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Wine Quotes: Bubbly Edition

For generous hosts who can afford it, serving wine during the holidays often means treating guests to very good sparkling wine, and for most of our history, that has meant serving them Champagne. That's why this week, we've assembled a few quotes from the legion of authors, political leaders, poets and musicians whose imaginations have been tickled by bubbly.

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“Come quickly, I am tasting the stars!” 

Dom Perignon, the “Father of Champagne”

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“Champagne is one of the elegant extras in life.”

Charles Dickens

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"I drink it when I'm happy and when I'm sad. Sometimes, I drink it when I'm alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I'm not hungry and drink it if I am; Otherwise I never touch it - unless I'm thirsty."

Madame Lily Bollinger

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“Champagne! In victory one deserves it, in defeat one needs it.”

Napoleon Bonaparte

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"Before I was born my mother was in great agony of spirit and in a tragic situation. She could take no food except iced oysters and champagne. If people ask me when I began to dance, I reply, In my mother's womb, probably as a result of the oysters and champagne, the food of Aphrodite."

Isadora Duncan

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“Too much of anything is bad, but too much Champagne is just right.”

Mark Twain

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“The feeling of friendship is like that of being comfortably filled with roast beef; love is like being enlivened with Champagne.”

Samuel Johnson

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“Champagne and orange juice is a great drink. The orange improves the Champagne. The Champagne definitely improves the orange.”

Philip, Duke of Edinburgh

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“Remember gentlemen, it’s not just France we are fighting for, it’s Champagne!”

Winston Churchill

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"I was enjoying myself now. I had taken two fingerbowls of Champagne and the scene had changed before my eyes into something significant, elemental, and profound."

F. Scott Fitzgerald

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"A single glass of Champagne imparts a feeling of exhilaration. The nerves are braced; the imagination is stirred, the wits become more nimble."

Winston Churchill

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"Maybe I misjudged Stromberg. Any man who drinks Dom Perignon ´52 can´t be all bad."

James Bond

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"I get no kick from Champagne. 

Mere alcohol doesn't thrill me at all,

So tell me why should it be true

That I get a kick out of you."

Cole Porter




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Popping off: a bubbly primer

The holidays are a time for celebration, which also means they are a time for sparkling wine. As the year winds down, many people are picking up bottles of bubbly for their winter celebrations.

But the average consumer is often beset by anxieties. How do you choose a sparkling wine that suits your tastes? How do you open a bottle without the risk of taking out someone’s eye? And where do all those bubbles come from, anyway?

Fear not. Our guide will have you popping bottles of fizz like it’s no big deal, and putting partygoers in awe of your bubbly knowledge.

A note about Champagne

A tightly enforced Appellation d’Origine means that only sparkling wines from the Champagne region in France can be sold as “Champagne.” These wines are produced with farming and winemaking and ageing practices specific to the region, and made exclusively with Chardonnay, Pinot noir and Pinot Meunier grapes (well, there are a few other minor grapes allowed in the fine print…).

Champagne is the most famous sparkling wine, but other designations exist, such as Cava from Spain, Asti and Moscato d’Asti from Italy, Sekt from Germany, and Espumante from Portugal. Smart wineries in British Columbia are harnessing our unique ability to maintain natural acidity in ripe grapes, and there are many award-winning bottles to sample.

Choosing

Bubbly’s flavour can run from very dry to very sweet, but if you only speak English, don’t expect the labels to make these designations clear. In order to buy a sparkling wine that best suits your tastes, you’ll need to do some decoding.

Sweetness is measured on a scale from brut to doux. Here’s a breakdown of the different ratings, with approximate sugar content per standard 5 oz glass expressed in teaspoons (tsp) or grams of residual sugar:

Brut Nature will taste bone-crunchingly dry with < ⅙ teaspoons or 0.8 grams of sweetness

Extra Brut will taste bone dry with < ¼ tsp or 3.75 grams of residual sweetness

Brut will taste virtually dry with < ½ tsp or 2.5 grams of residual  sweetness

Extra Sec will taste faintly sweet with ½ - ¾ tsp or 2.5 to 3.75 of residual sweetness

Sec will taste overtly medium sweet with  ¾ - 1 tsp or 5 grams of residual sweetness

Demi-Sec will taste distinctly sweet with 1-2 tsp or 5 to 10 grams of residual sugar

Doux will refer to a lush dessert-style sparkling wine for sweet foods with 2 tsp or 10 grams

Confusingly, both “sec” and “brut” translate to “dry,” although on the sparkling wine scale, sec is sweeter than ‘brut’. Also, note that some producers may substitute “dry” for sec, as in “extra dry,” but not for brut — there’s not “dry nature.”

In the past, sweet sparkling wine — Demi-Sec or Doux — was very popular, because it was easy to produce. Today, drier wines are more fashionable.

Opening up

It’s fun to make a loud noise and send a cork flying through the air, but if your goal is to impress guests or inlaws, your bubbly-opening technique needs to be more demure. Quietly and confidently removing the cork shows that you know what you’re doing, and makes it seem like drinking bubbly is no big deal for you.

Here’s how you do it. You’ll need a kitchen towel or, in a pinch, the hem of your shirt.

Ensure that the bottle is thoroughly chilled to about five or six degrees Celcius. Remove the foil covering the cork either by peeling back with a tab, if there is one, or cutting it with a knife. It’s okay to leave the foil around the bottle neck intact; you just need to uncover the cork.

Untwist the wire at the base of the muselet, the cage covering the cork which prevents it from flying off. Remove the muselet and the metal cap (plaque de muselet) that sits atop the cork which often designates the name of the producer, the wine and/or the vintage. For some people, these are a collector’s item.  Once the cage is off, keep your thumb firmly on the top of the ‘live’ cork, so that it doesn’t jump the gun and surprize you or your guests.

Hold the bottle at a thirty to forty-five degree angle, pointing away from you (and anyone else of course!). Drape the cork end with your towel; through the towel, grip the cork. The towel is not essential, but looks sharp, and may serve to catch the cork if it unleashes before you are ready.

Hold the cork securely and start to gently twist the bottle back and forth. Only the bottles is twisted in proper sparkling wine service. Take your time, and be sure to resist the pressure exerted by the cork. The goal is to ease to cork off, releasing pressure with a whisper, not a pop.

At a certain point, the carbonation will take over and eject the cork without any help. If you’ve been careful about removing it, this event should produce a quiet hiss. And, now that the hard work is over, it’s time to pour the wine and enjoy.

Where do those bubbles come from, anyway?

Most of sparkling wine’s alcohol is produced during primary fermentation in unsealed containers. The addition of sugar to the still, dry base wine is what kick-starts the second fermentation, which takes place inside sealed bottles. Carbon dioxide (which is a natural byproduct of fermentation) becomes trapped in the wine during this second round; when the bottle is opened, the trapped CO2 becomes eager to escape, and rises to the surface as bubbles.

Formation of bubbles is aided by the glass into which the wine is poured. Bits of microscopic debris on the glass serve as points onto which carbon dioxide latches, forms bubbles, and eventually detaches to climb to the top. You may notice that certain spots on the walls of a Champagne flute emit bubbles in a steady stream. These are places where tiny bits of cellulose fibre or other unseeable (but perfectly acceptable household) junk stick in place, continuing to accumulate and release bubbles. According to physicist Gerard Liger-Belair, if you were to fill a traditional (0.7 litre) flute with sparkling wine and leave it sitting on the counter, it would produce 11 million bubbles before going flat.

The right glass

When it comes to Champagne, you have three popular glasses to choose from: The coupe, the flute and the tulip.

