Ontario Wine Culture

At the end of every year it’s a great time to reflect where the wine world is heading—that’s even truer when it’s time to say hello to a new decade. Much like millennials who came of age when we left behind the multiple nines in our calendars, the Ontario wine industry saw a decade of growth, fuelled by hunger and innovation. It wasn’t easy, nothing really is in our times, but if a wine horoscope exists we reckon Ontario will take its always-hustling attitude and combine it with some well-earned wisdom into an exciting, surprising and interesting new decade.

Here are a handful of key trends to watch for as local wine culture enters its twenties phase.

Ever-Expanding Emerging Regions

At the beginning of the decade Prince Edward County was transitioning from a wine-geek secret to the must-visit gastronomic destination. These days it’s well established as a premier spot for Canadian Chardonnay, Pinot and sparkling and it’s getting top international wine critics, somms and savvy collectors excited. With climate change becoming the biggest challenge in wine globally and even threatening the supremacy and viability of established wine regions there’s increased focus on on exploring wine regions that live on the edge. Luckily this is something Ontario has grappled with since the first grapes were planted here and we’ve since built a strong base of local wine-growing talent and entrepreneurs with the know how to turn that’s never grow here into brilliant wine. Look for that to continue as the next generation Canadian winegrowers goes beyond Niagara, the County and the shores of Lake Erie in hopes of being the pioneers of the next great emerging Ontario wine region.

Henry of Pelham’s Cuvée Catharine Carte Blanche is part of the exciting next generation of premium Ontario sparkling being produced. Photo by Michael Di Caro.

Big Bubbles

These days Ontario wineries are betting big on bubbles. If we go back a dozen years there were a couple handfuls of Ontario wineries that considered sparkling wine more than just a holiday niche, today most Ontario wineries have made bubbles a part of their everyday line-up. Much of the credit for this sparkling revolution goes to Dr. Belinda Kemp, Brock University’s bubbles expert who has cultivated Fizz Club, the behind the scenes group where Canadian winemakers can share the latest research, tips and tricks to make their next vintage of bubbles the best yet. Not only has it meant each new vintage is one-upping the last, it’s also led to a diversity of Ontario fizz that will compete with sparkling from all corners the globe and often best them. Over the next decade that progress should continue higher than a popped cork as we transformed from the bubbles specialist for savvy insiders into a sparkling powerhouse. So stock-up because if you aren’t already you should be reaching for Ontario first when filling your glass with bubbles and by the end of the decade it won’t just be the wine geeks who know it.

Wines of Place

One of the things that makes wine so special is that each bottle is a unique experience. Where it comes from, the year it’s grown and the human touch that guides it from grape to glass have a profound impact on how a wine tastes. During the past decade Ontario wineries have done a lot of exploring to coax and express how our ancient glacial soils and the cool climate of Lake Ontario and Erie help make wines that are unforgettably Ontario. Over the next decade that will continue as winemakers and wineries gain more knowledge and experience honing in on the particular part of their vineyard that makes the raciest and electric Riesling or the plot of Pinot Noir that gets the geeks waxing even more poetic. We’re already seeing signs of this with wineries proudly putting sub-appellation, single vineyards and even sub-parcels of those vineyards on the label. We’re just poking our heads down this rabbit hole and by the looks of it’s going to be long and exciting trip.

Wines That Tread Lightly

Gluten-free. Locally-grown. Organic. The last decade showed that people really want to sweat the details about what they put in their mouths. It’s not just a you-are-what-you-eat ethos, it’s also about how what you eat and drink affects the planet too. Local wineries have been listening and playing their part too, both making and proudly labelling wines as vegan, organic, sustainable and natural. They’ve also looked into alternative packaging like cans and kegs. With both Millennials and Gen X aging as well as Generation Z coming of age the push towards finding wines that reflect drinker’s values and fit into a heathy and balanced lifestyle will continue to get fiercer. Ontario wineries are well positioned to step-up and help customers ensure what’s in their glasses is treading lightly alongside Mother Earth and is in line with their hearts.


Wayne Gretzky Estates houses both a distillery and winery so visitors don’t have to choose between their wine or a cocktail. Look for Gretzky and other Ontario wineries to further explore the possible synergies between wine, spirits and beer and expand what it means to be a winery in 2020 and beyond. Photo by: Michael Di Caro.


If there’s one thing the last decade taught us, it’s that everybody hates being categorised into boxes and being labeled as if it defines us definitively. The local wine world is increasingly the same way. The past decade has seen experimentation on where to grow, what grapes to grow and how to best package the wine we grow, as well as experimentation with new and old school winemaking techniques and wine styles. But as the decade came to a close the most exciting and radical change is a quiet rebellion questioning that Ontario wine country could and should be solely defined by the grape. Aside from the usual technological and technical experimentation, wineries are increasingly adding distilleries on site, apple and fruit ciders to their portfolios, collaborating with craft breweries and exploring mixed-fermentations that blur the lines between wines, beers and spirits. While most of us might reach for a glass of wine first, it doesn’t mean we don’t also love a good craft cider, beer or cocktail. Our tastes in food are ever expanding and increasingly adventurous and cosmopolitan. This will be the decade where what’s in our glass catches-up to what’s in our pantries and on our plates.


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