Canadian wines are making a mark on the world stage

October 25, 2016 - http://www.foodserviceandhospitality.com/author/dschalk/

Considering its relatively young wine industry, Canada has garnered a high level of acclaim for its vintages. In fact, according to the 2015 Wine Tourism in Canada Report, annual direct revenue from Canadian wine tourism was $476 million for the year. Canadians also have a taste for local grapes, with Canadian Vintners Association stats indicating wine industry sales represent 30 per cent of all wine sold across Canada. As Jason Yamasaki, group sommelier at Joey Restaurant Group explains, “A large proportion of our local customers really like to share [local wines] with the guests they’re welcoming from out of town or just enjoy the reliable names they have come to know through drinking wine in their own provinces.”

Both Laurie Macdonald, executive director of VQA Ontario and Miles Prodan, CEO and president of the B.C. Wine Institute agree with Yamasaki’s analysis, noting Canadian consumers are quite loyal to their locally produced vintages. “Sales [of VQA Ontario wines] have been increasing steadily for a couple of decades,” notes Macdonald. “In the big picture trend, we see that continuing because there is a great interest in local wine and local food and it all fits together.”

In fact, licensee (bar and restaurant) sales (by volume) of VQA wines in both provinces were up for 2016, with growth of 11.2 per cent and 8.33 per cent respectively in Ontario and B.C.

Canada boasts major wine-growing regions in four different provinces (B.C., Nova Scotia, Ontario and Quebec) the largest of which are the Niagara Peninsula in Ontario and B.C.’s Okanagan Valley. In total, the country is home to nearly 550 wineries, more than half of which (240) are found in B.C. Ontario is the second-largest wine producing province, with 150 wineries.

Yamasaki says this distribution clearly impacts the popularity of Canadian wines at Joey’s restaurant locations across the country. “Canadian wines represent a good portion of the sales, mostly in B.C. and Ontario, because they come with the built-in wine regions there,” he explains. In these two provinces, Canadian wines make up approximately 20 per cent of each location’s wine list, while the chain’s Alberta and Manitoba locations only offer three or fewer Canadian labels. “This is largely based on availability, as most of B.C. and Ontario wines are sold within their provincial boundaries.”

With more than 60 grape varieties produced in B.C. alone, there is a plethora of Canadian wines to discover. However, Canadian diners have their favourites. “We sell Pinot Noir with really great success in both B.C. and Ontario. It’s a great variety that guests attach a certain amount of prestige and luxury to,” explains Yamasaki. Tantalus Pinot Noir ($80/bottle) is a particularly popular label offered in B.C., while Flat Rock’s Pinot Noir ($12/6oz) sells well in Ontario. He also identifies Riesling and Chardonnay — such as Charles Baker Riesling ($75/bottle) and Mission Hill Chardonnay ($50/bottle) — as white varietals that perform well across the board.

Chardonnay is making a bit of a comeback, thanks to the qualities produced by Canada’s cool climate, which allows for a more balanced flavour. “Chardonnay is emerging from an era where they were more recognized for having an extremely rich, viscus, textural and almost exhausting sense to them,” says Yamasaki. “It’s the world’s most popular white grape variety and in [Ontario and B.C.] specifically, it’s experiencing an upswing in terms of quality and a revival in terms of the enthusiasm around it.”