Pure Pleasure: Canadian Organic Wines

Canadian organic wine is chemical-free, delicious and often produced in a vineyard near you.

This article first appeared in the Fall 2008 issue of Green Living magazine.

When Canadian wine experts say their favourite local tipple is going green, that's not geek-speak about the grassy hue of the region's whites. Organic wines are taking hold here as more and more consumers seek purer products that enhance their own health and that of the planet. "There's definitely strong consumer interest, just as there is in the whole idea of eating and drinking locally," says Lisa Cameron of the British Columbia Wine Institute. But it's not just a matter of virtue or altruism, according to Vancouver wine expert DJ Kearney. Last year, she conducted a 60-minute tasting of organic bottles at Cornucopia, Whistler, B.C.'s "Celebration of Wine and Food," and was totally bowled over. Kearney praises the "clarity of fruit" in organic wines. "They just absolutely shine with purity."

The wines from organic grapes weren't always so highly regarded. Until about a decade ago, says winemaker Eric von Krosigk of B.C.'s Summerhill Pyramid Winery, organic wine was often substandard. Producers of rotgut around the world used the term organic as a crutch to generate sales from health enthusiasts, if not wine nuts. Kearney notes that European winemakers, even those who have always been organic, see little reason to label their wine in a way that might sound marginal or fringe. Not so here, where winemakers and wine drinkers alike are increasingly concerned about chemicals, additives and the environment. Right now, certification of organic wines is a complicated provincial matter, overseen by numerous regional bodies. "Anyone can talk organic," says Nova Scotia winemaker Bruce Ewert. "But when you're certified, it's a third-party audit. It's very elaborate, and quite expensive, too."

New rules to be introduced by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency as of mid-December 2008 will enlist the help of recognized certification bodies to provide national certification to help consumers understand which wines that cross provincial and international borders are organic. For wines that stay in-province, however, regulations will still vary. The best course of action is to watch for the label declaring its organic status on the bottle, says Ewert. While many winemakers claim various degrees of organic content, the word you're looking for is "certified."
Ontario's Frogpond Farm has been organic since its inception in 1996. Frogpond has been hand-picking grapes and producing wine since 2001 and now turns out 4,000 cases a year of Cabernet-Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Riesling, Rosé and Riesling Icewine, certified by OCPP/Pro-Cert Canada Inc.
Owners Jens Gemmrich and Heike Koch live with their family on the 30-acre Frogpond property in Niagara-on-the-Lake, and they've never used insecticides, herbicides, synthetic fungicides or chemical fertilizers on their vines. "It makes sense," says Gemmrich. "We want to preserve our land, our nature."

Bruce Ewert and Pauline Scott are also growing grapes organically - in their case, the signature grape of Nova Scotia, called L'Acadie. Ewert and Scott have three young children and chose to go organic for philosophical reasons. "There are so many things in our food chain that we don't know about," Ewert says. "We wouldn't do it any other way." Ewert, who earned his winemaking chops working in B.C.'s Okanagan Valley, says L'Acadie grapes make "incredible" wine. The winery produces primarily whites. He believes grapefruit, peach and citrusy tropical-fruit notes like mango make L'Acadie the perfect complement to the province's seafood.

The couple started their property, L'Acadie Vineyards, from scratch in 2004 in the Gaspereau Valley, near Wolfville. Also certified by OCPP/Pro-Cert Canada Inc., it turned out its first thousand cases in May 2008 - a wine called L'Acadie, several other still wines and a brut sparkler, also using the L'Acadie grape, made in the traditional method, which involves a second fermentation in each bottle and a process of moving the bottles called "riddling" that makes yeast cells easier to remove. L'Acadie's debut season may be small, and currently only available in Nova Scotia, but its owners expect to double their output in 2009 and ultimately produce 5,000 cases a year. At the opposite end of the scale, Kelowna's 80-acre Summerhill Pyramid Winery calls itself Canada's largest, certified organic vineyard. It's been farming organically since 1986 and had its production facility certified organic by the Pacific Agricultural Certification Society last year. Winemaker and director of winery operations Eric von Krosigk praises the "intensity of flavours" in organic grapes. Of the 35,000 cases of wine Summerhill produces annually, 80 percent are organically made. Its 21 varieties include Ehrenfelser, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Gamay Noir. Summerhill's products were delicious enough to captivate judges at the 2008 Chardonnay du Monde competition in France. Summerhill won a gold medal for its 2006 Peace Chardonnay Icewine, as well as a bronze for its 2005 Cipes Gabriel Chardonnay Cuvée Sparkling Wine.

Vancouver sommelier, instructor, consultant and judge Kearney thinks you can expect such greatness from organic grapes, whose fermented ambrosia is often "unadorned and uncluttered. When you look at those healthy vines, they are like well-tuned athletes. I believe that comes across in the wines in a special way."

Here's Where to find Canadian Organic WineFrogpond Farm: Available on-site at the farm in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., through private orders and in some Ontario LCBO Vintages stores. frogpondfarm.ca.
L'Acadie: Available at the winery's shop near Wolfville, N.S., and in a few regional restaurants. lacadievineyards.ca.
Summerhill Pyramid Winery: Available at the winery's store in Kelowna, B.C., throughout the province, across the
Prairies and in some parts of the United States. It is also available in Hong Kong, China, Korea and Japan. summerhill.bc.ca.
Rollingdale Winery: Recently certified, this Kelowna, B.C. winery turns out Cabernet-France, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Merlot, Chardonnay, Riewurztrafelser Blanc and Rosé, as well as icewines made from Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Kerner grapes, and a Marechal Foch dessert wine. Available at the winery's store, VQA stores in B.C., and in fine restaurants in B.C. and Alberta, as well as Spain, Japan and Switzerland. rollingdale.caPhotos COURTESY frogpond farm, rollingdale winery, summerhill pyramid winery, L'acadie vineyardsKate Zimmerman is a wine-loving food writer based in Vancouver.