The coupe is a shallow dish and has been made iconic in depictions of ‘20s Gatsbyesque soirees and ‘60s James Bond-style luxury. Lore has it that the coupe was modeled by French glassmakers on the breast of Marie Antoinette. It was popular from the 1700s to the 1970s and remains a stylishly retro choice today, but it doesn’t do much for the wine. The shallow container allows the bubbles to dissipate faster, while making it difficult to observe them. At the same time, the lack of a defined bowl shape prevents aromas from developing and dissipating.

The flute has become more popular in recent times. Tall and elegant, it’s a classic image of sparkling wine service. Its elongated shape is all about the bubbles: Preventing them from dissipating too quickly, while allowing drinkers to observe their rise. Which is good, because aside from showing it off, the flute doesn’t help its contents. Straight and narrow, there’s not much room for the wine to breath, or aromas to develop.

The tulip is similar to the flute, but rather than straight and narrow, and starts small at the bottom and widens near the top. It may not be as iconic as either the flute or the coupe, but all around it performs better than either. Rising bubbles are observable, while the shape of the glass gives aromas the space they need to move.

A fourth option exists, and it doesn’t require any special glassware. Increasingly, experts are recommending people drink champagne from regular white wine glasses. It’s a less showy option, but the shape of the glass (which is not dissimilar to the tulip)  gives the bubbly’s aromas the best chance to develop and be experienced by the drinker. For more mature wines that really demand to be savoured, this may be the ideal choice.

Be cool

Bubbly should be served cold, but don’t go overboard: Too frosty and you risk numbing the tongue and missing out on the best flavours the wine has to offer. Aim to serve sparkling wine between six and ten degrees celsius. You can reach this point by placing the bottle in an ice bucket for half an hour, or leave it lying on its side in a refrigerator for four hours.

Never chill sparkling wine in a freezer. And don’t use pre-chilled glasses — they’ll kill some of the sparkle.

At your service

If you’re serving guests, once the bottle is opened, go around and pour about an inch of bubbly into each person’s glass. Then go around and top everyone up in the same order. This allows time for the foam to settle, and reduces the chance of overflowing the glasses.

New Year’s Eve

Why do we drink sparkling wine on New Year’s Eve? There’s no one, simple reason, but a look at the history of how Champagne was marketed provides some clues.

Early on, Champagne could only really be afforded by the nobility. As such, it was seen as an indicator of high rank and good breeding. Then the scene changed. In the 18th century, with the liberalization or overthrow of many of Europe’s aristocracies, and the growth of the merchant and middle classes, non-royals began to accumulate wealth and power. Champagne houses began marketing their product as something ancient, noble — and accessible to the nouveau riche.

Still, for a middle class banker or shop owner, Champagne was too expensive to consume with every meal. So it was saved for special occasions, such as New Year’s Eve.

Plus, the Winter Solstice was traditionally celebrated by many Europeans with alcohol, right back to the pagan times. Booze was already essential to the party. Champagne just added to the ritual an Enlightenment polish.

Sparkling wine doesn’t need to be intimidating. And it doesn’t need to be a ritual saved only for New Year’s Eve. There are many varieties of sparkling wine being made today. In BC, producers are experimenting with new grape combinations, fermentation techniques and methods of bottling. There are sparkling wines that are ruby red, sparkling wines blended for pairing with food, sparkling wines made only with wild yeast. Experiment; try as many as you can. Bubbly will always be magical, whether you open a bottle once a year or once a week. So explore a little, and bring some sparkle into your life.

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Sabering, or how to open a bottle with a sword

The holidays are coming up fast, and New Year’s Eve is just around the corner. Which means we are rapidly approaching Champagne season.

Or sparkling season, more likely. Since “Champagne” can only be applied within the limits of strict appellation laws -- a tiny fraction of global sparkling wine production gets the C-word on its label — the majority of bottles being popped this year will be BC bubble, Spanish Cava, prosecco, brut or other variations on sparkling wine.

Which is just fine. Regardless of their storied history and brand recognition, Moët & Chandon’s Dom Pérignon is not the final say in bubbly. Many regions produce phenomenal sparkling wine. Look at the holidays as an excuse to try something amazing from British Columbia.

 

Introducing sabrage

Part of what makes bubbly so delightful, beyond the flavour and the straight-to-your-head effect of the bubbles, is the ritual of opening it. No other beverage, when opened, makes a sound like a gun or has the potential to break a window. That pop tells everyone that something special is coming. It’s a showy way to get the party started — but it can be even showier.

Sabering (or sabrage) is the art of opening a bottle of sparkling wine with a French cavalry sword — although today ornamental blades, kitchen knives, and even spoons are used. When a bottle is sabered correctly, the very top of the bottle cleanly pops off along with the cork. The neck is sheared straight, not jagged, and the rest of the bottle remains undamaged.

It’s a spectacular way to open a bottle of fizz. But doing it incorrectly can result in a lot of wasted Champagne, plus some very sharp broken glass. So, disclaimer: Don’t try this at home.

 

Why it Works

A bottle of properly chilled sparkling wine has a pressure of ninety pounds per square inch; that’s about the same as water pressure ten meters under the surface. Back in the day, this was a real problem. Bubbly was referred to as “the devil’s wine” because of its tendency to suddenly explode due to changes in temperature. It wasn’t until French glassmakers improved their techniques, and began producing heavier bottles (or sourcing stronger English bottles), that Champagne could be reliably shipped.

Every Champagne-style bottle has a weak spot. Along the neck of each runs two seams, where the halves of the bottle were joined during manufacturing. There is another seam right below the annulus, the lip of the bottle. Where these seams intersect, the bottle is about fifty per cent weaker than anywhere else. And given the force of the carbon dioxide pressure squeezing into the neck, this intersection becomes an Achilles Heel.

The blade doesn’t need to be sharp. Almost any hard edge will do, when wielded with skill; that’s why some people saber their bottles with spatulas or spoons, or the back of the knife, rather than the sharp blade. Hitting the weak spot with concentrated force releases the pressure inside, forms a straight crack running along the seam below the annulus, and sends the tip of the bottle flying through the air.

And because of the outward pressure — and some wine which inevitably shoots out as a result — shards of glass are pushed away. It’s important to check the first flute of bubbly for stray pieces, but overall, if sabered correctly, the wine should be safe to drink.

 

How it started

Sparkling wine is shrouded in lore, from the legend of the blind monk Dom Pérignon to tales of Marilyn Monroe bathing in Champagne. Sabering, likewise, has a storied past. No single legend is certain or proveable, but the most oft-repeated ones connect sabering to the days of Napoléon Bonaparte.

Napoléon’s light cavalry, the Hussars, carried sabres. During Napoléon’s campaigns, as he conquered huge swaths of Europe, spirits were high among the French people. After all, it was the founding of an empire. So, when Napoléon’s soldiers would ride through French towns after their victories, the cheering inhabitants would hand them bottles of Champagne.

It’s hard to steer your horse in military formation while opening a bottle of champagne. So the resourceful (and thirsty) Hussars found a way to hold the reins and the bottle in one hand, and use the other to take off the tip with their service weapon — the saber.

Another story links sabering to 19th century businesswoman and “Grand Dame of Champagne” Madame Clicquot. She married a wealthy businessman and Champagne producer at the age of twenty-one. He died six years later, and Clicquot inherited his fortune — and his business. With winemaking skill and business acumen, she was able to fully concentrate her resources into producing champagne, with great success.

It was under her that history records the first instance of “riddling,” a technique still used today. Prior to riddling, champagne was sweet, big-bubbled and cloudy with sediment. Through a regime of rotating bottles, sediment removal and topping-up, Clicquot created the clear, many-bubbled Champagne most people know today. Clicquot was hugely successful, and champagne is still produced under her name today as Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin.

