Canadians are thinking more critically about where their food comes from and, as many strive to incorporate local products into their diets, sourcing homegrown wine is no exception.
“Every year we see Ontarians and Canadians becoming prouder of local product and that includes local wine,” says Magdalena Kaiser, director of Public Relations for the Vineland, Ont.-based Wine Marketing Association of Ontario.
Statistics from the LCBO confirm consumers are supporting local wine, with Canadian wine sales accounting for about 25 per cent of its total wine sales in 2018.
Véronique Rivest, sommelier and owner of SOIF wine bar in Gatineau, Que., agrees the locavore movement is impacting wine sales across Canada. “It’s great to see how Canadians are embracing their own wine industry. Canadians now know that we do make great wine,” says Rivest.
But long gone are the days when Canada was synonymous with icewine. Now, experts say one of the greatest strengths of the Canadian wine industry is the variety of wines produced in different regions across the country. “You can’t say ‘this is what Canada does great’ because there’s so much difference from region to region,” says Rivest.
Heather McDougall, general manager and sommelier at Montecito restaurant in Toronto, agrees regional identity plays an important role. “There’s such a great diversity of style out there,” she says. “We’re not all making the same wine anymore.”
While Canadians are excited about their own wine, recognition on a global scale is coming more slowly. “Icewine is the igloo of the wine world,” jokes Rivest. “Many people associate us with it. So, there’s still work to do there; to show the world we go way beyond that.”
Miles Prodan, president and CEO of the Kelowna-based British Columbia Wine Institute, also acknowledges that much of the world has misconceptions about Canadian wine. “People that know of Canada as a wine region in export markets and outside of North America tend to think about Icewine,” he confirms. “The challenge for us is to let people know that not only are we able to grow and make wine, but it’s great.”
For many small-scale Canadian producers, the desire for international appreciation is tied to prestige rather than an opportunity to tap into export markets. “We’re relatively small in terms of overall production,” says Prodan, “but we get validation through a lot of the international competitions our wineries enter and do very well in. We know we’re on the right track just by those results.”
The same goes for many wineries McDougall works with at Montecito, which generate enough local business to support production. “For the most part, they sell through their vintages at the cellar door,” says McDougall. “They don’t need a local agent or export market.”
Beyond export markets, Rivest and Prodan both point out that increased global recognition of Canadian wine could mean a welcome boost for the country’s growing wine-tourism industry — but first the world will have to see Canada as a noteworthy wine destination. “We have to stop being afraid of claiming how good we are,” says Rivest. “We have to stop being so humble.”
Written by Jessica Huras