The grape escape

Just the other day, I cracked open a special bottle of wine gifted to me by a friend for my 30th birthday. It was one of the most dynamic and enjoyable wines to reach my lips in ages.

Now, you know I’m no wine snob (see Aug. 15, 2013 editorial “Tap That,” about wine snobs), but I certainly take great pleasure in tasting and comparing reds – from beaujolais to merlot – and have developed a taste for whites – mainly dry ones like chardonnay and sauvignon blanc – recently, too.

It all started a few years back when I worked in a kitchen in Montreal. The servers there taught me all about the French growing regions and grape types and how to do pairings (though I was never really one for following rules. I can’t drink a cabernet sauvignon without red meat? Pfft)! The chef introduced me to Lebanese wines from the Bekaa Valley as well as his favourite Greek and Italian ones. He was definitely an old school, old world kind of guy. When I moved back to Ontario, though, and started shopping at LCBOs again, I rediscovered the vastness of our province’s own wine selection.

They pack their own punch, I’d say. Ontario wines really do hold their own. That’s why when I checked the label of the special birthday bottle, I wasn’t overly surprised to read it came from the Niagara Peninsula.

And it’s starting to catch on.

Wine imports are on the rise in Canada but so is consumption of domestic wine. All the while, Ontario wineries are winning international awards for quality and innovation, especially for our unique ice wines.

It’s a huge business too.

According to the Grape Growers of Ontario, Ontario is Canada’s top grape producer – making up about 2/3 of national production – while 97 per cent of Ontario grapes are used for wine products (the other three per cent for products like juice and jelly). In 2012, the Ontario wine industry generated retail sales of $662 million as well as $644 million in related tourism activity. The industry employs about 14,000 people and is worth about $3.3 billion overall. In 2012, the wine industry generated $602 million in tax revenues and mark-ups.

It boils down to every bottle of Ontario wine generating about $39.67 of economic impact in the province.

And 2013 was a record year for Ontario grape production. The grapes will produce enough wine to fill the equivalent of 1,134 Olympic-sized hockey rinks.

Last month the province renewed its Wine and Grape Strategy, which is committed to an investment of $75 million over five years to help support the industry. With other major Southern Ontario industries such as manufacturing setting up shop in foreign countries or closing doors all together, it’s a relief to know the Wynne government has proven its commitment to this growing industry.

I support eating (and drinking) local products whenever possible. They are fresher, are handled less and travel far shorter distances than say Australian or Chilean wines. By buying Ontario wine you’re boosting the economy (which we all know is in dire straits) and you help prove it’s worth it to keep our vineyards and agricultural spaces green. On top of all that, small producers can experiment with smaller and more diverse crops that don’t have such high yields, which increases the variety of Ontario wines available to us.

Last August, wine enthusiasts Calvin Hanselmann and Shawn McCormick, launched “The Great Canadian Wine Challenge,” whereby they challenged people to drink Canadian wine exclusively for an entire year, starting Sept. 1.

That’s a bit extreme, I’d say. But I think straying the odd time from the Yellow Tails and Fat Bastards and other tried and true favourites, is a good first step. Your taste buds will do the happy dance, I promise!

In case you’re wondering, the special birthday bottle was the shiraz from the Creekside Estate Winery.

Lindsay Briscoe

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