looking to indulge in a more decadent beverage, icewine, also known as “the dessert wine,” is something that
there is always room for. Whether it’s for a social occasion or a more intimate gathering, icewine can help
bring people together. But this Canadian trademark is also merging two of the country’s leading
wine-producing regions to prove that when it comes to icewine, twice is nice.
British Columbia and Ontario are both recognized for their unique wine-producing regions. The Niagara Peninsula region in Ontario, known for its cold climate, has been famous for its icewines. However, many people are not as aware of the icewines available from B.C.’s Okanagan Valley wine region.
“With icewine there is a real purity of flavour — you’re really getting the essence of a grape. But when you make them out of varietal icewines, you taste the essence of Chardonnay, for example. You get all of the notes you would taste in a unoaked Chardonnay from the Okanagan Valley. You taste the soil, you taste the terroir very distinctly, in almost an exaggerated way,” says Ezra Cipes, chief operations officer at Summerhill Pyramid Winery. The Okanagan-based winery specializes in producing organic wines.
But B.C.’s warmer climate can sometimes pose a problem when producing icewine. Since producing icewine involves freezing grapes directly on the vines, to allow for a more concentrated flavour in the wine, temperatures must be below zero to achieve the desired finished product. Under the Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA) regulations, VQA-certified icewines must be produced with grapes that have been picked at a minimum temperature of -8 C. But reaching such low temperatures is not as frequent in the Okanagan as it is in Niagara.
Therefore, some B.C.-based wineries are expanding their companies into Ontario, to produce wine in both provinces.
Inniskillin, a Canadian winery based in the Niagara Peninsula region, has found it beneficial to produce in both Ontario and British Columbia.
“Depending on what the year brings, each region can produce extremely high quality of wines,” says Bruce Nicholson, wine producer at Inniskillin. “It depends on the year we’re having climate-wise.”
The colder climate generally found in Ontario has been able to compensate for some of the warmer weather that British Columbia can face in the winter. But ravaging winters in Ontario can sometimes damage the grapevines with frostbite, which is where the milder temperatures in B.C. can also compensate.
Wine producers expanding into their competing province seems to be a growing trend. Paradise Ranch, located near Naramata in the Okanagan Valley, focuses on producing only icewines and late harvest wines. They have also expanded their company into Ontario.
“There are very few wine-producing regions in the world where it gets warm enough in the summer months to ripen and to grow grapevines good enough to make good wine but then gets cold enough to freeze those berries,” says Jim Stewart, president of Paradise Ranch Winery.
But aside from their different temperatures, the two provinces have a lot more in common than one would think. B.C. and Ontario icewines are popular exports, supplying various countries around the world, including the United States and China. Since icewines are not as widely produced as conventional wine, both B.C. and Ontario are sharing the Canadian trademark with the world.
“[Producing in Ontario and British Columbia] has had a positive impact because it insures us in terms of supplying foreign markets. It provides insurance against climate problems in British Columbia. But because we also grow in British Columbia, it also insures us if there’s a problem in Ontario,” says Stewart.
The Okanagan Valley and Niagara regions produce a wide range of icewines including Riesling and Vidal. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir icewines tend to be more widely produced in B.C. while Cabernet Franc and Merlot icewines tend to be Ontario-produced.
Just like conventional table wines, icewines carry a wide range of flavours with Pinot Noir icewine for its smoky flavour, Cabernet Franc for its fruity flavour and Riesling icewine for its lighter and less acidic taste, just to name a few.
But for both provinces, each one brings something unique to the table.
“These are two strong icewine-producing regions in Canada and we think it’s a pretty good thing to be producing in both,” says Stewart.
British Columbia and Ontario share a common goal of making icewine more than just a Canadian favourite. Now that’s something to raise a glass to. •
Photo courtesy Inniskillin Winery