We love Ontario wine. Not only do we think some very special juice is being grown in our backyard, but there are some truly exceptional people behind those bottles of VQA. One of the goals of our month long 30 Days of Ontario Wine feature is to help tell the stories of the wines and the people producing them in Niagara, Prince Edward County, Lake Erie North Shore and Pelee Island (Essex Pelee Island Coast) and to ultimately get people to try a glass or two. If restaurant winelists and LCBO sales (VQA sales were up nine percent last year) are any indication Ontarians are increasingly curious for a first try and then satisfied enough to go back for a second.
That said, what 30 Days is ultimately about is helping to build a vibrant local wine culture. We want to get people drinking, visiting and talking passionately about local wineries and their wines. There's no reason people should not be as excited about that bottle of local wine they're having for dinner as they are about the beautiful heirloom tomato salad they are enjoying it with or that magical Arcade Fire concert they attended before dinner.
It is with that in mind that we decided to do things a little differently this year. We're focusing on four grapes that we think consistently produce the best wines that we have to offer in Ontario. These are the grapes you look to when introducing a friend or visiting family member to Ontario wine for the first time. Riesling, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir will each be getting a week where we'll explore great single varietal bottles, visit some exceptional vineyards and talk to the personalities behind them as we try to find out what makes these grapes and Ontario uniquely suited to each other.
So why the narrow focus? Every well-known wine region has built its world reputation on a signature blend or grape variety, maybe two. Burgundian has become a compliment as winemakers the world over strive to achieve the heights and ethereal depth Burgundy has built over centuries of growing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Bordeaux's majestic Cabernet- and Merlot-based red blends have made those grapes some of the most widely planted, as new world regions hope to capture some of its golden touch. In the new world New Zealand made a statement and built an international market for its wines with its unique takes on Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough and Pinot Noir from Central Otago. Even more recently wine lovers and critics has taken notice of Malbec, which outside of Cahors, was largely thought of as a blending grape until Argentina's distinct single varietials from Mendoza were discovered. There's countless other examples, but simply put we think Ontario could use a signature grape to build an international reputation for its table wines. And we believe that signature just might be one of: Riesling, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay or Pinot Noir.
Ontario is still a very young wine region, with the focus on quality vinifera production only really entering its third decade. The achievements in viticulture and winemaking quality over that period have been remarkable. That will only continue to improve as industry veterans learn more about the region each year and increasingly many highly-educated and talented young people join the industry, bringing new ideas and gaining experience. Like any new world region, including the two aforementioned ones, Ontario is still experimenting with what grapes are suited best to particular sub-appellations and individual vineyards. The ancient glaciers that formed Southern Ontario left varied deposits and carved the land uniquely, so what works beautifully in one area may not work in another. So it's no surprise that more than a few Ontario wineries have been crafting some beautiful and distinctive Sauvignon Blanc and Gamay Noir that could make a strong case to join Riesling, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. With that in mind we've left the weekends to explore other exciting grapes, wines and interesting stories that make up the current Ontario wine scene.
As always the most compelling part of 30 Days of Ontario Wine remains the conversation we have with our readers. Do you love Riesling, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay or Pinot Noir or did we get it all wrong and completely overlook Ontario's signature grape? Or do you believe the total is better than the sum of the parts and Ontario should focus on the art of the blend? You're strongly encouraged to share your thoughts and experiences with the core four grapes of this year's edition or any other Ontario wine through our site and social media like Facebook or Twitter using the #30DaysONwine hash tag. Speaking of the social media, we're always looking or an opportunity to chat, share and taste with you, so keep an eye out for a surprise or two.
Whether you're a lover of Ontario Riesling, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay or Pinot Noir or even another grape we hope the next 30 days of stories make you think and consider picking-up a bottle or two to share with family and friends. In the meantime be passionate, be vocal and drink local.
Written by Mike Di Caro
Michael Di Caro covers all things vinous at Spotlight. His lover affair with Ontario wine began over a decade ago and he’s been in front of tasting bars trying to sweet talk staff into pouring a taste of a library wine or the latest unreleased bottle ever since. Since good wine can’t be made without great grapes, you can also catch him amongst the vines trying to persuade the winemaker into revealing his/her next big thing for you on Spotlight. His epicurean tendencies don’t just stop in the glass either. During the rest of his free time you can find him searching for the perfect bowl of Dan Dan noodles, exploring the city’s best tasting menus or baking cookies and mucking about in the kitchen.