The story goes that, when she was a young widow, Clicquot would entertain Napoléon’s soldiers in her vineyards. In the mornings, they would be riding out to do battle and, as a parting gift, she would hand them bottles of Champagne. Given the aforementioned difficulty with opening Champagne on horseback, the soldiers used their sabers. Also, given the fact that Madame Clicquot was an attractive young widow with a huge fortune to her name, these soldiers may have been showing off a little in order to win her favour.

 

Today

In the modern day, whether at a humble house party or a grand gala, sabering remains a ceremonial, flashy way to open a bottle. As mentioned before, unusual, mundane objects — such as hockey skates — have become popular props. Still, a number of companies produce decorated blades specifically to be used for sabering. And some people specialize in the practice. In Switzerland in 2014, Mirko Rainer entered the Guinness Book of World Records by sabering forty-seven bottles in sixty seconds. Also in Switzerland, in 2015, a highly organized group of people managed to saber 487 bottles at once.

Whether it’s with a spoon, a skate or a Hussar’s blade, sabrage is a great spectacle. It’s over-the-top, superfluous and a little surprising: In a word, effervescent.

 

New District

Wine Quotes: Food and Wine

The only thing better than a bottle of wine is a bottle of wine consumed with good food. For many cultures, wine has been a staple at the dinner table for as long as there have been dinner tables. This week, we look at what history's most ardent wine lovers think about the magic of good wine paired with good food.

 

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 "Let those who drink not, but austerely dine, dry up in law; the Muses smell of wine."

― Horace

 

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"A meal without wine is like a day without sun."

― Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

 

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“Food, like the people who eat it, can be stimulated by wine or spirits. And, as with people, it can also be spoiled.”

— Julia Child, Mastering the Art of French Cooking

 

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"My greatest ritual is sitting every night at the dining-room table with my wife and sharing our meal and one, sometimes two, bottles of wine and discussing the events of the day. Throughout the last five decades, this daily ritual has been ingrained so profoundly within us that we could not live without it, and this is how food memories are made."

— Jacques Pépin

 

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"It's a hell of a lot of food, done with great flourish and full of hospitality, but it's embarrassing hospitality. I would be perfectly happy with bread and cheese and beer and sausage, you know, or wine."

— James Beard

 

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"I cook with wine; sometimes I even add it to the food."

― W.C. Fields



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"Drinking wine is just a part of life, like eating food."

― Francis Ford Coppola

 

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“I rejoiced in the Burgundy. It seemed a reminder that the world was an older and better place than Rex knew, that mankind in its long passion had learned another wisdom than his. By chance I met this same wine again, lunching with my wine merchant in St James’s Street in the first Autumn of the war; it had softened and faded in the intervening years, but it still spoke in the pure, authentic accent of its prime, the same words of hope.”

― Evelyn Waugh

 

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“What wine goes with Captain Crunch?”

― George Carlin

 

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"Wine and cheese are ageless companions, like aspirin and aches, or June and moon, or good people and noble ventures."

― M. F. K. Fisher

 

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"Never spare the parson's wine nor the baker's pudding."

― Benjamin Franklin



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Everything you didn't know about fruit wine

When people hear “fruit wine,” they tend to think of farmers. Perhaps rightly so: In days of old, fermentation was a way to prevent excess produce from going to waste, to bottle up summer and save it for winter. Indeed, fruit wine is often also called “country” or “hedgerow” wine.

While plenty of fine plum, cherry or blackberry wine has been produced by home brewers, a lot of nasty stuff has as well. But this shouldn’t be allowed to taint fruit wine’s reputation. As small-scale, craft brewing has grown in popularity, and consumers have become more interested in unconventional and locally-produced food and drink, fruit wine has been able to establish a toehold in the beverage industry.

So, what’s the appeal?

Variety is part of it. Fruit wine can be made from stone fruit and berries. It can also be made from pineapple, bananas, mangos and even oranges. Different fruit wines are staples in different cultures. For instance, plum wine is popular in Japan, Korea and parts of China, while pineapple wine is drunk mostly in Southeast Asia. When enjoying cuisines from these areas, it might make more sense to pair with fruit wine than with the grape wine that usually accompanies European foods.

At the other end of the geographic and cultural spectrum, more and more people are adjusting their diets to match what’s available locally. For an individual following the Hundred Mile Diet and living somewhere Vitis vinifera doesn’t grow — in a northerly climate, for instance — fruit wine might be one of the few viable options when it comes to locally-produced alcohol.

Finally, there’s adventure. Traditional wine offers huge breadth and depth of sensory experience. But it doesn’t hurt, once in awhile, to step beyond the boundaries of the vineyard and try something entirely different.

How is fruit wine made?

Sugar content is measured in units called Brix. Wine grapes contain a higher density of sugar than any other fruit, at about twenty-four Brix when ripe. By comparison, other fruit contains six to eight Brix. From harvest to pressing to inoculation and fermentation, making wine with fruit is not drastically different from making wine with grapes. The difference comes from the sugar.

Fruit wine producers need to add sugar so that fermentation can take place. Too much sugar, and the result is a syrupy-sweet mess. Too little, and the wine won’t have enough alcohol content. In addition, tree fruits and berries are naturally more acidic than their vine-grown cousins. This means that fruit winemakers need to add water to juice before it ferments. Too much water, and the wine will be weak and flavourless.

Making fruit wine takes patience, the willingness to oversee the process so that sugars and acids are properly balanced. Many lacklustre wines, full of residual sweetness, have been produced, which gives fruit wine a bad name. But the most carefully crafted fruit wines are dry and relatively complex — something on par, sweetness-wise, with a Riesling. It takes research, or the services of a good beverage curator, to find a fruit wine that tastes like wine and not Welch’s.

How do I pair fruit wine?

Fruit wines are often sweet and easy-drinking, and they can be enjoyed on their own, without food. On the other hand, the fact that not much has been documented in terms for fruit wine pairing means that the area is wide open for new discoveries. By following some very basic principles of food-beverage pairing, and trying many foods and many wines, you can come up with some great combinations.

Light, delicate fruit wine should accompany food that won’t overwhelm it. For instance, dry apple or black currant wine would go well with fish. Slightly “bigger” wines, with more tannic structure — raspberry is a good example — would work nicely with roast poultry. And fruit wines with high acidity — say, black cherry — are meant for creamy sauces or rich cheeses.

Don’t be afraid to try lots of different approaches. Hosting a dinner party and pairing one of the courses with a fruit wine is sure to surprise and impress your guests.

If you have adventurous tastes and you’re always on the lookout for a new, favourite drink, fruit wine may be just the thing for you. It’s an old idea being done in new ways by many interesting producers; fruit wine is a field a that is ripe for experimentation.

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Why Crystals in Your Wine Won't Hurt You

You tip the last of that delicious chilled white wine into your glass, and out slide bits of chunky granular stuff that looks like it shouldn’t be there. Some weird dregs? Or sugar crystals? Or (gasp) shards of glass? Should you call 911? Should you take the bottle back to the store, or if in a restaurant, complain bitterly that you’ve been served a bad wine?

The answer of course is NO. Those crystals in your glass are innocent, and even desirable, but most consumers consider this a panic-inducing problem or wine fault. They are quick to assume that they’ve ingested glass, and granted, they’ll crunch if chewed, just as you imagine glass would. This residue is natural, harmless potassium bitartrate crystals, more commonly known as cream of tartar (yes, the stuff used by bakers). The crystals are the solid, physical evidence of natural acid in wine, acid that ensures wine is balanced, fresh-tasting and colour is preserved. Trouble is, cream of tartar is only partially soluble in liquid, so there lurks the chance that when chilled, the crystals can materialize in wine. 

Wine diamonds in the bottom of a bottle. Photo credit DJ Kearney.

 Wine diamonds in the bottom of a bottle. 

