Monday, March 20. 2017
I have just taken a few weeks break after participating in this year’s Vancouver International Wine Festival in February. For those who may not be familiar with it, the VIWF is Canada’s premier annual wine festival. Each year, the spotlight shines on a particular country or wine region. This time around the featured country was Canada. The home Province, British Columbia, was out in force with close to sixty wineries represented. Ontario, Canada’s largest wine region, had a more modest presence with only 15 wineries present. Much smaller Nova Scotia, however, took full advantage of the opportunity to shine, with 6 wineries on parade.
The Vancouver hosts, organizers of the festival, local representatives of the hospitality trade as well as media were very welcoming and hospitable. From the start, there was a definite buzz about Nova Scotia. West Coasters were genuinely excited and interested to find out more about this small wine region at the other end of the country. At the show, the Nova Scotia winery booths were clustered close together, with a prominently placed display and tasting booth entirely devoted to Nova Scotia’s unique Tidal Bay Appellation wines.
I spent some time watching people gathered around the Nova Scotia corner, gauging the volume of traffic and the reactions of visitors. Evidently, Nova Scotia sparkling wines as well as Tidal Bay wines were very well received. Returning native British Columbian, Bruce Ewert of l’Acadie Vineyards, garnered special attention. Ewert had an established reputation as a respected sparkling winemaker in the Okanagan before establishing, together with his Nova Scotian partner, l’Acadie Vineyards in the Gaspereau Valley. People were particularly interested in tasting his certified organic Traditional Method sparkling wines. I caught a clip from Global TV showing visitors reactions to tasting Nova Scotia wines, together with interviews with Bruce Ewert and other Nova Scotia winery people, all reflecting very favourable impressions of the region.
Together with expert speakers from the other two regions, British Columbia and Ontario, I had the opportunity to take part in a Trade and Media Master Class panel discussion on Canadian Sparkling wines. This was a rare opportunity to showcase top examples of Canada’s fine sparkling wines from Coast to Coast. There were five wines from B.C., including one from Vancouver Island and four each from Ontario and Nova Scotia.
There were some very good wines in the lineup, with standouts from all three regions, demonstrating that Canada’s cool climate viticulture is well suited to producing top sparkling wines. I was particularly impressed with the Ontario offering, “Cuvée Peter Huff 2011,” from Huff Estates, VQA Prince Edward County. It showed great delicacy and finesse with fine mousse, white peach and mineral character. Also remarkably good was the “Trius Brut NV, VQA Niagara Peninsula” which presented soft floral and stone fruit notes backed by incisive acidity and firm stony grip.
I thought that the B.C. sparklers in the tasting were more diverse in style and not necessarily the best that the region has to offer. Averill Creek Vineyard, from Vancouver Island, presented their “Charme de l’isle NV,” a Charmat method fizz in a pleasing, easy drinking style reminiscent of Prosecco. Perhaps the most interesting B.C. offering was the Cipes Brut NV from Summerhill Pyramid Winery. This wine is an unusual blend of Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc. It presented intriguing minty, floral, citrus and green apple character together with a subtle smokiness. I thought that Summerhill’s “Blanc de Blancs, 2010,” which had been presented at an earlier session, was a more classic example of what this winery can do. It showed delicate floral scents with green apple, stony mineral, bright acidity and creamy richness on the palate.
The four Nova Scotia wineries each presented vintage-dated Traditional Method wines with some bottle age. All manifested the clean pure fruit, lively acidity and firm minerality produced by Nova Scotia’s distinctive terroir. L’Acadie Vineyards “Prestige Brut Estate, 2010” showcased the qualities of l’Acadie Blanc, Nova Scotia's most consistent white variety, with additional complexity from extended five year tirage. While Domaine de Grand Pré “Vintage Brut, 2009” and Benjamin Bridge “Brut Reserve, 2008” both showed well, the standout this time around was Blomidon Estate Winery’s “Late Pick Chardonnay, 2011.” It revealed excellent development with enticing floral perfume, rich creamy brioche, fine citrus fruit, and an unctuously creamy palate balanced by bright acidity and firm mineral grip.
Over the course of the festival, I had the opportunity to taste a wide variety of very impressive Canadian wines. The range of styles and diverse grape varieties that now thrive in Canada’s far-flung wine regions is amazing. From the time that I served as a judge in the early days of the Canadian Wine Awards (2000-2005), the evolution to more clearly focused wines, reflecting greater understanding of regional terroir, together with vastly improved quality has put Canadian wine in another league.
There was growing support expressed during the expert sessions for the idea of “Brand Canada,” a unified Canadian strategy for developing more export opportunities for Canadian wines as a whole. Unfortunately, the Balkanised nature of the country, with jealously guarded Provincial jurisdictions, continues to work against this eminently sensible plan. Nonetheless, the good will expressed in Vancouver may have planted some seeds leading towards a more collaborative strategy in the future.
Vancouver International Wine Festival 2017