CanadaCompared to the established European wine producers, the wines of the United States, South America, Australia, New Zealand and Canada are considered New World Wines. They are also some of the most interesting and exciting wines to appear on the world market in the past few years, and the selection and quality from each of these areas is growing all the time. Canada makes some of the best wines in the world. Our Ice wines are renowned throughout the world and, while we may not have the wealth of history and tradition that Europe does, our winemakers are establishing a reputation for making very high-quality wines.
In Canada, grapes for wine production are grown in British Columbia, Ontario, Nova Scotia and Quebec. There are three major categories of grapes grown in Canada. They are vitis labrusca, vitis and hybrids.
Vitis Labrusca: This is the species of grapes that is native to North America and includes such varieties as Concord and Niagara. These vines have always been well suited to our climate and soil, producing a high yield per acre. They are also disease and pest resistant, causing less difficulty to growers. During the beginning of our wine industry, they made up the bulk of our ports, Sherries and sweet sparkling wines like Moody Blue and Baby Duck.
Today, labrusca is now part of our past. Most growers have taken out the majority of their labrusca vines, and with the wine producers they are now far more interested in the quality they can get from vinifera and hybrid vines. In our best table wines, the VQA wines, labrusca varieties are not permitted.
Vitis Vinifera: This is the species of grape that is native to Europe. These classic grapes produce wines that are sought by wine drinkers throughout the world. They include Chardonnay, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Gamay, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc. When Europeans moved to Canada, many found that labrusca grapes gradually began introducing these classic vines to Canada in order to satisfy the growing market for European style wines. While this was definitely a wise move for the long term, introducing these grapes was not easy.
The tiny parasite called phylloxera, a burrowing plant louse that is native to North America, almost put an end to all winemaking. In the early 1860s, vines sent United States carried phylloxera to Europe, where it ate its way through wine industry. It wasn’t until 1879, when the grafting of vinifera vines to American rootstock was discovered as a cure for this problem, that the destruction stopped. This discovery also meant European vines could be grafted and planted here in Canada. It takes four to five years for a vine to begin producing grapes of high enough quality and quantity to make wine. For a grower to take a vineyard out of production for four years at one time seemed almost impossible, but in the end the change to quality vinifera vines has paid off well.
Still, the more delicate vinifera varieties require extra work to protect them from Canada’s extremely cold winter temperatures. The graft is the weakest part of the vine and must be covered with dirt during the winter months in order to protect it. It must then be uncovered each spring. With the extra labour and the lower yield per acre, it becomes easy to see why some growers were slow to change to vinifera vines. Change, though, was inevitable and it soon paid off. As early as 1985, the wineries were paying almost four times the price of labrusca for vinifera.
Hybrids: Many of these grapes were originally developed in France by crossing different vines with North American varieties. The aim of these was to combine the delicate flavour of vinifera varieties with the more robust, winter hardy and disease resistant native North American varieties. A number of these hybrids have been grown very successfully for many years. In Canada, varieties such as Marechal Foch, Vidal, Seyval and Baco noir are becoming more popular these days as our producers learn how to get better quality out of them. Many of our wineries are using these grapes for both blended and single varietal wines.
Although many states produce wine, California is perhaps the most famous and the most popular producer. Its wine history goes back to the early days of the Spanish Missions settling there, and its first wine grape variety was called the Mission.
Unfortunately, the American wine industry suffered greatly during prohibition. Unlike Ontario where domestic wineries continued to operate during Prohibition, the U.S. banned total wine production and consumption. As a result, the industry had a start from scratch after 1933 when Prohibition was repealed. Since that time, a combination of science, technology, experimentation and innovation have brought California wines into the arena of the world-class contenders.
The wineries in California range from Gallo, begun just after Prohibition and now the world’s largest winery, to many small, family operated cottage wineries that began springing up in the early 1970’s. Most Californian wines available these days, regardless of who makes them, are varietals. This means they take their names directly from the grape they are made from and that name is displayed on the label-like Chardonnay.
European places names like Burgundy, Rhine and Chablis, also used as wine descriptions, are now disappearing and in their place we see more vinifera varieties- Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. If all these wines have a common characteristic, it is that the fruit in them is very forward, regardless of grape type. You can smell the grape types very distinctly in California wine.
The sunny, warm climate of California and increasing interest in wine has made Napa and Sonoma Valleys great tourist attractions. Just 60 miles north of San Francisco, Napa valley alone has over 200 wineries. Many of these offer tours, tasting, picnic areas and restaurants so that you can enjoy their wines in their natural setting.
Australia is the opposite of Europe in many ways. Europe is in the northern hemisphere, Australia is in the southern. Where Europe is a comparatively young continent with fertile soils, Australia is a very old continent with considerably impoverished soils.