 

So how does this substance form?

Ripe grapes are sweet with sugar, but also contain generous amounts of malic and tartaric acid. After fermentation another acid is formed, called lactic acid. These three acids are usually invisible in wine, kept hidden in a dissolved state. It’s the cold that unlocks the crystals, causing them to precipitate out of the wine, dropping to the bottom of the bottle as deposit. Both red, rosé and white wines contain suspended potassium bitartrate, but reds are generally not served chilled, so the residue doesn’t form (unless the red has been stored for a protracted time in a very cool cellar). White and rosé wines of course are stored in a fridge or served in an ice bucket, and the crystals can appear when the last drops are poured. Sometimes the crystals cling to the bottom of the cork; sometimes they appear as white powder.

Diamonds sometimes form on corks. Photo credit DJ Kearney

 Diamonds sometimes form on corks. 

Wineries pour a great deal of expense, research and effort into the prevention of these crystals, simply because consumers assume them to be dangerous at worst (pieces of glass), or undesirable at best (added sugar crystals). There are several ways of preventing potassium bitartrate deposits, but all methods are energy-inefficient, take time and are costly. The simplest method is called cold stabilization, where the wine is put in a large stainless steel tank, chilled to 0-4 C for one to three weeks, then removed (racking, in wine-speak) off the deposit that has crystallized during this cooling. This is expensive, and both flavour and colour can be stripped from wine. Subtle nuance, delicate flavours, terroir expression - all facets of wine that a hard-working winemaker has tried to express in the wine - can be compromised just because of consumer fears. Education is the key. An astute store clerk, restaurant server or sommelier can explain the occurrence of ‘wine diamonds’. Decanting the wine through cheesecloth or coffee filter is an easy fix. Or just let them be.

Note the thick frost former on the outside of these cold stabilization tanks. Photo credit DJ Kearney
Note the thick frost former on the outside of these cold stabilization tanks. 

So what’s the message in the bottle when you observe crystals?

  1. Nothing harmful – they do not affect the quality of wine, or change the taste.

  2. Your wine has been made with care and minimal intervention

  3. Money and resources have been saved by avoiding tartrate stabilization, and that saves you money too

  4. You are an educated wine-lover and will now look forward to being showered with wine diamonds

 

 

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How to Bluff Your Way Through a Wine Tasting

If you’re just starting your wine knowledge journey, tasting can seem like an intimidating task. But it’s one worth undertaking. Proper wine-tasting isn’t just for sommeliers and serious collectors; it’s an essential skill for every wine drinker. Learn how to do it right, and you’ll get a return on your investment in premium wines. And you’ll get more bang for your buck from even the most modest, workaday bottles.

So limber up. Here are some exercises to get you started.

 

Assembling Materials

Time to sit down and get going. Purchase a variety of wines, from tannic reds to young whites. The exact number of bottles isn’t important; work within your budget. If you’re ready to get started and don’t want to go on a shopping trip first, use whatever wine you have. Just keep in mind that having a greater variety will allow you to make comparisons, and more easily find which varieties interest you most.

Besides the wine itself, you’ll also want to have on hand some drinking water, a cup (for spitting), some paper and a pen for taking notes, and a separate, unlined piece of white paper (more on that later).

 

Step One: Sight

First, make sure that you hold the glass by the stem, not the bowl. Your hand will change the temperature of the wine, as well as potentially dirtying up the glass and making it harder to see the contents. For tasting purposes, your glass should be one-quarter to one-third full.

To examine the wine visually, tilt the glass away from you, so you’re effectively looking down on an elongated pool of wine. Hold it up against your piece of white paper, which serves as a neutral background.

You can learn a lot from examining a wine this way. Clear, bright wines have been filtered; more opaque, less “shiny” wines have not, or else have been filtered less. The colour of the wine helps you determine its age. Whites get darker as they get older; reds get lighter. For whites, specifically, age is indicated by a gradient of colour -- from dark and dense near the middle, to lighter at the edge, where the wine gets shallower and closer to the rim of the cup.

You can even determine the variety of grape based on colour. For instance, merlot’s outer edges are famously orange-tinted.

 

Step Two: The Swirl

Agitate the wine. Get it moving. Swirling the wine in your glass aerates it, releasing compounds into the air which, shortly, you will be directing into your nose. If you’re new to swirling, you can avoid making a mess by keeping the base of the glass planted on a table. Swirl the wine vigorously for ten to fifteen seconds to really get those molecules jumping.

 

Step Three: The Nose

Your nose can pick up about ten thousand distinct aromas, and scent comprises roughly eighty per cent of taste. Everyone’s technique for sniffing is slightly different. Whether you plant your nose right in the glass or daintily perch it above the rim, the important thing is to keep your mouth out of the glass, so the smell of your toothpaste or your last meal doesn’t interfere with the wine’s.

Inhale deeply. Try to keep pulling in air for a solid ten seconds, if you can. You want to get as many scent molecules as possible up to the olfactory receptors at the top of your nasal cavity.

Look for flaws before anything else. Smell damp cardboard, vinegar, or baking? That’s a sign of corking or other contamination. Have a little taste, just to see what damaged wine tastes like. Then spit it out and throw away the rest.

Assuming the wine isn’t flawed, what are you picking up in terms of fruit? Fruits are often the easiest scents to identify. White wine tends toward pear, apple or peach. For red, “dark fruits” - cherry, plum, blackberry - are predominant. Secondary aromas such as earth or wood can give you an idea of where the wine originated. “Old World,” or European wines, tend to be earthier. And the “hotter” the scents of the wine is in your nose, the higher the alcohol content.

Take your time. There’s no need to be super creative with your notes; nobody is expecting you to detect specific cultivars of stone fruit, or varieties of exotic wood. But do your best to pick apart the fruity/earthy/et cetera aspects of the scent, and recognize how they complement each other. Doing so will educate your nose, and prepare you for tasting.

 

Step Four: The Taste

Oh boy! Here comes the good part.

A note on spitting: If you’ve got other things to do during the day, spitting is a great way to make sure those things happen. Swallowing every mouthful at a three o’clock tasting can really derail your productivity, and if you’re tasting alone, it could lead to some unhealthy habits. Be judicious, and don’t feel guilty spitting out good wine. You’re doing this to train your sense of taste, not challenge your sense of coordination.

Take a nice big sip and move it all around your mouth, washing it back and forth over your tongue. Observe how the wine feels -- is it thin? Viscous? Think of milk: Is the texture more like skim, or more like whole? The former would be a light-bodied wine; the latter, full-bodied.

Note how the flavours deepen and change while it’s in your mouth. Much like sniffing, learning to taste is about learning to pick apart the different flavours in a wine and observe how they interact. Unlike sniffing, there is the added factor of the wine’s interaction with your saliva and the heat of your mouth. The wine will change as you’re tasting it, and observing those changes and how they affect your experience of the wine can be extremely rewarding.

The sweeter a wine is, the less acidic. Acid in wine will activate your salivary glands; after swallowing, you’ll find your mouth watering. Because of this, more acidic wines make a better accompaniment to food than sweeter, more cloying ones, which are better enjoyed solo or as a dessert.

Tannins follow, drying away some of that saliva brought out by the acid. Note the character of the tannins. There are two kinds: Oak and grape. Tannins from oak are rounder and smoother; tannins from grapes are greener and sharper.

Note the flavour profile of the wine overall. Are you getting a big burst of fruit that gradually fades, without much else going on otherwise? Or are there a bunch of tastes bustling around on your palate? Complex wines tend to be favoured by experienced drinkers, particularly when all the notes work together in a way that is mutually complementary.

