A tale of two of Canada’s wine growing regions.
In the world of WSET wine education, Canada, as a growing region doesn’t feature, not even a line, zip.
On paper, the Canadian wine industry shouldn’t work, but here’s the thing, we do – we just do it in our own little way. Thanks to the Okanagan’s microclimates, we’re this anomaly that’s hot and cold climate all at the same time – we’re hot enough to ripen reds and cold enough to make icewine. There are so many things that I love about our wine industry and what it represents.
With that said, Canada doesn’t allow free trade across provincial borders – in its OWN COUNTRY. It’s actually easier for me to purchase Okanagan wines in England than across the country. On the flip side, with the exception of one sparkling by Benjamin Bridge, I can’t access products from Nova Scotia through our BCLDB. I’m all about discovering the best of Canada and planting a seed about what’s possible. Unfortunately, shipping wines, let alone sampling at dinners is a big no-no. As part of this edible road trip, I was keen to learn about the Annapolis and Gaspereau Valleys, making my own comparisons against Canada’s Napa North, which is where I live (because I can!).
For me, opening a bottle of wine is a poetic reflection of its growing season, challenges and all. Even with a low intervention, hands-off approach, your wine is only as good as the fruit grown and squished. I think one thing people forget is that a vineyard is just a fancy name for farm. Mother Nature is going to give you, what Mother Nature wants to give you, but supporting local is all about celebrating the imperfections. I also love how the Okanagan’s wine scene has a growing amount of female winemakers, not only producing beautiful wines but helping to level up the playing field.
There are downsides to our wines succeeding on an international level – rising land prices, contract fruit being sold to the highest bidder and fewer and fewer family-run or independently owned wineries thanks to groups like Arterra and Andrew Peller (that was sarcasm) buying, then diluting them. One thing that often gets lost is the importance of asking questions, even if the wine industry is sexier than farming for food things. I’m always drawn to small lot wineries, those practicing regenerative farming and those who are mindful of the land – meaning no RoundUp, pesticides or herbicides. One application RoundUp can kill everything in sight, messing up the biodiversity under the soil, too. That’s why I was excited to hear about the bigger picture thinking that places like Benjamin Bridge and Lightfoot & Wolfville have, they just get it. Like with everything local, you get to vote with your fork and, in this case, your glass. From past experiences, many aren’t be fazed by RoundUp thing, especially if it’s your favourite wine by your favourite winery, but I feel like it’s my job just to raise a awareness and start a conversation, then, by all means, you do you.
Ok, enough ranting and onto the short tale of the 2018 vintages from two of Canada’s growing regions:
Both regions had their fair share of not-so-ideal weather, just in very different ways. In the Okanagan, we had wildfire after wildfire creating cloud cover – we had heat but very little direct sunlight, which usually helps to ripen our grapes. Instead, our whites generally had more acidity and say those crisp green apple notes on our Riesling compared to tropical notes with softer acidity for the 2016 vintage, which was stellar. In Nova Scotia, the growing season was hit with snow during bud break, which meant lower yields, higher acid and some wineries had to buy in grapes from Ontario, for instance. I tried to stick with varietals that grow in both provinces for this quick taste testing and I think the Okanagan stacked up a bit better despite the growing conditions – the finish from the east coast fell a bit flat, if I’m honest. This doesn’t mean it won’t be the case for the 2019 or vintages to come and I’m excited to keep on comparing.
Yours in wine,