan), plus The Kootenays in the southeast, may be more on the radar.  A Platinum for the Monte Creek Ancient Waters Chardonnay and another Harper’s Trail Sparkling Chardonnay, plus two Golds for reds from Fort Berens, heralds a very bright future for these regions. And there were several silver and bronze medalists.

In Ontario, there are now several wineries in the southwest and south-central parts of the province. Still, none have achieved regional VQA status as acreage is too low (another exclusionary policy), and few wines from the new vineyards were entered in the Awards. It is very common for these new wineries to produce wines from Niagara fruit as their vineyards mature. It is encouraging to see two bronze medals from Adamo’s estate vineyards in the hills about the Hockley Valley near Orangeville. And although estate-grown Pinot Noir 2019 and Chardonnay 2019 from KIN Vineyards in the Ottawa Valley did not medal, I include links to my notes from a tasting this summer.


Harper's Trail Chardonnay Sparkling Thadd Springs Vineyard 2018

Harper’s Trail Chardonnay Sparkling Thadd Springs Vineyard 2018, Thompson Valley, British Columbia

Monte Creek Ancient Waters Chardonnay 2019

Monte Creek 2019 Ancient Waters Chardonnay, British Columbia


Fort Berens Cabernet Franc 2018

Fort Berens Cabernet Franc 2018, Lillooet, British Columbia

Fort Berens Pinot Noir 2019

Fort Berens Pinot Noir 2019, British Columbia


Harper's Trail Silver Mane Block Riesling Thadd Springs Vineyard 2019

Harper’s Trail 2019 Silver Mane Block Riesling Thadd Springs Vineyard, Thompson, British Columbia

Harper's Trail Pioneer Block Riesling Thadd Springs Vineyard 2020

Harper’s Trail 2020 Pioneer Block Riesling Thadd Springs Vineyard, Thompson, British Columbia 

Adamo Riesling 2020

Adamo Riesling 2020, Ontario


Sunnybrae 2020 Siegerrebe, British Columbia
Sunnybrae Rosé 2020 Shuswap, British Columbia 
Baillie-Grohman 2018 Chardonnay, The Kootenays, British Columbia   
Baillie-Grohman 2020 Gewürztraminer, British Columbia 
Fort Berens 2019 Riesling Reserve, Lillooet, British Columbia
Fort Berens 2019 Meritage, British Columbia
Adamo Estate Chardonnay 2019, Ontario

I hope you have enjoyed this exploration, and I ask you to join us for the next edition to look at new wineries in Canada that caught my attention at the NWACs and in other tastings.

In other awards news in the Canadian wine industry, winemaker Ann Sperling has been named Winemaker of the Year 2021 by the Cambridge (U.K.)Food & Wine Society and is the recipient of the coveted RIEDEL Award. Past recipients include the likes of Robert Mondavi, Miguel Torres and Eduardo Chadwick. Ann is the pioneering organic/biodynamic winemaker at Southbrook Vineyards in Niagara and Sperling Vineyards in the Okanagan.

NWAC Medal 2021

David Lawrason

VP of Wine

Go to the complete results of the 2021 National Wine Awards of Canada.

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