Having visited and toured the major California Wineries in the Napa Valley, the Central Coast and elsewhere – Robert Mondavi, San Antonio, Monticello, Hendry and others – they have always been among the highlights of our several California trips. The ultimate being the Artesa Winery, bult “underground” into a hill in the Napa Valley and topped by a cooling lake.
A bit of the history of Artesa wines is required to put the small wineries in the Southern Georgian Bay into perspective. Artesa was originally known as Codorniu Napa. The winery was founded by the Spanish company Grupo Codorníu in 1991, investing $30 million in the facility. Codorniu Napa at first made only sparkling wine. Lack of demand for sparkling wine led to poor sales, and the winery shifted to make still wines.
The wineries in the Southern Georgian Bay Are did not have the comfort of such large financial investments. Our wineries are generally referred to world-wide as “boutique wineries”. What sets them apart is the size of their vineyards. They are small and rarely produce more than 10,000 cases annually. Their wines are hand-crafted by artisans who want to create a real masterpiece in each bottle, in other words, artisanal varieties of highly specialized, limited-run personal productions.
Statistics on Canadian wine production are based on 2015 records, with 56.2 million liters. 62.5% of that came from Ontario, with British Columbia second at 14%, Quebec with 12% and Alberta with with 6%.
The Niagara Region, with its unique climate offered by the protection of the Niagara Escarpment and being on the same latitude as southern France, had 88 Wineries in 2014. Although the Escarpment stretches north from the Niagara River well across Southern Georgian Bay and beyond, it does not offer the same protection. With the exception of the Blue Mountains, it does not rise to the same heights. We only have four wineries: two at Clarksburg, one each at Annan and Creemore.
The Niagara Peninsula is at the same latitude as southern Italy and Spain, while South Georgian Bay lies at the latitude of northern Italy and Spain. Summer temperatures are about the same, although we have the edge on cool spring and fall seasons.
Vintners Quality Alliance, or VQA, is a regulatory and appellation system which guarantees the high quality and authenticity of origin for Canadian wines made under that system in Ontario and British Columbia. It is similar to the regulatory systems of Germany, France, Spain, and Italy. There are over 160 Ontario wineries producing VQA wines of various appellations – all backed up by VQA Ontario’s assurance of origin and quality.
Canada is the world leader in the production of ice wine, with more of it made here than in all other countries combined. Ontario leads with 90%, although BC, QC and NS are also producing some ice wines.
Before Covid-19 restricted their travels, I watched Japanese tourists in a Niagara Region winery buying 10 to 12 bottles, and even cases of icewine, which then cost around CAD 70 per bottle (now CAD 90 to CAD 160). When asked why they paid so much for ice wine, their answers where side-steps. What I suspect happens in fact is that they resell the wine in Japan, where they are very highly valued, for double or triple their purchased value. Some Japanese travellers were able to finance most of their trip from these resales.
Fruit wineries are found in Ontario, where some grape wineries generally produce them, but in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, where the local climate is more favourable, there are several fruit wineries and meaderies. Mead is an alcoholic beverage made with honey and water, fermented with yeast. It can also include fruit, vegetables, spices, herbs or malted grains.
The strengths of the Southern Georgian Bay Region lies in the suitability of our lands and soils for the growth of apples. So much so that our apple growers have to import seasonal helpers from Jamaica and Mexico. The statistics are debatable, but there are certainly several thousand migrant workers in our area each year, thanks to the “Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program” of the Canadian Government. It brings around 25,000 migrant workers to Canada annually, 66% of which are employed in Ontario (BC and QC share 13% each).
Apple Cider is one of Ontario’s great treasures, with more than 100 cider producers who have come up with their own varieties and concoctions.
The craft cider industry makes an alcoholic beverage from apples which, in most cases, has no added sugar and is gluten-free. Its alcohol content is between 5% and 7%, made from yeast-fermented apples and at times other fruits and flavours. Ontario grows more than 40 apple varieties, so every cider will taste differently, depending on the mix.
You can look forward to more stories this fall on JSGB about local Wineries, Cideries and Breweries.