To quote Jancis Robinson's Wine Atlas, 'a combination of geographical quirks makes viticulture possible on the peninsula'. A unique combination of location, climate and topography enable the region of Ontario to make remarkable cool climate wines of quality and verve.
Planting of grapes in the region dates back to 1811, however the modern era dates back to 1974 with Inniskillin being granted the first winery licence since licence since Prohibition. Now producing over 80% of Canada's total production, across 17,000 acres with 170 wineries Ontario is now quickly becoming one of the finest and most respected cool climate wine regions in the world.
"We have taken Ontario's special terroir for granted for too long. Our combination of latitude, lakes and limestone is unique in the world of wine" - David Lawrenson
Stretching across the southern part of the Province, Ontario's vineyards are situated between 41-44 degrees latitude (same same Latitude as Burgundy), located near the great lakes of Onatrio, Erie and Huron. Split across there VQA's with Niagara Peninsula located just over the border from the US.
Ontario's wine region has the perfect location for cool climate winemaking. Cold winters and warm summers, moderated by the the proxomity to the great lakes to avoid extremes. Long sunny days during the growing season enable the grapes to ripen fully, while cool nighttime temperatures keep the acidity in the grapes to produce wonderfully ripe, elegant and balanced wines.
"Ontario wines are the epitome of cool climates, which puts them right on the cutting edge" - Matt Kramer, (a contributing editor to the Wine Spectator magazine)
A Guide to the VQA's of Ontario's wine Region
Wine wine region of Ontario is split into three VQA's; Niagara Peninsula Lake Erie North Shore and Prince Edward County. In addition Niagara Pensinsula, (by far the biggest VQA with over 80% of the regions acreage under vine) is further split in to two regional appellations and ten sub appellations.
Lake Erie and North Shore
The vineyards of Lake Erie North Shore are situated in the south western extremity of Ontario. With it's southern location and warming effects of the shallow waters of Lake Erie, the region is able to produce varietals such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.
Prince Edward County
At a latitude of 44 degrees north, Prince Edward County is Ontario's most northerly region. Established in 2007, it's also Ontario's newest VQA. An appellation full of unique microclimates and produces cool climate varietal such as Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Riesling, and Pinot Noir. Also home to one of Ontario's finest wineries - Norman Hardie.
Shaped by the natural wonders of the Niagara Escarpment and the majestic Niagara Falls, the Niagara Peninsula provides ideal cool-climate conditions for wine growing.
The region covers nearly eighty percent of Ontario’s total acres of vineyard and within which two regional appellations have been created: Niagara Escarpment for the bench area west of St Catharines (Short Hills Bench, Twenty Mile Bench, Beamsville Bench) and Niagara-on-the-Lake for the four sub-appellations east of St Catharines.
The Niagara Escarpment, primarily a limestone ridge that runs the length of the peninsula has a hugely diverse terroir depending primarily on the height of the escarpment and the distance from the the lake and produces some of the most majestic wines form some of the world's most enviable cool climate terroirs
The region can be further sub-divided into ten sub-appellations which each have unique growing conditions suited to different grape varieties. They are: Niagara River, Niagara Lakeshore, Four Mile Creek, St David's Bench, Creek Shores, Lincoln Lakeshore, Short Hills Bench, Twenty Mile Bench, Beamsville Bench, and Vinemount Ridge. Two of the most famous sub-regions are Twenty Mile Bench and Beamsville Bench
Twenty Mile Bench - Home to Tawse's Cherry Avenue vineyard, Twenty Mile Bench produces sleek, delicate wines. With its relatively high elevation, and double bench formation, Twenty Mile Bench provides enjoys long periods of sun exposure during the summer and fall - perfect for Pinot Noir and Riesling.
Beamsville Bench - Limestone enriched soils provide a wonderful minerality, richness and structure to wines made from grapes grown here. Home to many of the vineyards owned by Cave Spring including the wonderful Cave Spring Vineyard, one of the most highly acclaimed vineyards in all of Ontario.
When looking at the combination of soil, climate, location and the passion of the winemakers themselves, it's easy to see why Ontario is making such wonderful wines. Although the wines made here can differ dramatically in terms of style, for me, the best wines all have something in common - balance, elegance and purity of fruit. The perfect cool climate wines.