 

Finally

Be patient and enjoy the process. You won’t become an expert overnight, and you’re probably not destined to be a great wine critic. But with practice and careful attention to what your senses are telling you, you’ll be able to enjoy wine more than you ever did before.

 

New District

Everything You Need to Know About the Nectar of the Gods

Need party advice? Ask Odin:

 

Shun not the mead, | but drink in measure;

Speak to the point or be still;

For rudeness none | shall rightly blame thee

If soon thy bed thou seekest.

  • From the Hávamál. Attributed to Odin, god of poetry and war.

 

Mead is made by fermenting a mixture of honey and water. While the availability of grapes and grains varies from region to region, honey bees are ubiquitous; historically, variations on mead can be found as far south as the African sub-continent and as far north as Norway. And it’s likely older than beer or wine. The earliest evidence of mead production comes from Chinese vessels from 7000 BC. It’s theorized that early nomadic cultures were introduced to mead via beehives flooded with rainwater.

Since it predates civilization, mead has developed a reputation as a substance primordial, magical and life-giving. It was purportedly the beverage of choice during Greek civilization’s Golden Age, when it was referred to as the “nectar of the gods.” Some interpreters see it being consumed by the gods in the Rig Veda.

While grape cultivation took over in Southern Europe as a cheaper, more reliable way of producing alcohol, mead maintained its popularity in the north. Norse, Irish and Anglo-Saxon legends all include references to mead. In the Havamal, an ancient Norse poem, readers are instructed in the right way to consume it. And the god Odin was said to have stolen the magical Mead of Poetry from the dwarves, thereby gaining a flare for verse while distributing poetic inspiration among the human race. Today, references to mead abound in fantasy fiction; Tolkien was probably the first to resurrect its name, but mentions can also be found in George RR Martin’s The Song of Ice and Fire (on which Game of Thrones is based) and Harry Potter.

Mead can be sparkling, carbonated or still; very sweet or very dry; yeasty and pungent or light and fruity; mild (8% abv) or strong (over 20% abv). And different regions have different versions. An unfiltered mead from Ethiopia is called tej, and served in long-necked beakers, while in Finland, it’s called sima, and drunk during May Day festivals. Also, the name changes according to what ingredients are added. Mead with fruit in it is called melomel. Mead with spices and herbs is called metheglin.

There has been a resurgence in mead’s popularity in recent years, thanks to the growing consumption among adults of shows such as Game of Thrones, games such as Skyrim, and fantasy stories in general. Plus, Millennal buyers seem driven to experiment when it comes to food or drink. Mead may be ancient, but to many moderns, it’s new. Commercial craft meaderies have only recently begun emerging, and mead maintains a small-batch, niche appeal.

If you’d like to try mead, make sure you’re getting the Real McCoy. Some producers make white wine with honey that is added after fermentation There’s nothing wrong with such beverages in their own right — they might be classified as Hypocras, or pre-made mulled wine — but they’re not the nectar of the gods.

Mead was traditionally renowned for its life-giving and reproduction-enhancing abilities. After all, the term “honey-moon” used to refer the month a married couple spent shacked up with a cask of mead, consummating their marriage and hopefully conceiving their first offspring. Also, honey comes from flowers, the reproductive organs of plants. As we approach the darkest, coldest part of the year, mead might well be the perfect drink to enjoy with friends and family. It’s a reminder that eventually the sun will return, and with it, the buzzing of bees and the bounty of nature. So this holiday season, raise a glass of mead - if not to the gods, then to warmer days to come.

 

New District

Wine Quotes: Holiday Edition

Winter brings to mind a flurry of images: warm clothing, a swirling snowstorm beyond a pane of glass, a glowing hearth. And if the way humans have written about winter in literature and poetry is any indication, nothing seems to get the imagery flowing better than a glass of wine. As the weeks get colder and the weather bleaker, here are some winter-themed wine quotes to tide you over.

 

  “Let now the chimneys blaze

   And cups o’erflow with wine...

   The summer hath his joys,

   and winter his delights;

Though love and all his pleasures are but toys,

They shorten tedious nights.”

  
Thomas Campion, The Third Booke of Ayres

 

 

 

“If the October days were a cordial like the sub-acids of fruit, these are a tonic like the wine of iron. Drink deep or be careful how you taste this December vintage. The first sip may chill, but a full draught warms and invigorates.”


John Burroughs, Winter Sunshine

 

 

 

 

“Every December, I host a tree-trimming party. I serve chili with cornbread and lots

of good wine. It's a wonderful party, and it shows how much adults like to play.”

Maya Angelou 

 

 

 “‘It wasn’t the wine,’ murmured Mr Snodgrass, in a broken voice. ‘It was the salmon.’ (Somehow or other, it never is the wine, in these cases.)”


Charles Dickens, The Pickwick Papers

 

"A good sherris-sack hath a twofold operation in it. It ascends me into the brain, dries me there all the foolish and dull and crudy vapors which environ it, makes it apprehensive, quick, forgetive, full of nimble, fiery, and delectable shapes, which, delivered o'er to the voice, the tongue, which is the birth, becomes excellent wit.”


William Shakespeare, Henry IV

 

"Drinking wine was not a snobbism nor a sign of sophistication nor a cult; it was as

natural as eating and to me as necessary.”


—  Ernest Hemingway

 

 

"We ought to do good to others as simply as a horse runs, or a bee makes honey, or a vine bears grapes season after season without thinking of the grapes it has borne.”—  Marcus Aurelius 

 

“I was just thinking of a flaming rum punch. No, it's not cold enough for that. Not nearly cold enough...Wait a minute...wait a minute...Mulled wine! Heavy on the cinnamon and light on the cloves. Off with you, me lad, and be lively!”


Clarence Odbody, It's a Wonderful Life

 

New District

Wine Digest: Interfaith viticulture in Bethlehem, London's low-brow wine bar, junk food pairings, and more

In this week’s Digest, Christians and Muslims make wine together in Bethlehem, two Londoners launch a wine bar for the rest of us, a Niagara winery pairs its products with Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups — and Britain’s wealthiest collectors store their vino in a secret WWII ammo dump.

Christian and Muslim Palestinians are growing grapes and making wine at the site of a former monastery in the Holy Land. And it’s not just a heart-warming symbol of interfaith cooperation: Apparently, the wine is pretty good too.

London wine-and-art magazine Noble Rot has gained a cult following. Now, its founders have opened a rough-around-the-edges wine bar with the goal of taking unpretentious wine appreciation to a whole new level.

At Konzelmann Estate Winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake, you can book a tasting and pair locally-produced vino with fuzzy peaches, potato chips, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, and other guilty pleasures.

Beneath the rolling green pastures outside of Bath, a secret British bunker from the Second World War was once used to store ammunition. Now, it’s protecting more than 1.5 million bottles of wine belonging to the nation’s most prestigious collectors and auction houses.

 

New District

Introducing DJ Kearney, our Director of Wine

Welcome, BC wine-lovers.

These are exciting times for BC wine. We make distinctive, award-winning wines in our province - wines that have turned heads around the world. On a global scale our production is tiny (and precious), but somehow great BC wines are becoming harder and harder to buy. New District is a BC wine marketplace that was created to provide a simple solution for both consumers and businesses. We have a tightly focused vision: we want to help people who make great wine in BC connect with wine lovers who want to learn more about it. We’re aware of the growing interest among the enlightened public (that’s you) to sample and support local wines, and New District is here to help you get the information you need.

I’ve been drinking, thinking and writing about BC wine for many years, and when I learned of this compelling project, I knew I had to be a part of it. I was attracted to the ideal of connecting BC wine lovers with the artisan producers who pour heart and soul into the wines they make. Over the years I’ve come to know the unique areas where grapes grow in this province, and appreciate the massive human ambition that’s given us such rich choice in wine. As a long-time wine educator, I’m looking forward to creating content that brings our winelands to life, and the chance to teach and entertain along the way. Our website will evolve month by month with articles, wine notes, winery profiles, as well as food and wine pairing insights.

