[nafex] Ontario's New Wine Industry

victoria l. caron vicaron at gis.net
Wed Sep 19 05:49:45 EDT 2001

Here is an article from a news site to which I am subscribed. To open
articles a password is needed, so I copied it to pass it on.

September 17 ,2001

            Canada's Wine-Producing Region a Climatic Wonder

            By Lesley Wroughton

            NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE, Ontario (Reuters) - Along the southwest
shore of
            Lake Ontario, between Niagara Falls and Toronto, lies a
little-known climatic
            wonder attracting vintners from around the world.

            A 5-mile by 45-mile shelf along the Niagara escarpment
mimics optimum
            grape-growing conditions of France's Burgundy region for the
short Canadian

            Warm air from the lake bounces off the escarpment above the
            providing a temperate moderate climate that produces
European-style wines.

            Now a tiny industry better known for winter-season ice wines
is flourishing, with
            new vineyards opening and vintners from France, Australia
and elsewhere
            coming to test their skills in what could be the next New
World growth market
            after Australia and New Zealand.

            Large French and American companies are also investing in
the region like
            Boisset, Burgundy's largest wine producer.

            Hard to believe in a country known more for its picturesque
snow-covered vistas
            than delicate bouquets of Chardonnay and Riesling. But the
enthusiasm of the
            newcomers tells the story.

            A new 20-year growth strategy by the Wine Council of Ontario
hopes to open
            new markets after years of efforts to develop this unlikely
wine region.

            The plan sees Ontario's wine industry growing to $961
million over the next two
            decades from the current $220 million -- still small when
compared with
            California, whose wines reached a retail value of $13
billion in 2000.

            The growth has seen many new wineries open in the past year
including Peller
            Estate, Jackson-Triggs and Peninsula Ridge. An agri-tourism
industry is
            blossoming alongside 60 wineries, with accommodations and
restaurants that
            have attracted top chefs.

            Jean-Pierre Colas, a Frenchman who worked with masters of
Burgundy, was
            skeptical when he first visited the region that was once
considered the purveyor
            of plonk, or cheap table wine.

            Colas, whose intense eyes peer out from wire-rimmed
spectacles, was headed
            for Chile in 1999 to try out winemaking in a country whose
techniques had long
            intrigued him when he accepted an invitation from Canadian
            Norman Beal.

            Beal, a former oil commodities trader in New York, was
looking for a vintner to
            put his newly acquired Peninsula Ridge vineyard on the
global map. Colas
            came, saw the soil and unique grape-growing conditions, and
was convinced.

            "It is not really a style, it's a philosophy, and first it
is the grapes," says Colas who
            was amazed by the knowledge of the local grape growers about

            "This area is very special, unlike in Europe where we grow
one varietal, here we
            can grow everything and the results are great everywhere."

            NEW WINE MARKETS

            That a talent such as Colas, former head winemaker of
Chablis house Domaine
            Laroche in France, believed in the region showed the
potential for Niagara
            Peninsula to expand its product beyond its internationally
acclaimed ice wines.

            A sweet dessert wine produced from grapes left on the vine
through the first hard
            frost, the ice wines of Ontario compete with German and
Austrian eiswein,
            although they only won entry to the European market in
March. Now Ontario is
            looking to increase its ice wine production five-fold from a
current 70,000 cases.
            A half bottle of ice wine sells for about $29.

            But Colas thinks he can produce table wines that are equal
to or even better than
            those of other New World regions.

            At Peninsula Ridge, a short drive from Toronto and Niagara
Falls, he combines
            his French-inspired expertise with stainless steel vats and
oak barrels in a cellar
            designed with equipment from Europe.

            Using his hands to gesticulate his passion for his work,
Colas speaks in
            French-accented English about the challenge of starting from
scratch in such a
            viticultural outpost.

            The quality of his first vintage surprised him: a Sauvignon
Blanc and Chardonnay
            of notable body and flavor.


            Canadians have been making wine since the early 1800's but
not until the last
            decade has the industry focused on quality, due to economic
realities shaped by
            trade agreements and increased foreign competition.

            Elsewhere in Canada, British Columbia on the Pacific coast
has a thriving but
            smaller industry.

            For many years local Ontario winemakers used grapes from
native species,
            among them Vitis Labrusca, which produced brands like a
mediocre pink bubbly
            called Baby Duck -- for years Ontario's best selling wine.

            In 1988 the Ontario government limited the use of Labrusca
grapes, and the
            federal government offered wineries funding to replace it
with the more accepted
            Vitis Vinifera from Europe, which includes Chardonnay and

            At the time, several wineries voluntarily adopted the
Vintners Quality Alliance
            (VQA) appellation system which has since been put into law
that sets standards
            for quality and specifies a wine's origin.

            Australian Phillip Dowell is the new winemaker at
Inniskillin, probably Canada's
            best known winery, whose founders Donald Ziraldo and Karl
Kaiser were
            granted in 1975 the first new commercial wine license in
Ontario since before
            the Depression.

            Like Colas, Dowell, who came from the Yarra Valley in
Australia's Victoria state,
            was surprised by wines already produced in the region.

            "Niagara has now to substantiate itself to the rest of the
world as a bone fide
            wine growing region," he said. "They are doing that with ice
wines but are now
            also having to establish that with the table wines."

            A STYLE OF ITS OWN

            But Dowell says the local wine industry needs to develop a
style it can call its

            "This is the most continental of any region in the world
that can produce many
            styles of wines and qualities -- and that creates the
uniqueness of character of
            the region, and that is where you start to develop the
region's style," he said.

            Dowell says he was impressed by the standards of winemaking
in Niagara and
            is boldly experimenting with Shiraz that his native
Australia is best known for. "If
            we can ripen Merlot here, there is no reason why we can't
ripen Shiraz," he said.

            Len Pennacheti, owner of Cave Spring winery and President of
the VQA,
            believes the industry is finally coming of age.

            "We didn't have high quality grapes available to us as an
industry because we
            didn't think we could grow them," he says. "Now it is a
matter of convincing the
            marketplace that we are serious, that our wines aren't

            The tall, dark-haired native of Niagara says the region has
to learn to focus on
            wines it produces well. "We need to find an emblematic grape
varietal like New
            Zealand has done with Sauvignon Blanc and my money is on

            "Riesling has been an ugly duckling grape variety for
decades. In Australia they
            put it in different packages and don't call it Riesling. We
proudly put Riesling in a
            classic bottle and sell it as a kick-ass varietal."

            Paul Speck, owner of Henry of Pelham winery says the
industry's transition
            happened with the VQA.

            "The industry has a little more meat on the bones than it
did 10 years ago," says
            Speck, whose winery started in a barn making 2,000 cases and
now produces
            75,000 cases.

            He believes that ice wine will continue to open doors. "If
we take the same
            focused approached using ice wine as the door opener
internationally and
            following it up with our Chardonnays and Rieslings, we will
impress them."

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