Ontario Report

Wine Access, November 2004

Drawing Boundaries

Ontario producers push for sub-appellations in Niagara, Pelee Island and Erie North Shore

VQA Ontario recently held a series of meetings with wineries and grape growers on the creation of "sub-appellations" within the existing viticultural areas of Niagara, Pelee Island and Erie North Shore. A two-year study of microclimates and soils, led by Dr. Tony Shaw of the Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute at Brock University, was presented and 11 potential sub-appellations were identified. Can we expect a rigid French-style system? "No," said Laurie Macdonald, executive director of VQA Ontario, "we just want to define the geographic areas right now," and she acknowledged that no consensus has emerged that any particular areas of Ontario are the "best" places to grow certain varieties. Macdonald said that although the push for sub-appellations came mainly from producers, "more wineries are using geographical descriptions other than Niagara Peninsula or Lake Erie North Shore. People phone us and ask what it means; what are the boundaries of the Beamsville Bench? The fact is, it's not defined." Macdonald is hopeful that the ongoing consultation process will go smoothly and the official designations will be signed into law as early as next spring.

Retail Wrangle

Ontario VQA stores remain stalled, while Liberals sit on bill

Tim Hudak, a Conservative MPP from Niagara, introduced a private member's bill at Queen's Park in November 2003 to permit privately-run retail outlets to sell VQA wines, but the bill has languished. "Initially I had some encouraging comments from [Liberal] ministers," said Hudak, "but almost a year has passed and I've yet to see any action." Hudak pointed to the successful program in British Columbia, which now has around 20 stores licenced to sell only VQA wines, as a model. There are over 250 privately-run outlets selling Ontario wines, but the number of licences was capped in 1988 in General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs negotiations. Hudak's bill would create "new VQA-only Ontario wine stores. It would allow cross-selling of brands, so multiple wineries would be represented in each store. Currently winery retail stores are limited to selling only the brands of that particular company." Hudak says he is optimistic about the bill and that there is strong support from the wine industry. However, Liberal Minister of Consumer and Business Services, Jim Watson, said that although he likes the idea, the trade agreements are crystal clear: we can't favour domestic products. Watson said that the existing licences were "grandfathered" and that B.C. had re-defined pre-existing licences, something the Ontario industry is reluctant to do. "If we could do this within international law, I'd be the first one there clipping a ribbon at a VQA store," Watson said. In other words, don't hold your breath.

Dowell's Done

After nearly a decade at Inniskillin, Philip Dowell heads back to Australia, and the search is on for his replacement

Inniskillin's winemaker of six years, Philip Dowell, has gone back to Australia. Billion-dollar powerhouse Southcorp, whose wines include Penfolds, Rosemount and Lindemans, has been struggling lately with reduced sales, and offered Dowell the post of head winemaker at a new venture. Inniskillin's Donald Ziraldo said "it was a tough decision, and we had a tearful evening before he and his family left." Ziraldo is confident Inniskillin will continue to produce noteworthy wines: "Karl Kaiser is still doing the icewine, but we're going to find someone else for the table wine. For the 2004 vintage, Dowell surveyed the vineyards, decided on the fruit to use before leaving, and everything was allocated. The Inniskillin team will take care of [the 2004] vintage." The search is underway. "The competition is open to anyone and I want the best person I can get. If I have to go outside Canada, then absolutely I will. We hired Philip because his focus was on pinot noir and chardonnay, and that's still the area we'd like to focus on, so Burgundy might be an area we'll look at. We're focused on cool climate wine style." Ziraldo's in no rush, and he anticipates the new winemaker will not come on board until next year. Hopefully Dowell's replacement will be able to match his sublime 2002 Reserve Pinot which, at $18 or so, is an incredible bargain.

Pelee Island Trials Tempranillo

Described as "finicky," Spain's tempranillo grape gets a workout in Canada's most southerly region

It's the grape that makes Rioja and so it's appropriate that the southernmost winery in Canada is trying its luck with tempranillo. Spain's top varietal was rarely cultivated elsewhere until recently. Now, in addition to plantings in California, Oregon, Mexico and Argentina, there is a patch of tempranillo on Pelee Island. Vineyard manager Bruno Friesen said, "we planted in 2001, but we haven't had a crop yet. They're still a bit finicky." With 500 acres and the warmest climate in Ontario, Pelee Island Winery can afford to try new varieties. Grapes currently being tested include shiraz, malbec, lemberger and bianca, among others. "They may be used for blending, but if something looks promising, we'll try it as a single varietal," said Friesen. Kevin Donohue, vineyard manager at Colio Estates in Lake Erie North Shore, agrees that many reds do better in that part of Ontario. "Our big reds are superior to Niagara's. We're generally warmer all year round, but it's really our longer, warmer fall that benefits those later-ripening red varieties." Last year, Colio Estates' 2000 CEV Merlot Reserve won top honours at Les Citadelles du Vin at VINEXPO in Bordeaux - a first for an Ontario merlot.

Live at the ACCC

The Association of Canadian Community Colleges picks a winner

Niagara College's Winery and Viticulture Technician program earned a Program Excellence Award from the Association of Canadian Community Colleges (ACCC), and was honoured last June in Saskatoon. Niagara College has Canada's only teaching winery and students produced a chardonnay judged 2002 White Wine of the Year at the Canadian Wine Awards. "The program's success is a clear reflection of the quality of the program and our Professor/Winemaker Jim Warren," said Niagara College Dean Jon Ogryzlo.

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