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Wine Country: Canada's Niagara Peninsula

Find out why Niagara Peninsula is putting Canada on the map of the winemaking world.

With approximately 15,000 acre of wine grape vineyards, Ontario has the largest percentage of vineyards in Canada. More so, the Niagara Peninsula is responsible for 80% of Canada’s production. Niagara Peninsula’s success is primarily due to the fact it shares some characteristics of Burgundy and Bordeaux’s climates; which are pivotal and crucial to the production of fine wine. Niagara Peninsula renowned for its ice wine made which are made in Niagara-on-the-Lake. With its unique sugar content and acidity levels, the Niagara Peninsula’s Ice Wine has become an international attraction for wine enthusiasts worldwide.

There is a common misconception that in 1984, Karl Kaiser was the first to produce Ice wine in Niagara-on-the-Lake. However, in 1972, Walter Hainle, a German immigrant, was actually the first to produce Ice wine. It was a combination of an unexpected frost in the valley of British Columbia and a late harvest. Twelve years later, Karl Kaiser, an Austrian born co-owner, directed the the attempted duplication of Walter Hainle’s ice wine. After a few attempts by Karl Kaiser, the first production of ice wine was born.

Climate and Soil
Niagara-on-the-Lake’s climate is comparable to Burgundy, France. The climate is pivotal to the production of fine wine and Niagara-on-the-Lake has climates similar to one of the leaders of winemaking. Niagara Peninsula is surrounded by Lake Ontario in the north side and the Niagara River (which turns to Niagara Falls) on the east side. Lake Ontario is a an influential part of Ontario’s winemaking. Lake Ontario acts as a mediator of the climate during the extreme climates. It helps cool the summer air, which makes the grapes ripen slower. The lake provides a cool breeze from its winter-cooled waters; this helps prevent the growth of fruit buds. Of course, the lake also warms up the climate during cold winter months.

Soil is usually composed of glacial till, clay-loam, and sediments from glacier-covered rivers.

Grape Variety
• Vidal
• Syrah (Pillitteri Estate Winery is the first winery in the world to produce ice wine with Syrah)
• Riesling
• Gamay Noir
• Cabernet Franc
• Other notable varieties grown in Ontario are Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Baco Noir, Marechal Foch.

Classifications, Labelling and Appellation System
Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA) is Canada’s system for a body of regulations that ensures the quality and standard of winemaking in Canada. The Ontario VQA was first established in 1988 and British Columbia soon followed with a similar system. The VQA recognizes four regions in Canada for wine-growing: Ontario, British Columbia, Quebec, and Nova Scotia. Of the four regions, Ontario and British Columbia are the only two who have met the VQA standard.

All of the grapes used to produce the wine have to be gown in Ontario from an approved list of Vitis Vinifera. If a single variety is on a label, the wine must contain 85% of the variety named on the label. Also grapes must reach a minimum natural sugar level expressed in degrees Brix.

Ice Wine
Harvesting of ice wine is only legal if harvested below -8 degrees celcius. This is to ensure that the water freezes but not sugars and other dissolved solids. This allows a more concentrated press of the frozen grapes. The high sugar content (180g/L to 320 g/L) is offset by the high acidity of ice wine which makes it refreshing. Canadian ice wines produce higher alcohol content than other countries; between 8% to13%.

Notable Wineries
• Chateau des Charmes
• Inniskillin
• Jackson Triggs
• Peller Estate
• Peninsula Ridge

Trademark Wines
• TRIUS Red 2004
• INNISKILLIN Vidal Icewine
• ROYAL DEMARIA Cabernet Franc Icewine 2002
• JACKSON TRIGGS Gewurztraminer Ice wine 2000
• CHATEAU DES CHARMES Cabernet Franc St. David. 2002