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As the calendar changes to October and the mad rush begins to get the rest of the grape harvest in tanks and barrels from B.C. to Ontario, there is no shortage in Canadian wine news and several ch-ch-changes in the industry.

From the potential sale of Constellation Brands Inc. coveted Canadian brands — including Inniskillin and Jackson-Triggs — to winemakers playing musical chairs to new wine books by local Niagara authors hitting the shelves just in time for the Christmas season, we run down some of the more interesting items in the news.

A wine giant looks to sell Canadian gem

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With news last week, broken by the Wall Street Journal, that Constellation Brands Inc. has put its Canadian wine business on the block in an auction that could rake in more than US$1 billion, attention turns to who the mystery suitor might be.

The WST journal said the N.Y.-based company has received offers for the Canadian business from several, including the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan and a potential buyer from the alcohol industry whose identity couldn’t be confirmed.

The potential sale reflects Constellation’s goal of streamlining its business to focus on premium wines and beer in the U.S.

Constellation said last spring that it planned to explore an initial public offering for the Canadian business, according to the WSJ. That changed when the company received takeover overtures for the business.

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Bought in 2006 in its roughly US$1.1 billion takeover of Vincor International Inc., Constellation said its Canadian business now accounts for about 10% of total sales, roughly US$655 million for the fiscal year ended Feb. 29. It includes eight Canadian wineries, about 1,700 acres of Canadian vineyards and a network of growers who support Canadian-made brands. The vineyards are primarily in the Niagara region of Ontario and the Okanagan Valley in B.C.

The deal would include the coveted 160-plus wine rack stores in Ontario. Those retail licenses will lose some value after Oct. 28 when a new law makes wine available at grocery stores in the province. Eventually, up to 300 grocery stores will be licensed to sell wine.

The stock market seemed pleased with the news; Constellation shares rose 1.7% to $166.49 in trading Friday.

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So, who might the mysterious potential “alcohol industry” suitor be? You probably don’t have to be a genius to guess that Andrew Peller Limited, which controls the vast majority of retail licences not own by Constellation, would be at the top of the list.

Having nearly complete control of those grandfathered licences to sell their products outside of the LCBO monopoly is just too attractive to pass up even with the changes coming to grocery sales of wine, cider and beer.

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Adding Jackson-Triggs and Inniskillin and other Canadian Constellation Brands to Peller’s stable, which includes: Peller Estates, Sandhill, Trius, Wayne Grezky, Red Rooster, Calona and Thirty Bench, makes for a formidable force on the Canadian wine scene. And let’s not forget the blended wine domination — those wines that contain only a limited amount of Canadian wine blended with foreign grape juice — that are a source of contention for many wine lovers but a cash cow for the both Constellation and Peller.

Would a Constellation sale to Peller for good Canadian consumers?

I don’t have the answer to that, but it would be a sea change for the Canadian industry with one company in control of most of the grapes grown in this country, most of the brands (by volume), most of the clout, nearly all the private store licences and unprecedented power to lobby governments in favour of their goals.

Some interesting times ahead.

Vancouver International Wine Festival
features Canadian wines

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The Vancouver International Wine Festival announced the winery lineup for the 39th annual festival, which takes place Feb. 11-19, 2017. The eight-day wine and food extravaganza will showcase 182 wineries from 16 countries, including 77 wineries from featured country Canada and 105 additional producers from around the world, pouring 1,550+ wines at 55 events.

The winery list is below.

“In February, more than 100 international producers will travel to Vancouver to help 77 vintners from Nova Scotia, Ontario and British Columbia celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary,” said David Hopgood, chair of the Winery Selection Committee. “The exceptional roster includes, for the first time, a winery from Turkey. Fifty old world producers (including 16 French and 20 Italian) and 50 new world wineries, plus sake-makers from Japan and Canada, will show their wares alongside the best from Canada.”

The festival is headquartered at the Vancouver Convention Centre; in addition, more than 25 other restaurants and venues around the city will host winery dinners, lunches, seminars and wine minglers. The sumptuous Bacchanalia Gala Dinner + Auction, benefiting Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival, kicks off the festival on Feb. 11 at the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver; tickets and tables are on sale now. The heart of the festival is the Acura Tasting Room, where all 182 wineries will gather for four International Festival Tastings and two Trade Tastings. Discounted advance tickets for the International Festival Tastings go on sale Tuesday, Nov. 1 at 9:30 a.m.

The Wine World Celebrates Canada

In honour of Canada’s 150th birthday in 2017, VanWineFest will host the largest gathering ever of Canadian wineries at an international festival. Canadian wineries will have a featured section in the tasting room, and will be showcased in special events throughout the week.

“Our industry has undergone such rapid growth, with the number of Canadian wineries almost doubling within the last decade,” said Dan Paszkowski, president and CEO of the Canadian Vintners Association. “It’s therefore an excellent time to showcase ‘Wines of Canada’ at the 2017 Vancouver International Wine Festival. We are confident that festival goers will be impressed and wowed by the selection, diversity and quality of our terroir-driven wines, which highlight the best of Nova Scotia, Ontario and British Columbia.”