It’s a great time to be a wine-lover, and I can’t wait to help you discover new wines. At New District we have the ability to introduce you to the wines that intrigue you, using this handsome website where you can search according to variety or producer. There is no better place to learn about wine.

Yours in wine, 

 

DJ Kearney

Director of Wine

newdistrict.ca

New District

The classy way to give wine as a gift

Wine makes an excellent holiday gift for just about anyone on your list. From your trusty dog walker, friendly neighbourhood sanitation worker, to your roommate, to your kid’s teacher, it’s rare that a bottle of vino goes unappreciated. It can be as modest or extravagant as you like — within limits — and, if you like wine, shopping (online, for instance) for a good bottle can be almost as much fun as receiving one.

That being said, there is a lot of pressure around making the right choice. Like any gift, a bottle of wine sends a message. If you’re not careful, that message could be the wrong one. Below, we’ll cover the most important points to consider while buying and giving wine, so that your present is guaranteed to be well-received.

Research

First things first, make sure the person you’re buying for drinks. If they’re a recovering addict, or their faith prohibits consuming alcohol, giving them a bottle of your favourite Pinot Noir will not go over well. Make sure you’re well-acquainted enough with the individual in question before buying them booze.

Even if they don’t normally drink wine, you should be able to find one that they like. But if alcohol is a no-go, it’s time to find an alternative.

Price

How can you avoid looking cheap without maxing out your credit card? The simple answer: Stick to something between twenty and thirty dollars.

Past the twenty dollar mark, you’re more or less certain to be buying a wine with distinct character and qualities; under twenty dollars, and you risk straying into bargain basement, slightly-better-than-table varieties which, by their label — and the fact that the liquor store’s aisles are packed with them — are easily recognizable as such.

Over thirty dollars, and you’re getting extravagant. Most gift wines pricier than this are not making a statement with their quality as with the amount you’re willing to spend.

It’s okay to adjust your selection according to what the person you’re buying for usually prefers. If their go-to is a half gallon of white zinfandel, they might not have the palate or interest level needed to appreciate a bottle from your favourite biodynamic, farm gate producer. In that case, it’s safe to flirt with the twenty dollar line.

In this case, consider getting a wine that comes in a heavier bottle. Certain brands intentionally ship their product in heavier bottles; it gives a sense of luxury, indulgence and quality, even if the contents aren’t always something to write home about.

This is totally acceptable. Your goal is to make the recipient feel appreciated, and if they’re not particularly interested in the profile or provenance of the wine you’re giving them, a heavy, fancy bottle might be the way to do this.

But if you know you’re buying a gift for an oenophile, it’s time to pull out the big guns. Use their tastes as an excuse to buy an interesting, more obscure and/or dearer bottle.

Dinners

There are many occasions when you will be invited to a meal and feel inclined to bring a bottle of wine as a gift. It’s a great idea, but if you’re not careful, you run the risk of being disappointed.

You might put a ton of time and effort into selecting the perfect bottle to delight your host and fellow guests, only to see it left to the side, unopened, for the duration of the night. Either your host has already chosen their own wine pairing, or they’ve misinterpreted your gesture to mean the wine is just for them, not to be shared.

If you’ve done your research ahead of time, found out what was to be served, and chosen a wine to complement it, make sure your intentions are clear: “Here, I thought this would go well with dinner tonight.” If you’ve purchased a bottle with no relation to dinner whatsoever, with the aim that your guest will enjoy it later, go with, “Here, I brought you something for your collection.”

One more thing: If you intend for your gift to be consumed on-site and it’s a white or sparkling wine, make sure it is chilled ahead of time. Don’t assume your host has space in their fridge or freezer for another bottle — or the patience to wait for it to cool.

Presentation

Handing over a bare bottle can come across as crude or poorly-thought-out. You’re giving a gift, after all; it should be wrapped.

Regular wrapping paper or tissue paper both tend to tear, especially if someone grabs the bottle by its neck — in which case they risk it falling through the bottom of its wrapping and onto the floor.

Wine gift bags are great because they’re reusable. Still, if you’re buying twenty bottles for twenty different people this year, the collected cost of gift bags could represent funds better spent on more wine.

Here’s the perfect solution: When you buy the wine, get a paper bag for it. Then add an inexpensive ribbon or bow, and maybe a little card or label. It’s a wry, understated way to give someone the gift of a bottle. And  it’s totally appropriate. After all, the quality of the wine, not of the wrapping, should show how much you care.

Value Added

Just a quick note: You can up your present game by accompanying your wine with a bit of food. Some really good paté, cured meats or cheese will turn your gift of a drink into the gift of a luxurious snack. It’s also a great chance to show off your pairing skills. Alternatively, print out a tasting note or points score or critic review of your wine and add that to the gift bag.

The Choice

We can talk about dinner party etiquette, presentation, price and pairing, but the question at the heart of this issue is, “Which wine should I buy?”

There is no easy answer. Your choice will depend on your own tastes, the tastes of your guests, what’s available where you live, and how much you’re willing to spend (within the tasteful limits set above, of course).

However, in cases of severe doubt, there are some loose guidelines to which you can turn.

If you’re going to a dinner party and aim to bring a bottle people can enjoy on-site, talk to your host ahead of time and find out what they’ll be serving. If they won’t give you a straight answer, or if you don’t know them super well, go with a safe bet.

A safe bet would be either a dry, unoaked white or a juicy, medium-bodied red. These are good middle-of-the-road options that pair acceptably well with a wide variety of foods, but can also be enjoyed on their own.

Or go the sparkling route. Everybody — from beer-drinkers to the most hardcore oenophile — loves a glass of bubbly. In a dinner party setting, the inclination will be to open the bottle before eating, so pairing is not an issue. As a gift for someone whose tastes you don’t know, or who doesn’t often drink wine, sparkling wine is a special treat. Just the act of popping the bottle becomes a ritual, and during a time of year when everyone is getting together and celebrating the people they care about, it’s great punctuation to any gathering.

Enjoy

Most important, make sure you take pleasure in giving wine as a gift. If you enjoy wine — and why else would you be reading this? — then buying it as a gift is an awesome excuse to learn more, try new varieties, and shop around. And, once people know you like giving wine as a present, and that you put an effort into making the right choices, they’re sure to begin repaying the kindness. After all, the only thing more enjoyable than giving someone a great bottle is receiving one.

 

New District

British Columbia's wine regions are stunning. Here's proof.

British Columbia's wineries not only produce great wine, they look good doing it. Check out these luscious images - taken by New District photographers - of eight of the province's most photogenic wine locations.

Church & State's view of South Okanagan is awe-inspiring.

It's a sunny afternoon on a the patio at CC Jentsch Cellar's spot on Oliver, BC's famed Golden Mile Bench.

 

The black rock escarpment behind the Corcelettes winery in the Similkameen Valley is a perfect trap for the sun's heat.

 

A gorgeous view from La Frenz's share of the Okanagan's acclaimed Naramata Bench.

 

La Vieux Pin is perched on the elite Black Sage Bench near Oliver, BC.

 

Painted Rock's well-shaded patio provides a great view of Lake Skaha.

On the Naramata Bench, Poplar Grove's lavender patch is in full bloom.

At Wild Goose, in Okanagan Falls, you can enjoy a glass of wine while you watch the next vintage grow.

New District

Why dishonest winemaking can be deadly

The second entry in our wine scandal series looks at looks at an Italian manufacturer's scam which, in 1986, killed twenty-three people.

