A look at the 2008 Canadian Wine Annual (the good and the bad)

A few days ago, I grabbed a copy of Wine Access magazine’s Canadian Wine Annual for 2008 at my neighborhood news stand. It is a great reference about all that is wine (and fruit wine, and cider, etc.) in Canada, from Newfoundland to British Columbia, and everywhere in between. Some 393 wineries are listed, with coordinates and a short but often very precise and useful description. Really cool and useful stuff, by qualified contributors, including articles on green initiatives in Canadian vineyards and on wine tasting and wine-food matching.

You also get the full listing of results from the 2007 Canadian Wine Awards, a competition chaired by Anthony Gismondi with, I must say, admirable restraint. Gold medals are few and far between, meaning that a wine decorated with gold is something truly special. Like Hidden Bench‘s 2005 Nuit Blanche, Rosomel Vineyard, from the Beamsville Bench, selected as white wine of the year.

Mission Hill, of the Okanagan, won Winery of the Year for 2007, on the basis of the medals won by its submitted wines, while Hidden Bench and Cedarcreek came in second and third. I’m a little less certain of the significance of the title, however, since the grading has to do with the performance of the winery at the awards (number of wines submitted and number of medals). It’s more the top winery at the CWAs than the top winery, period.

Beyond all that, however, one statement in Editor Jim Tobler’s presentation of the Canadian Wine Annual stopped me in my tracks:

A fascinating fact of wine consumption in Canada is just how much Canadian wine we drink. I will not bore you with the numbers, but we drink domestic wines hands-down above any other country’s offerings.

Well, maybe he should bore us with numbers, because it’s hardly that clear-cut. Allow me.

Now, the latest numbers I could find date back to 2004, but there’s no reason to think that things will have turned around markedly since then. In 2004, around 100 million liters of Canadian domestic table wines were sold in Canada. That’s as much wine as the amount of wine from France and Italy combined.

Impressive? Yes and no.

While it’s not that easy digging your way through industry statistics, the true reason for this apparent Canadian dominance over the domestic market is largely the confusion between VQA wines (made from 100% Canadian grapes) and the non-VQA wines, chiefly through the Cellared in Canada category, which can contain virtually no Canadian-grown grapes and is mostly made from cheap bulk wine from who-knows-where (the label never says). The VQA and CiC wines are sold together on the same shelves, a practice that even Jancis Robinson was “horrified” at, as she pointed out last year in a very interesting article on the good and bad things about Canadian wine.

Overall, only around 15 million of those liters of “domestic table wine” were VQA wines, meaning wines that are made entirely from grapes grown in Canada. Using that figure, Canadian wines represent a third of the amounts of Italian wine sold in Canada, and half of what Chile ships north to our rather large neck of the boreal forest. It’s still a great performance for such a young industry, but it’s not quite the same thing as Mr Tobler wrote. The 100 million liter figure is a bottling industry performance statistic, not a Canadian wine statistic.

I’m surprised that the editor of Wine Access didn’t make the distinction. And if he doesn’t, imagine what that means for the average consumer.


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