Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Niagara Sub-appellations

I seldom shop for groceries with my better half now. This has been in transition over the last two years as more information reaches the public about transfats, calories, carbs and sodium and their effect on obesity, diabetes, etc. The time to shop has tripled as labels are read and reread looking for meaning in food content. I'm extremely thankful someone does the reading. And now I'm becoming the same with wine labels... not for nutritional content but for grape sources and 'quality' levels. It started as a curiosity... to see if I could find value more consistently.... and has been and still is a steep learning curve.

VQA Ontario has the provincial responsibility for regulating the Ontario wine industry largely under VQA legislation and for what you and I see as a label on a wine bottle. In 2005, regional areas were defined for the Niagara Peninsula with the naming of ten sub-appellations. Two 'super' (my term, not VQA) sub-appellations group several of the ten together under their banner. Since 2005 wineries could choose to put a sub-appellation on a wine label to identify the varietal character attributable to a specific terroir, climate and land topography - and many have.
For me, it's important to relate an area to a wine's taste or character. I could, as some do, just match my mood or occasion to a wine. This would simplify things... especially if someone makes it his business to do the matching for me. Then terroir doesn't really matter, does it? Let the 'winemaker' do whatever with whatever to match the flavour and texture of his mix to a set of commercialized moods. But that's not for me... I want to know where the winemaker got the grapes. It would be great if each of us, well maybe just me, could stand with the winemaker as he puts his hand on a clump of grapes, picks a couple, chews and spits then declares, 'It's time!'.
The VQA website summarizes my standpoint well: "Wine has been associated with its point of origin for hundreds of years and is often referred to as an “expression of place”. ... The "terroir" — the combination of location, soil, topography and climate — is an important indicator of the character of a wine and in many cases, its quality." Yes... Location, location, location.
The terroirs of Niagara have now been well researched and defined. VQA Ontario publishes information in the form of a topographical map showing concisely the twelve sub-appellations. I've 'borrowed and edited' this map as shown. You can get the real thing on a visit to a Niagara winery, uncluttered by my markups. Among the vast amount of information their website also provides descriptons of the sub-appellations with notes on soil and climatic effects - in all, an interesting read. When I visit each area in the coming months either at an LCBO outlet or on wine country trips, I will be able to relate wineries and vineyards to sub-appellation boundaries and land formations. Although sub-appellations are not shown (yet?), a touring map is available for downloading from the Wines of Ontario website.
Now to the Appellation hierarchy, from generic level to specific:
  • The generic level is Ontario: 'VQA Ontario VQA' indicates that grapes (see Varieties for detail) from anywhere in Ontario can be used in the production of the wine. An example is Mike Weir Estate Pinot Gris 2006, #043364
  • The next level includes the Niagara Peninsula, Pelee Island, Lake Erie North Shore and the latest, Prince Edward County. For a wine labelled 'VQA Niagara Peninsula VQA', 85% of the grapes must originate in the area bounded by the Niagara River, Lake Ontario, just south of the escarpment and up to Winona (almost Hamilton). The remaining 15% can be from anywhere in Ontario.
  • 'Super' sub-appellations: For wines labelled with either 'VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake VQA' or 'VQA Niagara Escarpment VQA':
    • Niagara-on-the-Lake - 85% of the grapes must be from the area bounded by the Niagara River, Lake Ontario and east of the Welland Canal and down to the 405. The remaining 15% must be from the Niagara Peninsula. This area includes sub-appellations Niagara River(1), Niagara Lakeshore(2), Four Mile Creek(3), and St. David's Bench(4).
    • Niagara Escarpment - 85% of the grapes must be from within the three sub-appellations: Short Hills Bench(7), Twenty Mile Bench(8) and Beamsville Bench(9). The remaining 15% of the grapes must be from the Niagara Peninsula.
  • That accounts for seven sub-appellations. The remaining three are:
    • Creek Shores(5) - the area roughly bounded by Lake Ontario, Twelve Mile Creek, Twenty Mile Creek and Jordan Harbour and King St. (RR81).
    • Lincoln Lakeshore(6) - the area roughly bounded by Lake Ontario, Winona Road, Jordan Harbour, Twenty Mile Creek and King St (RR81).
    • Vinemount Ridge(10) - the largest sub-appellation, from south of the 'super' sub Niagara Escarpment (sub-appellations Short Hills Bench, Twenty Mile Bench and Beamsville Bench) and extending south from the top of the escarpment.
  • When any of the ten sub-appellations is named on the front label 100% of the grapes must come from that area.
Hope this has been useful,
Cheers, Ww

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