Nancy's Travelblogue

... there isn't a train I wouldn't take, no matter where it's going. -- Edna St. Vincent Millay

Location: California, United States

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


Visiting the Okanagan Valley got me really interested in Canadian viticulture, so I looked it up in the Oxford Companion to Wine. So interesting that I will summarize it here.

As of 1997 Canada had as much land cultivated for grape growing as New Zealand. Growing areas are concentrated in four provinces: Ontario (60 wineries, 560 vineyards, 18,000 acres), British Columbia (55 wineries, 132 vineyards, 4000 acres), Nova Scotia (4 wineries, 150 acres), and Quebec (30 wineries, 330 acres). (1998 statistics).

The Canadian wine industry begins in 1811 when the German Johann Schiller domesticated the labrusda vines he found growing along the Credit River near Toronto. But not till 1866 was Canada's first winery, Vin Villa, established, on Pelee Island on Lake Erie. In the late 19th century the industry grew quickly, yielding 76 commercial wineries by the end of the century.

In the Okanagan Valley and along the St. Lawrence River it was the Church rather than the farmers who encouraged the industry. Prohibition in Canada (yes, they had it too!!) began in 1916, and actually was good to the wine trade. Thanks to some wild political lobbying, wine was exempt from prohibition and the number of wineries actually increased during this period.

But other government regulations emerged during this period. The Provincial Board Liquor System created government monopolies which still control alcoholic beverages in Canada and collected millions of dollars in tax revenue. This may have changed in the past decade as some provinces are privatizing wineries.

Canadian wines may have a poor reputation or no reputation at all, but that is changing quickly. Until the 1970s Canada was known for fruity highly alcoholic wines. But recently boutique wineries have emerged in the four wine growing regions. SOURCE: The Oxford Companion to Wine / edited by Jancis Roginson, 2nd ed. (Oxford University Press, 1999)
Since we were in the Okanagan Valley, I was most interested in viticulture from that area. This Valley is actually a desert - the northern tip of the Sonoran Desert, and temperatures are mitigated by the Okanagan Lake which flows through the center of the valley. The most common grapes grown here are Merlot, then Chardonnay. The best known winery in the area is Mission Hills Winery, but I really enjoyed visiting the Gray Monk winery.

Then there is the wine itself and how it makes you feel. I love these quotes from the Gray Monk reception room wall:

In wine there is truth if you drink enough,
In wine there is wisdom if you drink the best,
In wine there is bliss if you drink the rest.
God in His goodness gave us the grapes
To drink both great and small
Little fools will drink too much
And great fools not at all.



Blogger Nancy said...

Update: Oxford Companion to Wine author Jancis Robinson visited the Okanagan Valley in August. Check out her article at the Financial Times, - Nancy

8/24/2009 9:28 PM  

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