Canada’s importance, not just as a world-class producer of wine, but also as a major importer of wine, is reflected in the strong lineup of international wineries at next year’s festival, with 15 other countries represented. Canada is the seventh largest wine market in the world, and the fourth largest wine importer in sales value.

Save the Dates

Advance tickets go on sale Tuesday, November 1 at 9:30 a.m.
All public events go on sale Tuesday, January 10 at 9:30 a.m.
All trade events go on sale Tuesday, January 17, at 9:30 a.m.

For more information about the Vancouver International Wine Festival go to here.

The wines

British Columbia

8th Generation Vineyard Lake Breeze Vineyards
50th Parallel Estate Laughing Stock Vineyards
Averill Creek Vineyard Liquidity Wines
Baillie-Grohman Estate Winery Maverick Estate Winery
Bartier Bros. Meyer Family Vineyards
Bench 1775 Mission Hill Family Estate
Black Hills Estate Winery Moon Curser Vineyards
Blasted Church Vineyards Moraine Estate Winery
Burrowing Owl Estate Winery Nk’Mip Cellars
C.C. Jentsch Cellars Noble Ridge Vineyard & Winery
Cassini Cellars One Faith Vineyards
CedarCreek Estate Winery Osoyoos Larose
Chaberton Estate Winery Painted Rock Estate Winery
Church & State Wines Pentâge Winery
Culmina Family Estate Winery Poplar Grove Winery
Evolve Cellars Quails’ Gate Winery
Ex Nihilo Vineyards Red Rooster
Fort Berens Estate Winery Road 13 Vineyards
Foxtrot Vineyards Sandhill
Gehringer Brothers Estate Winery Sperling Vineyards
Gold Hill SpierHead Winery
Harper’s Trail Estate Winery Stag’s Hollow Winery
Haywire Summerhill Pyramid Winery
Hester Creek Estate Winery
Tantalus Vineyards
Hillside Winery Tightrope Winery
Howling Bluff Estate Winery TIME Winery
Inniskillin Okanagan Estate Tinhorn Creek Vineyards
Intersection Winery Township 7 Vineyards & Winery
Jackson-Triggs Estate Winery Unsworth Vineyards
LA FRENZ WINERY Wild Goose Vineyards and Winery

Nova Scotia

Benjamin Bridge Domaine de Grand Pre
Blomidon Estate Winery L’Acadie Vineyards
Devonian Coast Wineries Luckett Vineyards

Ontario

Château des Charmes Inniskillin Niagara Estate
Closson Chase Jackson-Triggs Niagara Estate
Colio Estate Wines Pelee Island Winery
Domaine Queylus Pillitteri Estates Winery
Hidden Bench Vineyards and Winery Trius Winery

Mark your calendar for Cuvee 2017

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One of Ontario’s most sought-after wine and culinary events, the 29th annual Cuvée Grand Tasting, will take place Friday, March 24, 2017 at the Scotiabank Convention Centre in Niagara Falls.

This announcement comes as organizers report Cuvée 2016 generated net revenues of more than $36,000, most of which will go to support student scholarships and grape and wine research through the Cuvée Legacy Fund.

Organized by Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI), the 2016 Cuvée Grand Tasting was a sold-out event that took place March 4 showcasing 50 VQA wineries and 12 celebrated chefs.

“It’s thanks to the support and enthusiasm of our sponsors and attendees that we are able to increase this year’s contribution to the Cuvée Legacy Fund,” said CCOVI Director Debbie Inglis. “This fund allows us to help students offset their education costs and provide support for research priorities identified by the grape and wine industry.”

The funding from the 2015 event is already making a difference. For PhD candidate Jennifer Kelly, receiving the first Cuvée Graduate Scholarship has meant that she has had more time to focus on her studies.

“Not only has the Cuvée scholarship allowed me to focus more on my research, the project that I’m working on has practical applications that will impact the Ontario grape and wine industry, which is equally valuable,” Kelly said.

Of the net proceeds, $33,000 has been placed in the Cuvée Legacy Fund. The remaining $3,670 will go to support the Niagara Community Foundation, in recognition of their work in overseeing Cuvée for several years before CCOVI took over stewardship of the event.

Tickets for the 2017 Cuvée Grand Tasting went on sale Oct. 1. Noel Buckley, President and General Manager of the Scotiabank Convention Centre, said the venue is proud to partner with Brock for the second consecutive year to host the event.

“Distinguished events such as Cuvée celebrate the time-honoured tradition of viticulture, and highlight the excellence of Ontario wines, particularly those from Niagara, as some of the finest in the world,” said Buckley.

Shari Fanson, an LCBO Product Consultant in St. Catharines, appreciated the concept that each winemaker was able to select their favourite wine to pour.

