Dr. Jamie Goode’s Global View on Canadian Wines
Every March, the wine world hits Düsseldorf, a pleasant city in the far west of Germany on the banks of the Rhine. The event? ProWein, the world’s largest trade show, held in the cavernous halls of Messe Düsseldorf. Messe actually has seventeen of these halls, although ProWein only uses nine. With over 6000 exhibitors from 50 countries, and 55,000 visitors, this is the place to be if you want to sell your wine globally.
For the visitor, ProWein can be daunting, simply because there is just so much wine here. It emphasizes just how big and complex the world of wine is. This perspective, all at once, can be a little too much. It’s a bit like glancing up at the cloudless night sky, gazing at the stars, and realizing that we are just a tiny, tiny presence in a much bigger universe. Too much perspective. One wine buyer told me that she used an app to track her movements: over the three days, she walked 40 km. It doesn’t surprise me.
So where does Canada fit in? Is there room on this crowded world stage for a relative newcomer? In short, yes, judging by the response to Canada’s presence at the fair. Three Canadian provinces, British Columbia, Ontario and Nova Scotia joined forces to exhibit together on the same stand, in Hall 9. Altogether, 22 producers were present, pouring a variety of wines that showed a good cross-section of what Canada is able to do.
But rather than just wait for people to come to them, Canada did something very smart. There’s a central forum area in Hall 13, which has a diverse, busy program of seminars and tastings. And each day, at the prime time of 11:30, Canada booked a slot. And (although I’m not sure whether this is smart or not) they hired me to moderate these seminars, in conjunction with a regional expert on each of the three days.
This proved to be a good move, because all three days, the Canada forum was full of people curious to find out what all the fuss was about. And all three days, people stayed to the end. [There’s nothing worse when you are presenting than to see a steady stream of people get up and leave as the seminar progresses; it happens, sometimes, and it’s really dispiriting!]
The first day was British Columbia, and I was assisted by WineAlign’s Treve Ring, a well-travelled global wine expert, but as a Vancouver Island resident also an authority on BC wines. We went through an overview of Canadian wine (I suspect Treve’s quip about ice wine being the ‘world’s most re-gifted wine’ may have got her in a bit of trouble), and then moved on to talk more specifically about BC’s wine regions. I was ruthlessly mocked by the audience for failing to pronounce Okanagan correctly. In my defense, I got it right about 40% of the time; that probably wasn’t enough, I admit.
Then it was tasting time. In the planning stage before ProWein we had debated for a while which wines to include. This is because the Okanagan, the most significant of BC’s wine regions, is pretty diverse. The climate at the top of Lake Okanagan is quite different from the climate in the southern extreme of the region, and so wines styles and varieties grown can differ quite a bit. As a result, the Okanagan does many things pretty well, which isn’t a great marketing message. Should we look at pinot gris? It’s the region’s most widely planted white grape. Riesling? And what of pinot noir and Bordeaux-style blends for the reds? In the end we went with two varieties that are real strong points, and which are taken very seriously internationally: chardonnay and syrah. We chose three examples of each. For many in the audience, this was to be their first experience of Canadian wine. Fortunately, all six wines shone, and were well received.
The second day’s forum focused on Ontario wines, and this time my fellow presenter was Magdalena Kaiser of the Wine Marketing Association of Ontario, knowledgeably representing her home province. As with the first seminar, we began with a Canada overview, and then looked specifically at Ontario’s regions, focusing on Niagara. This time the wine focus was shared around varieties a little more. We poured 2 each of chardonnay, pinot noir and cabernet franc, giving the crowd a chance to taste different styles of each grape, and a half dozen diverse producers.
And then day 3, and time for Nova Scotia to show what it can do with sparkling wine. It’s relatively small compared with Ontario and BC, but its success with fizz is making people sit up and take notice. On stage I had Peter Gamble with me, the consultant winemaker behind Nova Scotia’s most famous export, Benjamin Bridge. This was fortunate, because I haven’t yet been to Nova Scotia wine country, and Peter is a knowledgeable and smart presenter, so all I had to do was ask him good questions, let him talk, and then lead the wine tasting.
Nova Scotia is pretty marginal for growing wine grapes, but working at the margins can be great for sparkling wine. The result is precise, crisp, detailed fizz, and the four examples that we tasted together demonstrated the potential of the region. Interestingly, although there has been a recent move away from hybrid grapes (these are hardy varieties resulting from crosses between the Eurasian Vitis vinifera, the main wine grape species, and the tougher American vines), one of the wines on tasting was made from hybrids, and was superb.
But it wasn’t all about the forums. Each afternoon, at 3 pm, I was on duty again. This time I was back at the Canadian stand, with a view to leading groups of interested visitors around a hand-picked selection of producers, to try wines together. This Canuck tastathon proved really popular, and for around 40 minutes each day I led a merry band of tasters around the stand, showing them a cross-section of what Canada can produce. It was fun, and I hope that it sparked some further interest.
I’ll be back at ProWein again next year, and I hope Canada will too. Although it’s such a busy fair, the Canadian invasion this year showed that if you do something a bit different, and collaborate to achieve a critical mass, then you’ll gather a crowd and attract some interest.
The Goode Report
Dr. Jamie Goode is the first international member of the WineAlign team, and one of our core judges for The National Wine Awards. He completed a PhD in plant biology and worked as a science editor before switching careers to wine writing. He’s a book author (The Science of Wine and Authentic Wine), writes a weekly wine column for a national newspaper (The Sunday Express), freelances for international magazines and blogs daily at wineanorak.com, the site he founded in 1999 and one of the world’s most popular wine websites. A sought-after speaker and experienced wine judge, he has judged wine in the UK, South Africa, France, Australia, Bulgaria, Hungary and Serbia. He tweets as @jamiegoode and is on Instagram as @drjamiegoode.