In 1811, the German officer Johann (John) Schiller planted eight hectares of vineyards near Toronto on the Credit River, which is considered the birth of Canadian viticulture. He experimented with wild vines of the Vitis labrusca species found there. In 1866, vines of the Isabella variety were planted in the southern tip of the country on the island of Pelee in Lake Erie by winegrowers from Kentucky. By the end of the 19th century there were already about 50 wineries, most of them in the province of Ontario. From the 1930s onwards, many French and American hybrids were planted, with particular emphasis on frost resistance. One of the main players was the wine-growing pioneer Adhémar de Chaunac (*1896).
The prohibition or ban on public consumption of alcohol, introduced in 1916 and valid until 1927, brought about a great upswing in viticulture in Canada (in contrast to the USA). This was because wine - through clever lobbying by wine producers - was exempted from the ban on alcohol. At that time, the "Liquor Board System" was created, which is still in force today, under which the sale of alcoholic beverages is carried out by state shops (now this is also permitted by private shops). Until the 1970s, sweet, high-alcohol wines were mainly produced from Labrusca varieties, which were then called sherry or port.
Surprisingly, it wasn't until 1975 that the first license since prohibition was granted for a privately owned winery, this was the Inniskillin Winery (in Ontario - there is also an Inniskillin Okanaga Winery in the province of British Columbia). This traditional winery is located on the Niagara Peninsula near the famous falls. One of the two founders was the Austrian-born pioneer Karl Kaiser (1941-2017), who initiated the production of Icewine (ice wine), which is favoured by the climatic conditions. Today, Canada is the world's largest producer of Icewines, which are mainly made from Vidal Blanc, Chenin Blanc and Riesling. This also marked the beginning of the change and increased cultivation of European Vitis vinifera varieties. However, hybrids still account for a relatively large proportion. The grape variety index 2010:
|Blattner Reds||red||different varieties of Valentin Blattner||39|
|Seyve-Villard 23-512||white||see under Seyve-Villard||29|
|Blattner Whites||white||different varieties of Valentin Blattner||25|
|GM 322 ?||red||-||17|
|Tribidrag / Zinfandel||red||-||8|
The climate is extreme, with very cold winters averaging minus 5°C and hot summers, but on the southern Niagara Peninsula, the mitigating influence of the huge lakes of Ontario and Erie makes it far more favourable and ideal for wine growing. In 1988 the VQA (Vintners Quality Alliance) appellation system was introduced. The province or geographical origin is indicated. In the province of Ontario there are the classified areas Lake Erie North Shore, Niagara Peninsula and Pelee Island. In the province of British Columbia, there are four areas: Fraser Valley, Okanagan Valley, Similkameen Valley and Vancouver Island.
The small wine growing areas in the provinces Nova Scotia = Nova Scotia (with hybrids and Russian varieties) and Quebec (mainly Seyval Blanc) are not VQA-classified. The wines must come from grapes of the province and be bottled there. Only hybrids and vinifera varieties are allowed (no native Vitis labrusca). Grape varieties not approved for VQA are processed into imitation port and sherry, or light wines (up to 7% vol). Minimum must weights are prescribed, but there are no yield limits.
If the province is mentioned, 75% of the grape variety must come from there, and 85% if the origin is indicated. If there are two grape varieties, the second must represent at least 10% of the total, and if the vintage is indicated, 95% of the wine must come from that year. The wines undergo a sensory control and, if the result is positive, they are awarded the black VQA seal and, if they score between 15 and 20 points, the gold VQA seal. All information on the label must be in English and French, for example Vin de glace and Icewine for the ice wine.
In 2012, the total area under vines was 12,000 hectares, with an upward trend (in 2000 it was 8,000 hectares). Of these, 570,000 hectolitres of wine were produced (see also under Wine production quantities). Major producers include Château des Charmes, Gray Monk Estate Winery, Hawthorne Mountain Vineyards, Henry of Pelham Family, Hillebrand Estates, Inniskillin (in Ontario and British Columbia), Mission Hill Winery, Quayles Gate Estate Wibnery, Sumac Ridge Estate Winery and Vincor International.