Monday, June 07, 2010

True to Oneself

It’s a pleasure to pick up my morning G&M and find a goLOCAL glossy from the LCBO. In fact, it reminded me that Ontario has rounded the corner for producing good wines, a turning point being overlooked by most Ontarians according to Vintages staff Rosa. ‘People don’t buy because it’s from Ontario. I’m stocking more Ontario labels but people aren’t buying’. How do you turn the Queen Mary around when it’s already in port?

In the recent Seriously Cool Chardonnays London UK Tastings comparisons of Ontario Chardonnays (ref 1) with those of Burgundy were often favourable. Of Huff Estates: “The Burgundian winemaker…“, Of Closson Chase: “…go to Montrachet straight away!”, Of Norman Hardie: “Really very Burgundian”, etc. I guess this can’t be avoided in a European setting. It’s also a convenient method of conveying a reviewer’s experience to others having a similar background. There may also be the advantage, if the comparison is favourable, for the  Ontario product to be carried along the pricing curve of a Burgundy wine. But such comparisons aren’t meaningful for those of us who haven’t had the opportunity to taste high priced, sometimes called ultra premium, wines - of either source. Perhaps by helping a few bottles the comparison defaults the rest to mediocrity. 

The real downside is if ‘burgundian’ infers that certain flavours or accents are required the Ontario product is being judged on a foreign terroir base and can easily be found deficient. Simply put, Ontario wines lose their identity. The terroirs of Ontario and Burgundy have to be different - continents apart and formed geologically in different timeframes and circumstances. Either wine should be judged not on comparative characteristics but on their individuality. Now if the European reviewer hasn’t a ‘sense’ of Ontario terroirs that should be faced as a separate issue… don’t lay it on the wine.

Southern Ontario was formed out of glacial melt and gouging of shale and clay as the ice shield ploughed its way north leaving lake bottoms exposed and mountains of gravel in its geological wake. Sub-appellations in the Niagara Peninsula were identified based on extensive research by Dr. Tony Shaw of the Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute at Brock University, St. Catharines, Ontario (ref 2). Consequently, vineyards on the several benches have their own terroirs and should be identified as such. Ontario winemakers shouldn’t be pressured to manipulate their wines to be something they’re not. 

The Ontario wine industry shares some responsibility for decades of early grape choices and perhaps for blending for volume and profit rather than individuality. Even now the VQA designations of ‘Ontario’ or ‘Niagara Peninsula’ allow for mixing juices from different benches changing and masking aromas and flavours. If this leads to wines that are competitive with low cost imports it’s a success of one kind… but as the
goLOCAL glossy shows these blends don’t achieve that. Nothing is gained let alone an attempt to change the perspective of the Ontario consumer.

How does an attitude of ‘Ontario wines are plonk’ get turned around? Hiring a winemaker because of a ’burgundian’ approach isn’t the answer. Comparisons with foreign terroirs confuses things… and no number of similar glossies will change attitude. I believe the answer, and one so many cottage or artisan wineries are actualizing, is a dedication to the land, the grape and by interacting with Consumers through events such as Graze the Bench
. Survey Consumer opinions: what could be done better? what wines were appealing? what were not? would you come again? do we offer value?… and the LCBO should engage more with the Ontario product through the cottage wineries and their events.

My opinion, Ww   

Seriously Cool
VQA Ontario

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