wine grapes

Wine classifications in Canada: Is it time to change our regulations?

By Jordan Knox

The highest classification of wine in Canada is defined by the stamp of the Vintners Quality Alliance or VQA. Seeing this label on a bottle is an indication of certain specifications followed by a winery in producing its product. In recent years, B.C. and Ontario have split the designation with B.C. taking on the BC VQA designation.

The VQA is based on an appellation system much like France and Italy, which defines the areas of production. The guidelines on what can be defined as VQA is much different; but why is this important?

In France, within the appellation designation, there are several distinctions and classifications that define whether a wine comes from a single vineyard “chateau”, a specific village or area. This is important because each area of France has its own microclimate, soil composition, and environmental factors that impact the growing of the grapes and in the end, impact the flavour and quality. The same can be said for Italy and Germany.

Looking at the Canadian landscape and the expansive geography and then saying that a wine is from B.C. would be the equivalent of saying that a wine is from Europe. There are vastly different growing conditions and mineral rich soils in Canada that can produce superior wine, but part of the issue comes down to the fact that the classifications of wine in Canada is all encompassing.

In Canada, VQA is the only classification that indicates a wine is from one of the specified Canadian appellations, typically in Ontario or British Columbia. There are also “wines of distinction” that refer to wines produced in other countries and bottled in Canada. Unlike in France, there is no further value in producing a single vineyard wine and many producers rely heavily on bringing grapes in from other high volume producing growers.

The issue with bringing grapes from a different region to produce a wine that is bottled under a certain label is that it is no longer a true representation of the terroir (soil and land). While this may seem like a minor issue consider the differences, the Similkameen and Okanagan Valleys in B.C. are on the same latitude line of Burgundy and Alsace in France, while the Thompson region falls along the same line as the Champagne district in France, and the Pfalz area in Germany. These different growing regions, like their French counterparts, produce very different grapes and consumers recognize and appreciate the different regions for their distinct differences.

In Kamloops, estate vineyards such as Harpers Trail produce fantastic examples of Riesling as growing conditions and limestone rich soil strike the perfect balance. Meanwhile in Okanagan’s Lake Country, Arrowleaf Vineyard is producing renowned Pinot Noir. Both are examples of wineries dedicated to help define their specific geographical regions.

Wine culture in Canada is evolving rapidly and new regulations defining our regions and specifications could help to promote wines outside the country and grow a reputation on a world stage.

Hoping your next glass of wine hits close to home!

About the author:

Jordan Knox works at Northland Properties and is a General Manager in training at Moxie’s in Vancouver, B.C.  With over 18 years of experience in the food and beverage industry, Jordan has worked throughout North America and the Caribbean with industry-leading companies. He received his diploma in Hotel and Restaurant Management from SAIT Polytechnic in 2000 and is a lifelong student of the food and beverage industry, always looking for what new trends are emerging.