In terms of climate, Australia is again the opposite of Europe because it is a very hot continent. As with any grape growing area, grapes best where temperatures are moderate. In Europe, grapes are grown on the warm fringes of a cool landmass, while in Australia they are grown on the cool margins of a hot area. As the map shows, the majority of grapes growing areas in Australia are found in the south. The north is simply too hot- the majority of it is desert.
Australia is a young country in terms of winemaking. Few of the viticultural areas have been established long enough to determine which areas best suit which varieties, so a lot of experimenting still takes place.
Winemakers tend to stick with what works best for them, but there are s few regional rules in Australia. While these rules are not laws for the whole country like the AOC, DOCG or VQA systems, they are set down by their agricultural department as follows:
Vintage: 95% of the wine in the bottle must be from the year stated on the label.
Variety: if the label only states one variety, 85% of the wine has to be made from that variety. If it states more than one variety, they have to be listed in descending order of volume.
Region: If an area is stated on the label, 85% of the grapes used have to have come from that region. (Some regions are rather large. Like South Australia, so this is not as specific as it implies.)
Australia winemaking style over the past 30 years has been to achieve the primary varietal fruit flavour and barrel ferment or age in new oak. For example, a chardonnay will have a distinctly varietal nose of warm apple, pear or tropical fruit with oaky notes of vanilla and toast. This approach has contributed to a unique Australian style with most varietals.
Unlike most of the winemaking world, Australia has no native grape varieties. The first commercial planting took place in the 1820s and 30s. Scottish born James Busby brought vine cutting back with him from Europe and planted the first vineyard in the famous hunter Valley. He came to be considered the father of Australia winemaking.
The largest planting was and still is Sultana, better known to Canadians as Thompson Seedless. It is very hardy and produces enormous quantities, but is best used in bulk wine. The same grape is used in California to make bulk and fortified wines. In the 1960s, things changed. Australians saw their bulk wines losing ground in the world market and investigated what was selling from other New World winemakers- classic varietals such as Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling, Semillon, Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc.
Shiraz, also known in the northern Cotes-du-Rhone as Syrah, was being used to make fortified port wines because it grew well in hotter regions and hot a lot of flavour on its own. Some experimenting turned this into a superb, rich, dry, spicy red table wine.
Australia now has the highest per capita consumption of table wine in the English speaking world, the equivalent of 26 bottles per year or twice as much as that of the U.S. In 1960, that figure was less than 3 bottles per year. However, bag-in-a-box wines are still the most popular and beer consumption outranks everything.
Much like Ontario, New Zealand’s quality wine production began slowly and relatively late. The first plantings were in the 1970s, in the damp subtropical regions around Auckland, which was not necessarily the best for grape growing. In the beginning, phylloxera made it necessary to plant hybrid grape varieties. This didn’t matter a great deal because the local market was mostly interested in fortified wines. Eventually, the potential for good quality white wines are realized on South Island’s northern tip, around Marlborough, an area renowned for excellence soil and long, slow ripening.
New Zealand winemakers produce some fascinating wines but the best is Sauvignon Blanc. Considered by exports to be the most intensely fragrant Sauvignon Blanc in the world, these wines are among the most exciting and flavourful wines for anyone seeking interesting alternatives to Chardonnay.
While Sauvignon Blanc is their most famous, their light, spicy Gewurtztraminers, well rounded Chardonnays, soft and herbaceous Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noirs are well worth trying.
When you read about the history of wine, you find over and over again one peculiar truth- that soldiers and wine go hand in hand. From the time of the ancient Greeks and Romans, wherever soldiers go, so goes their wine. It the wine doesn’t go, the soliders tend not to stick around.
In the early 16th century, when Spain sent soldiers off searching for gold in the New World, they tried to send their wines with them. Unfortunately, these wines rarely managed to last the entire voyage across the Atlantic without turning into vinegar. As a result of this, as soon as these soldiers, explorers or monks dropped anchor in their part of the New York (now called South America) one of the first things they did was growing vines.
The grape they used was called the Pais in Chile or the Criolla in Argentina. It was originally from Spain, and according to legend the first vines planted came from raisin pips in the soldier’s rations. A more likely explanation is that Franciscan monks brought vine cuttings with them from Spain. However, you can no longer find the variety in neither Spain nor any record of Spanish wines made from it.
It would also be known as the Mission grape, the first wine grape ever to be cultivated on a large scale in California. Franciscan. Franciscan monks took it with them from South America when they moved up into North America.
For centuries the Mission was the only wine grape used in South America. The wines were not the best quality, but the wines were hardy and produced large yields. In South America today, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Peru and Uruguay all make their own wines.
In Peru, Brazil and Uruguay production can barely keep up with local consumption. Unfortunately, Their wines are rarely seen outside their own borders and all three usually import wine from Argentina in order to keep up with local demand. Chile has the largest export market.