Over the course of the year, twenty-three people died and ninety were hospitalized. The culprit? Tainted table wine. A number of brands of cheap Piedmont red, often sold in jugs, were found to have a methanol content of 5.7%. For comparison, your average, unadulterated bottle of wine clocks in at about 0.3% methanol.

Methanol is ethanol’s evil twin. Like ethanol, it’s produced during the fermentation of fruits and grains, but in much lower quantities. (For industrial purposes, large amounts of methanol can be made by fermenting wood; that’s why methanol is sometimes called “wood alcohol.”) When you have a glass of wine, you’re drinking infinitesimal, trace amounts of methanol. But the ethanol content is so much higher that if you kept drinking you would get ethanol poisoning long before the methanol began affecting you. (Don’t test this theory at home.)

When methanol is metabolized, it converts to formaldehyde. Formaldehyde should never be in your body. It destroys your optic nerves. That’s why stories of bad moonshine often involve consumers going blind; improperly distilled spirits contain more methanol than your average off-the-shelf whiskey. Higher levels of exposure lead to comas and eventually death.

Methanol can also mimic the pleasant effects of ethanol, though. The crooked winemakers in 1986 saw using methanol as a cheap way to make a batch of low-alcohol-content wine saleable.

Investigators had to do a lot of footwork tracking the poisoned wine to its origins; the same bad batch had been sold under many different labels, and many resellers didn’t keep records of sale. Eventually, though, they traced it to a distributor named Giovani Cirvegna and his son Daniele. But while the idea had originated with them, many others in the business were complicit. Eventually, the police were able to link twelve more individuals to the crime, and arrest them on charges of manslaughter, grievous bodily harm or the illegal adulteration of food.

The scandal shook Italy’s wine industry to its core. Many countries banned importation of drinks made in Italy. Over 600,000 litres of wine were potentially affected, and sold under as many as 300 different labels. As the investigation expanded, authorities discovered that many other batches of wine had been adulterated, albeit to lesser degrees, suggesting the problem was institutional.

Today, thanks to extremely strict manufacturing processes, even bargain basement Italian table wine is completely safe to drink. The industry has regained consumers’ trust. But the deaths of twenty-three people, and the suffering of many more, remain a testament to the havoc that can be wreaked through dishonest manufacturing processes.

New District

Wine Digest: Growing grapes in Siberia, the halal champagne alternative, pairing wine with durian, and more

Siberian prisoners grow vines, a Munich company invents halal bubbly for observant Muslims, while people with questionable judgment seek the perfect wine pairing with durian — these stories and more in this week’s Wine Digest.

 

The vine who was left out in cold

In what was once one of Stalin’s most brutal gulags, high-security prisoners are experimenting with growing grapes for wine. Their only obstacle? The Siberian tundra.

 

Bubbly for believers

A company in Munich is marketing the first halal sparkling wine. They’re hoping it will be a hit with billionaires from the Arabian peninsula, for whom Coca-Cola is usually the drink of choice at high-profile events.

 

Putrid pairing

The smell of durian fruit mimics a rotting corpse. And for non-fans, it tastes pretty noxious as well. Some enterprising (or foolhardy?) San Franciscans decided to see if it could be improved with the right wine pairing.

 

Just because you can...

...doesn't mean you should. In Cleveland, a company is trying to appeal to wine-loving manly-men with vino sold in aluminum cans. Who are they offending most — women, or good taste?

New District

Wine scandals: The Jefferson Bottles

With rare bottles selling for thousands of dollars, wine forgery can be a lucrative business. The most high-profile wine scam executed in the 20th century duped Christie’s auction house, ripped off some of America’s wealthiest collectors, and made headlines worldwide. And it worked on the reputation of Thomas Jefferson.

Jefferson is regarded by historians and oenophiles alike as the world’s first eminent connoisseur. On his diplomatic missions to France, he fell in love with European wine. Until then, his exposure had been to the Portugese and Spanish fortified varieties favoured by the English. The wines of France were a new phenomenon entirely, and inspired the American polymath to open his pocketbook. During his first term as President, Jefferson spent the equivalent one hundred twenty thousand modern dollars on wine alone. (Occasionally, he would order a case for his friend George Washington.)

In 1985, Christie’s in London auctioned off a green bottle engraved with “Lafitte” and the initials “Th.J.” The catalogue stated that, based on available evidence, the bottle came from a collection owned by none other than Thomas Jefferson.

It sold to Bill Koch, one of America’s richest men, for one hundred fifty-seven thousand dollars.

Other prominent collectors began scooping up bottles from the collection. Before long, bottles of Jeffersonian wine were gracing the world’s most well-stocked, well-funded cellars. No-one questioned the provenance of these finds until 2005, when Koch’s collection was being considered for an exhibition at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. When Koch’s staff contacted the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, they discovered that there was no evidence whatsoever that these bottles had ever belonged to Thomas Jefferson.

The discovery sparked off a globe-spanning investigation funded by Koch out of his own pocket. The origin of the Jefferson bottle was traced to a colorful German wine collector named Hardy Rodenstock.

Rodenstock had been a fixture in the world of fine wine since 1980, when he began holding elaborate tastings of some the world’s rarest finds. Fellow collectors knew him as someone who would often discover - and resell - extremely rare vintages, or wines whose provenance intersected with history in interested ways (such as bottles from the cellar of the last Russian Tsar.)

He was the one who claimed to have received a phone call from a Parisian source, who then sold him the Thomas Jefferson bottles. Rodenstock, when questioned, would not reveal the name of the source or the location where the bottles were discovered. In interviews, he would claim to have found anywhere from one dozen to thirty bottles of the rare wine.

Rodenstock’s history was already spotty. In 1992, a collector purchased a Jefferson bottle from him. When he tried to resell it at Christie’s, Rodenstock intervened, claiming that he had originally sold the bottle on the condition that it would not be resold. The buyer did not recall any such stipulations. He had the bottle forensically analyzed, and discovered that the contents - whose vintage allegedly dated back to the 18th century - had been produced at some point after 1962. He sued Rodenstock; a German court found Rodenstock guilty; Rodenstock countersued; and, eventually, the two settled out of court.

Early on in Koch’s investigation, he learned that Hardy Rodenstock’s name was not his real name, and that he did not come from (as he claimed) a wealthy German family. He had actually been born Meinhard Görke, and was the son of a railyard worker. He also claimed to have once been a professor, without ever providing evidence in the form of credentials. 

Further, he had close connections with Michael Broadbent, internationally renowned wine critic and head of Christie’s wine department. Broadbent is known for his tasting notes for rare and extremely old wines. Much of his access to these wines - including most of those from the 18th century - came via Rodenstock. A great deal of his work, Broadbent wrote in one of his books, came about only as a result of Rodenstock’s “immense generosity.”

Koch’s investigators discovered that, even as far back as the 1985, there were questions about the Jefferson wine’s authenticity. Broadbent had approached the Thomas Jefferson Foundation and learned what they already knew: That there was absolutely no evidence to back up claims that the wine once belonged to Jefferson.

Broadbent’s problem now was that he had certified much of Rodenstock’s rarest stock. Rodenstock, in turn, owed much of his reputation (and his profits) from Broadbent’s certifications.

But evidence against Rodenstock continued to accumulate. In the late ‘90s, a pair of collectors had raised concerns about the provenance of some other bottles Rodenstock had sold which, according to the historical records, was inconsistent with the size of bottles actually produced by the winemaker in question. And Koch’s team had consulted with experts to learn that the engraving on the Jefferson bottles was in the style of that done by an electric dremel rather than an 18th century tool.

Koch filed a civil lawsuit against Rodenstock in 2006. Rodenstock refused to participate, citing the fact that Koch had not bought the bottles directly from him, but via third parties. He also claimed he could not be charged in an American court because he was a German citizen. Rodenstock was never charged.

