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September 2nd, 2014
“ The Harvest Year” of Winemaking in Ontario

Q5. What caused the "pull-outreplace" program and where did it occur?(P36)


“ The Harvest Year” of Winemaking in Ontario

From backyard berries to worldclass ice wines.

By Beth Parker

Living on the shore of Lake Ontario, Torontonians are directly connected to Canada's growing and successful wine industry. Within a few hours we can travel west to the wine regions of Niagara nestled between Lake Ontario and Lake Erie, along the Niagara Escarpment; to wineries on Pelee Island on Lake Erie or wineries by the southern tip of Lake Huron. We can also go east to Prince Edward County where porous limestone soil protects and grows some of our best grapes.

Canadians have been making wine for over two centuries. Even Samuel de Champlain grew a patch of grapes so he could make Claret. But Canada's modern day success growing high quality vinifera-based wines goes back only a quarter century.

Early settlers in Toronto grew their own food and made their own beer. We also have a long history of well known distilleries and breweries. Winemaking, on the other hand, was more of a challenge. Ontario's climate wasn't suitable for the kind of European grapes that produced traditional wine. Our inventive pioneers, however, did find ways to make wine and cordials out of wild grapes, fruit and berries that grew in wooded ravines and along streams, such as those found in the Beaches. They used native wild grapes such as the Wild Woody Grape that wound its way around tree trunks, as well as wild fruit and berries from plants like the Mulberry tree.

Winemaking in Ontario Struggles to Survive

Ontario winemaking in the late 19th century was mostly a kitchen hobby. Any wines made for sale were sold through a local drug store or “out the back door”. Those operating actual wineries, such as John Kilborn and W.W. Kitchen of Grimsby, struggled trying to find the right grapes for our harsh climate. They planted small vineyards mostly using a type of native concord variety called labrusca grapes. Known for their “foxy” flavour, such wines were often mixed with port or claret to make them more palatable and for a time, even exported to England as early Canadian wine.

Winemaking Revives

Times, however, were changing in Ontario and across the country. Increased immigration from countries where wine was viewed as part of a daily diet, altered many former attitudes about consuming alcohol in the home and in public. At the same time, consumers were beginning to demand dry, lower alcohol table wines traditional to Europe instead of sweeter Ontario varieties. These factors forced the few wine producers of the day to advance research and develop better methods for growing and making wine. Wineries like Brights revved up their determination to find a way to grow a hardier form of vinifera grape in Ontario's climate. Although some scoffed at their efforts, these wineries began to make progress.

1974 is seen as a major turning point in Ontario's winemaking history. That year, the LCBO granted a new license to make wine to partners Donald Ziraldo and Karl Kaiser, founders of Inniskillin Wines. Other new licenses followed for wineries such as Chateau des Charmes and Cave Spring Cellars. Ontario's wine industry was about to take a leap forward and never look back.

Winemaking

Comes of Age Three major events propelled Ontario's wine industry forward. First, due to free trade in 1988, Canada's wine industry was no longer protected. This sped up the urgency to produce premium wines to compete in the North American market. This resulted in the second event, the “pull-out-replace program”. Old vineyards were pulled down and replaced with new vinifera grapes vines developed specifically for our cooler climate. Finally during the same period, Vintners Quality Alliance launched winemaking standards, issuing the VQA mark of approval for the best wines. These factors all came together to create the quality, traditional-tasting Ontario wines we enjoy today: Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, etc.

Ontario Wines on Top

The 1990s was a decade of rapid growth with commercial wineries growing from about 30 in 1990 to well over 100 by 2000. Consumers now recognized the value of VQA wines.

In turn, Canadian wines captured recognition for Canada around the world, beginning in 1991 when Inniskillin won the Prix d'Honneur for its 1989 Icewine at the prestigious VinExpo in Bordeaux, France. The first research centre in the world for “cool climate” wines was established in 1997 at Brock University. In January 2001, Ontario's Wine Content Act became law to regulate wine making in Ontario.

Today, Canadians increasingly appreciate and love their Canadian wines. Although still considered a small industry, it is a success story that continues to unfold.


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