Ever since the first grapes were brought to Ontario in 1811, the region has been home to superb vineyards and local wines. Ontario winemaking took off in earnest in the 1970s when Inniskillin was granted the first new winery licence since prohibition. In the late 1980’s a new era of grape growing began when the region’s growers removed 8,000 acres of vines and replaced them with Vitis vinifera, traditional European wine grape varieties. At the same time, the Vintner’s Quality Alliance was formed to maintain the integrity of local wine appellations and wine standards. VQA wines are made of 100% locally-grown grapes. The Grape Growers of Ontario are artisans in their own right, cultivating the soil and nurturing their grapes to craft excellent wines that taste of their Canadian roots.
There’s a lot to enjoy in wine country, whether it’s a weekend trip to witness grape harvesting, a wedding at one of the wineries in Ontario or a wine tasting that highlights the unique local flavours influenced by the region’s terroir. Here are five things everyone should know about our wine.
1. It’s Not Too Cold
Though the winters are cold, Ontario’s summers are hot — perfect for growing grapes. The region is also located between 30 and 50 degrees of latitude; the same as the world’s other fine wine regions. This means that grapes here receive the same amount of sunlight each year, so they can grow to their full potential. Add Ontario’s outstanding soil to the mix, and Ontario wineries have the perfect resources to produce top-quality wines.
2. Cool-Climate Wines Are a Cook’s Dream
Wines grown in cooler regions tend to be lighter in body, more aromatic and more acidic. This brighter flavor makes them eminently more drinkable, and they pair easily with food without overpowering the meal. For home chefs, it’s also a breeze to cook with them, since they won’t require any additional lemon juice to balance the acidity of the dish.
3. Ontario is Home to Three Wine Regions to Explore
Three of Canada’s eight official Viticultural Areas are located in Ontario: the Niagara Peninsula, Lake Erie North Shore and Prince Edward County. The Niagara region is further broken down into 10 sub-appellations, or smaller growing areas, and a new sub-appellation has recently been added for Lake Erie North Shore. Each of these growing areas has its own unique terroir, or combination of soil, topography and climate. These factors combine to give each region’s wines a distinctive flavor, so Chardonnay from Niagara-on-the-Lake will not taste the same as a Chardonnay from Picton. Ontario growers offer much to explore for those looking to try a new wine.
4. Ontario Icewine is the Best in the World
Because Icewine is made by harvesting grapes that have been allowed to freeze in place on the vine, it should be no surprise that Ontario is home to the best Icewine in the world. After all, the climate is perfect to freeze the grapes! Our warm summers ripen the grapes and then growers must wait until the temperature reaches at least minus 8oC for the grapes to freeze naturally on the vine. The frozen grapes are most often harvested at night in the freezing temperatures, and must be crushed while frozen to capture every drop of the concentrated juice. Yields are only about 15% of the yield for table wine. Thanks to the high concentration of sugar and flavor compounds left in the grapes, Icewine features a winning balance of acidity and complex fruit flavors.
Icewine production is regulated and monitored by VQA Ontario from the vineyard to the bottle and only wine certified by VQA Ontario may use the term Icewine on the label. It’s not easy to make, but Ontario growers and winemakers enjoy world recognition for our VQA Icewine.
5. Ontario Sparkling Wines are Top Notch
Ontario’s climate is ideal for growing Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes, and these just happen to be the types used to make traditional sparkling wines. Sales of Canadian bubbly are way up, and for good reason: almost 30 wineries in Ontario are now producing delicious sparkling wines to rival French Champagnes.
Ready to learn more about the incredible variety of wines being produced locally? There’s nothing like Ontario wine tours to open both the mind and the palate to the richness of the region. Plan a trip or a tasting to get started on exploring the world of VQA wines!