“It was truly an incredible experience,” Fanson said. “Being able to taste the winemakers’ favourites really showcased the complexity and quality of the wine we make here in Ontario.”

Learn more about Cuvée and the positive impact it has on the industry and Brock University students at cuvee.ca

Ch-ch-changes

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As harvest hits, some winemakers hit the road to ply their trade at different wineries. It’s an annual rite of fall.

Former Hernder winemaker Lydia Tomek made the trek to Burning Kiln Winery to take over as head winemaker this fall.

Tomek spent the early days of her career with Hillebrand and Jackson-Triggs Wineries. She became head winemaker at Hernder where she spent the last decade.

A graduate of Brock University, Tomek has spent years perfecting her trade and falling in love with wine and the winemaking process all over again. Lydia, an alumna of the Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture program, loves the connection she has as a winemaker to the celebrations and memories that people create while drinking her wines.

“It is an incredible feeling and honour to start my new wine adventure with Burning Kiln Winery. Being able to intimately work with grapes grown on Burning Kiln’s rich soils and unique landscape, along with utilizing tobacco kilns in parts of the winemaking process, is an exciting opportunity not only for myself but also for the Ontario South Coast. I look forward to working with so many incredible people to help build the Ontario South Coast as one of Canada’s great wine regions,” said Tomek.

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Replacing Tomek at Hernder is former Small Talk Vineyards and Riverview winemaker Angela Kasimos.

Also in the news, Ross Wise, who only recently took over winemaking duties at Good Earth Wine Company and was the winemaker at Rosewood Estates Winery, has moved on to craft wines in the Oakangan Valley with a new company called Phantom Creek on the Black Sage Bench. Taking his place is Leaning Post owner and winemaker Ilya Senchuk as consulting winemaker. Taking his place at Rosewood is Ryan Corrigan, a CCOVI-trained winemaker who was previously an associate winemaker at Pearl Morissette with experience at Hidden Bench, Kim Crawford and Opus One in Napa.

Local authors share their life in wine

Two timely wine books from Niagara residents are hitting the shelves just in time for Christmas.

 

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Motivated by his passion for all things wine, Larry Horne of St. Catharines has written a “rich and colourful” memoir that documents his exploits as a wine collector, winemaker, wine grower, and, a second career as sales manager for Calamus Estate Winery of Jordan.

Besotted: My Love Affair with Wine, published by Sonderho Press of Ottawa, is Horne’s ode to the world of wine. It is a richly detailed account of the many ways wine has influenced his life: career choices, travel, friendships, reading, and recreation.

The 68-year-old Horne, a Toronto native, made the move to St. Catharines in 2005 to help launch and operate Calamus Estate, the start of an eight-year gig selling and marketing the winery’s products. In 2007, to round out his sales offerings, he started selling wines from nearby Kacaba Vineyards.

Although Horne had always worked in sales, his years of experience did not transfer easily to the wine industry, where every contact in the early going was a “cold call.” His accounts of selling cases of wine to Toronto restaurants versus his experience in broadcast advertising sales, where million-dollar deals were the norm, are fascinating.

Any aspiring salesperson or experienced sales representative would do well to read the book, if only for Horne’s advice on how to succeed in sales.

Along with Alice Bannon, his wife of 40 years, Horne has explored wine regions, visited producers, and tasted wines on five continents, searching for the ultimate wine experience These adventures figure prominently in Besotted, and wine and travel enthusiasts everywhere will benefit from Horne’s insightful recounting of wine-tasting experiences in California, New Zealand, Italy, Germany, and France, among others.

Horne is a staunch advocate for Ontario wine and Ontario winemakers. His observations on the state of the industry and its future are a fascinating aspect of the book.

Here’s what local wine-industry leader Paul Speck has to say about Horne: “Larry’s passion for wine knows no bounds, particularly for Niagara wines. I first met Larry as an enthusiastic customer, always at various Ontario wine tastings and later as a colleague in the business. I enjoyed being reminded of some of the many characters in the early days of the Niagara wine scene.”

Besotted: My Love Affair with Wine is available Oct 15 at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Chapters/Indigo and can be ordered From the author at horneland@msn.com for $25 which includes postage.

To Build A Vineyard, The story of Back 10 Cellars is a new wine book by Christina Brooks.

to_build_a_vineyard_cDespite limited funds — and even more limited knowledge of farming and agriculture — Christina and Andrew Brooks took the big leap and bought a “diamond in the rough”, a faded grand dame of a house and a derelict farm, smack in the middle of Niagara wine country in their late 20s.

To Build a Vineyard is the story of the decade Christina and Andrew Brooks spent battling fire, goats, debt and doubt in order to build their vineyard and live their dream.

It’s a fascinating, funny and moving read that reveals the relentlessly rocky, but ultimately rewarding road that eventually lead to the creation of one of Canada’s most exciting small-batch wineries, the award winning Back 10 Cellars.

Take home an author signed copy of To Build a Vineyard. $15.99 + HST, available at the winery.