Canada features two distinctive wine producing regions several thousand miles apart, in southern British Columbia and southern Ontario.
The Niagara Peninsula of Ontario benefits from the moderating effects of Lake Erie and Lake Ontario and has more than 13,000 acres of vineyards. White hybrids include Seyval Blanc and Vidal, red hybrids Baco Noir, Chambourcin and Maréchal Foch. Niagara also grows Gewürztraminer, Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. Niagara also makes a specialty of producing ice wine. Here the grower lets the grapes freeze while still on the vine, resulting in a sweet concentrated wine.
The Lake Erie North Shore region of southwestern Ontario benefits from Lake Erie’s status as the shallowest and warmest of the Great Lakes. Grapes include Syrah, Baco Noir, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, Vidal Blanc, and Cabernet Franc. Here, too, ice wine is produced.
Prince Edward County on the north shore of Lake Ontario is a designated wine area producing Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Cabernet Franc, Riesling, and Syrah on shallow limestone soils. The vines ripen well over the lake-enhanced summer, but killing winter freezes are a real problem. Around the country’s largest city, the Toronto and York area, dozens of wineries cater to day-trippers with an array of cool climate vinifera and hybrid varieties. Winter freezing is a major problem, however.
The Okanagan Valley is British Columbia’s most prominent fine wine region. Okanagan is Canada’s only desert. Okanagan’s continental climate is moderated by Lake Okanagan and the series of watercourses that connect to it. The Cascade Mountains create a rain shadow effect as in adjoining areas of Eastern Washington. Even more so than Washington, Okanagan’s northerly grape ripening days are extra long. Okanagan had a stop-and-go history for a hundred years, until the modern wine industry began here in the 1970s. Growers now plant more than 60 vine varieties destined for nearly every style of wine: still, sparkling, fortified and dessert, including ice wine. Varieties include standard grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and Cabernet Franc. German influence brings Riesling and Gewürztraminer. With global warming, plantings of warm climate varieties are on the rise, including Sangiovese, Syrah, Tempranillo, Trebbiano, Pinotage, Malbec, Barbera and Zinfandel. The nearby Similkameen Valley hard by the international border, specializes in Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Chardonnay.
Further west in British Columbia, the Fraser Valley near Vancouver accounts for a full half of the province’s agriculture including 30 vineyards and 15 wineries. In this flat region of rolling hills, climate is dry and irrigation is often necessary. Top grapes include Pinot Noir, a number of white and red hybrids developed by Swiss grape geneticist Valentin Blattner, and the Bacchus grape, a German vinifera crossing. With the mildest climate in all Canada, southern Vancouver Island and the nearby Gulf Islands produce wines from Pinot Noir, the red hybrid Maréchal Foch, Pinot Gris, and Ortega (a German white vinifera crossing named after the Spanish poet José Ortega y Gasset).