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CanadaWINE150: From Baby Duck to international acclaim

Canadian wine

By Shawn McCormick

OTTAWA — You might say I am infatuated with Canadian wine. But don’t worry, I’m currently quite proud of that label!

After teenage years spent consuming horrible “local wines” (Baby Duck, anyone?), I gave up on Canadian wine for a decade or more. We eventually met neighbours who did an annual wine trip to Niagara, and raved about the wines. Really? Had they really gotten better?

Canada Wine 150We were invited on the next trip, and we got hooked immediately. We visited large and small wineries, and instantly felt a connection to the people growing the grapes and making the wine.

Note: For previous posts on #CanadaWINE 150, go here

This coincided with similar feelings of a disconnect with the suppliers in the food chain, and thus began a bit of an obsession with “local.” We really liked knowing who had grown the grapes that went into our glass.

An early adopter of Twitter, I quickly found interesting wine people to follow, including some prolific writer named @rickwine (yes, Rick VanSickle). He, and others in or around the Ontario wine industry like @benchwineguy (Brian Schmidt of Vineland Estate), @mbosc (Michele Bosc of Chateau des Charmes), @Matt_Loney  (Matt Loney, formerly of Creekside winery) and @suresh (Suresh Doss of Spotlight Toronto) were welcoming and engaging, sharing their love of Ontario’s wines.

Rick and Suresh had great recommendations and through them we started drinking amazing Ontario wines.

They were lighter and more acidic than New World wines we had been drinking, but they were much more food-friendly. Twitter was in its heyday, and almost everyone in the Ontario wine industry was there. We even had our own wine version of March Madness to find the very best grape in all of Canada, with the mostly B.C.-Based “Team Cab Franc” narrowly squeezing out the mostly Ont.-based “Team Riesling”! Wanting to know more about grapes and wines, I enrolled in the sommelier program at Algonquin College. I started a blog, designed an app to find Ontario wineries, and immersed most of my spare time in the Ontario wine industry.

A simple tweet one night from @littlemissmocha (Jen Taylor) based in Calgary who asked why there was a #BCWineChat but not a corresponding #ONWineChat, and the next thing you know, I am co-hosting a weekly chat about Ontario wine with her. We occasionally share the Twitterverse with #BCWineChat on joint topics of national interest, such as #FreeMyGrapes and access to Canadian wines.

With these new B.C. connections, I tried more Canadian wines and really liked what I found. Meeting much of the Canadian wine community through these chats, I came across an interesting local (Ottawa) guy with the handle @TheEvilDoctorD (Calvin Hanselmann). He had some intense knowledge about PEC wines, and through these weekly discussions we became friends.

Canada Wine

One night on #ONWineChat where we were lamenting how few folks appreciated Canadian wine, we concocted a silly idea to drink nothing but Canadian wine for a year. It was a gauntlet first thrown by Calvin to me, but soon there were literally dozens of folks saying they wanted to join in. Thus, “The Great Canadian Wine Challenge” (#TGCWC) was born, and life became a blur for the next 12 months as we organized and ran this competition.

We explored wines from every province that year, and found treasures everywhere across this massive country. We met so many fascinating people from across Canada that year, and happily met many of them in person since. We have become one great big community and we rely on each other to point out the most amazing finds across this great land.

The modern Canadian wine industry, with vinifera grapes, is a baby when compared to Old World countries. But in the 40 years of making wine with these grapes, the industry has likely improved far faster than any other region in the world, and is finally being recognized for what we do well.

Wines made from Cabernet Franc, Riesling, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay have been winning more and more international acclaim. Canada is so large and has so many different micro-climates that there are many other varieties finding their footing, including Cab Sauv, Syrah, Gamay, Pinot Gris, and Gewurztraminer. I still drink mostly Canadian wines, with international wines in my collection used as a gauge as to how we are doing with quality, price, and distinctiveness.

Today, many international experts liken Canadian wines to other regions of the world. Whether Prince Edward County’s “Burgundian-style Chardonnay,” “Bordeaux-style blends” from Niagara, “Alsatian-style Pinot Gris” from the Okanagan, or the “Champagne-like sparkling wines” from Nova Scotia, it is hard not to compare Canada’s emerging wine styles with that of other well-known regions. What I’d like to see for the Canadian wine industry in the future is that our regional styles themselves become a defining standard, such that phrases like “Niagara-style Riesling” or “PEC-style Pinot Noir” become just as commonly used to describe the next great emerging wine region of 2067, if not sooner.

About Shawn McCormick

Shawn McCormick doesn’t work in the wine industry but spends a good deal of his time thinking about it, talking about it, and visiting our great Canadian wineries with his wife, Debbie. When he’s not at his day job, he blogs at UncorkOntario, runs #ONWineChat Wednesday nights at 10 p.m. on Twitter, and is currently renovating an 80-year-old house in Prince Edward County. He won the “VQA Promoter At Large” award in 2014 for his work promoting Ontario and Canadian wine. He’s developed a keen interest in aged Canadian wines, and uses that excuse to continually expand his wine collection. Shawn lives in Ottawa where he manages software teams in the telecom industry, and dreams of retiring to wine country.