The Barenaked Ladies’ most recent tour is winding down. And so, I’m sad to say, is my time as a guest blogger on WineSpectator.com.
After a few weeks in the U.K., we’ll be heading back home to Canada. We’ve already completed the Canadian leg of our tour, and after having the opportunity to taste some really exciting wines, I’m happy to say our wine industry is making some impressive strides.
One of the curses of the Canadian wine industry has been that for a consumer, it can be really difficult to tell the difference between plonk and decent wines. Often, they are side by side on the shelves. Some of the plonk is made from lackluster Canadian fruit, and some even from imported juice. This has led to a legion of Canadian wine drinkers who dismiss the quality of all Canadian wine out of hand (save for our hallmark ice wines), often ignoring, or not even knowing of the increasing number of fine artisanal growers and winemakers.
The development of the VQA (Vintners Quality Alliance) has been of some help over the past several years. The VQA label assures consumers that the wines are grown and produced in Canada, and are made to certain standards. It’s a step forward, but what Canada has long lacked has been a group of cult wines, not necessarily priced sky high, but limited-production, gotta-have wines.
I normally hate anything in wine that smacks of elitism, but in order to create demand and respect for these wines, you need word of mouth. Consumers are savvy and know when they’re being marketed to, and they resent it. So, in music, we have websites and blogs that spread word of mouth about upcoming artists, and without that buzz, the success of bands like the Arcade Fire might not have happened. The same thing goes for wine, and I’m excited to see the chatter building around some increasingly buzz-worthy Canadian wines.
In British Columbia, I had the pleasure of drinking two wines from the tiny La Frenz winery, the 2003 Reserve (a Cabernet/Merlot blend) and the 2004 Shiraz, as well as the rich and delicious Portfolio (another Meritage blend) from Laughing Stock. Both wineries make wines that are powerful and juicy, with the structure to back them up. British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley is developing a reputation for powerful reds and fresh, aromatic whites. Smaller producers are blazing the trail toward excellence, but they have pushed the larger producers to strive for better and better wines as well. From Mission Hill’s Oculus to Jackson-Triggs’ gorgeous Okanagan Cabernet/Shiraz, the quality of wines from the top tier big of wineries continues to grow.
While in B.C., I also had the great opportunity to taste the fascinating Small Lots Program wines from Sandhill with winemakers Howard Soon and Stephanie Leinemann. Sandhill is part of the larger Calona winery, which was bought in 2005 by the even-bigger Andrew Peller (formerly bulk-wine purveyors Andrés). Soon and Leinemann still have the freedom to try their hand at lesser-grown grapes such as Sangiovese, Barbera and Malbec, as well as innovative blends ranging from Bordeaux-styled to Italianate.
Something similar is happening in Ontario. Look for producers like Daniel Lenko (whose Syrah is impossible to find, and highly coveted); Charles Baker (specializing in single-vineyard Riesling); Norman Hardie (awesome Pinot Noir from the new Prince Edward County appellation, east of Toronto); and Stratus (mysterious and fabulous red and white blends). Stalwarts like Cave Spring, who consistently make some of the best Riesling in the New World, push the demand for quality ever further.
We’re seeing the giant Vincor (now part of behemoth Constellation Brands) making superb single-vineyard wines at their flagship Jackson-Triggs, and absolutely astounding Pinots and Chardonnays at Le Clos Jordanne, their joint venture with Burgundy’s Boisset. Word is starting to spread. The buzz is kicking in. In fact, on the day Le Clos Jordanne offered its first release, it was gone from almost every store in Ontario by noon.
Now that the tour is coming to a close, so will my blog contributions, at least for a while. It has been an honor and a pleasure to be a part of the WineSpectator.com team. I want to thank all of you for reading and commenting, and I especially want to thank Thomas Matthews and Dana Nigro for their help, advice, trust and patience! It’s been a great learning experience; I’ve met so many great new people and made new friends, and we will all meet again. In the meantime, come up to Ontario and visit us soon!
Jared Kalancha — Calgary, Alberta — March 28, 2007 9:41pm ET
Sheri Codiana — Sunnyvale, CA — March 28, 2007 11:14pm ET
David Lobe — Toronto, — March 29, 2007 8:56am ET
John C Winkelmann — Cincinnai — March 29, 2007 1:44pm ET
Kevin Krawchuk — Vancouver B.C — March 29, 2007 6:58pm ET
Karl Mark — Geneva, IL. — March 31, 2007 9:45am ET
Wine Studio — Toronto, ON — April 2, 2007 6:29pm ET
Steven Page — April 3, 2007 8:34am ET
William Newell — Buffalo, NY — April 4, 2007 10:26am ET
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