Scientific techniques like those used in the case of the Jefferson bottles can be used to root out fakes, but not all collectors may want to use them. After all, once you’ve spent thousands of dollars on a rare bottle, and showed it off to all of your friends, do you really feel like having its value demoted to zero? 

Bill Koch, at least, is glad to have gotten to the bottle of the matter. Given widespread coverage of the story, his bottles now have celebrity status. When he shows off his cellar to guests, he likes to brag about owning the Thomas Jefferson fakes.

New District

How wine tourism got its start

Today, tourism and wine are part and parcel. In Canada alone, wine tourism - or enotourism, as it’s officially known - generates $1.2 billion annually. About three million people come to Canada every year wholly or partly for the purpose of touring vineyards and visiting tasting rooms. From casual sippers to hardcore collectors, the chance to visit a favourite producer, or try something new at an unknown winery, is a huge draw.


But it turns out that enotourism, on a global scale, is a pretty new phenomenon. It’s generally agreed that things hit full swing in 1975 in Napa, when vintners got together and really put their resources toward drawing tourists. But even before then, there were rumblings in California. 


Not long after Prohibition was repealed, California wine producers began to see the potential for drawing in new customers. With the ebb of the Great Depression and the dawn of American road culture, domestic tourism was in its infancy. It only made sense to tap into this burgeoning scene.

As early as 1935, at the Conference of Vintners and Allied Interests in the Del Monte Hotel, a speaker recommended “that visitors be invited to the wineries and vineyards, so that they may be imbued with the lore of wine, and learn to know it.” At the same time, Fred Abruzzi, manager of Beringer Brothers, was ahead of the curve. During a 1934 wine festival, he had opened the winery to visitors. Not long after, he established a retail sales room. By 1940, a third of Beringer Brothers’ sales took place at the winery.

What could be better than dining outdoors between the vines? Nothing. The answer is nothing.

Other producers began to follow suit. History’s first tasting room came to be in 1949 at Charles Krug Winery, under the watch of the Mondavi family. The Wine Institute got onboard with the tasting and retail sales movement, and issued road maps highlighting wineries. By 1954, the Institute claimed 250,000 people had visited California for its wine.

As tourism picked up, wineries began expanding their facilities and on-site activities to appeal to visitors. Robert Mondavi started a series of concerts in 1965 which took place on the lawn of the Charles Krug winery; they were hugely successful, and when Mondavi started his own winery, he brought the festival with him. Other wineries introduced organized tastings, picnic lunches and barbeques. Retail stores grew into gift shops. Lawns became outdoor dining areas. Patios and ramadas were installed.

Before long, California’s wineries turned from production facilities to full-blown hospitality centres. The result? Huge profits, growing popularity, and attention from abroad. Soon wineries on the East Coast were following suit, and so was the Old World. California’s wine tourism has continued growing; since Repeal, it hasn’t faced a setback.

Today, as new regions begin exploring wine-making - and BC, with just 25 years of Noble Grape stock to its name, is relatively new - investors take for granted that wineries and vineyards will be more than sites of production. Oenophiles on vacation expect luxurious tasting rooms and manicured grounds, and producers are eager to please. Enotourism shows no signs of slowing down. And for those of us who love wine and travel equally, that’s a good thing.

New District

Wine Digest: Bioengineered hangover cures, Champagne during WWI, the rise of two buck chuck, and more

Could recent developments in bioengineering result in hangover-proof wine? What happened to Champagne when Champagne became the front line of WWI? Why is dirt-cheap Charles Shaw wine thriving? All this and more in this week's Wine Digest.

Champagne and World War One: ‘the darkest hour’

Champagne was on the front lines of the First World War in autumn of 1914. Only a week after an allied offensive forced the Germans to abandon Epernay, women and children began picking that year's vintage, which would be lauded as the 20th century's finest. Decanter looks at Champagnes darkest hour.

 

A Scientific Breakthrough Could Make Your Wine into Hangover-Free Magic

New research published in the Journal of Applied and Environmental Microbiology suggests that bioengineered yeast could soon make hangovers a thing of the past. Munchies looks at the possibility of genetically-modified wines that are ache and pain proof.

Drink Up: The rise of really cheap wine

The New Yorker's Dana Goodyear charts the rise of 'two buck chuck,' a phenomenon that goes against everything we know about wine in North America.

Quants and quaffs

The Economist looks at various efforts to use mathematics to tame the highly speculative fine wine market. Also, there is apparently a Journal of Wine Economics

New District

Mulled wine: an overview

As the nights get long and the days get cold, it’s time to formulate your mulled wine game plan. Mulling wine is guaranteed to please your guests: It makes the whole house smell festive, it warms everyone up, and even people who don’t normally like wine enjoy it. 

So, how are you going to make it happen? Cinnamon and nutmeg are common ingredients. But what about star anise, lemon or vanilla? Then there’s the wine itself: Red, white or (gasp) rose? And how about a little kick? Some people add brandy or rum; others don’t.

Mulled wine recipes differ from person to person and place to place. Many countries and cultures have their own, distinct approaches. 

In England, it’s commonly spiced with cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg; the wine is usually port or claret (red wine). The Victorians seem to be the ones who really made mulled wine popular, but it’s mentioned in earlier texts. It used to be named after Hippocrates, the Greek “Father of Medicine,” because of its supposed health-giving properties.

Here’s a recipe from 1596, in Thomas Dawson’s The Good Housewife’s Jewel: 

To make Hypocrace

Take a gallon of white wine, sugar two pounds, of cinnamon, ginger, long pepper, mace not bruised galingall [sic]…and cloves not bruised. You must bruise every kind of spice a little and put them in an earthen pot all day. And then cast them through your bags two times or more as you see cause. And so drink it.

At the same time, mulled wine was becoming popular in other parts of Europe, and remains so today. In Germany and Austria, it’s called Glühwein (“glow-wine” - it used to be made with hot irons) and served during the holidays. It’s similar to British mulled wine, except for the addition of star anise, citrus and occasionally vanilla pods. On especially cold nights, it’s enjoyed mit Schluss - that is, with a shot of hard liquor.

The Nordic countries prefer a form called variously Glögg, gløgg, or something similar. It’s sold pre-made, but also mulled at home. Its ingredients include ginger, cardamom and bitter lemon, and occasionally additional alcohol in the form of vodka, akvavit or brandy. It’s usually served with raisins, ginger snaps and almonds, but in Norway they like it with rice pudding.

In Turkey, mulled wine is made with honey, oranges and lemons. In Quebec, they add maple syrup and hard liquor, and call it Caribou. It’s popular during Winter Carnival.

Other recipes abound, from Macedonia to Moldova, Romania to Russia. A good rule of thumb? Go any place where it snows during winter, and you’ll find people making mulled wine.

One more thing. In Victorian England, parents would give their children mulled wine - or a variant, at least. It was called Negus, and commonly made with port or another fruity wine, diluted with water. Negus was usually reserved for special occasions, such as birthday parties. As one household manual from the time recommends, "Allow 1 pint of wine, with the other ingredients in proportion, for a party of 9 or 10 children." 

In the 21st century, Negus might not be an appropriate birthday party beverage for the elementary school set. But Victorian times, you can bet that it would have had a much more calming effect than Coca-Cola or Mountain Dew have today.

What’s your favourite mulled wine recipe? Know of any traditions we missed here? Drop us a line at info@newdistrict.ca!

New District

Wine Digest: growing wine in drought, wine Monopoly, the war on terroir, and more

A new edition of Monopoly created especially for vinophiles, how to grow California wine in conditions of extreme drought, the war on the concept of 'terroir' — all this and more in this week's Wine Digest.

Water & Vice: Producing Intoxicants in an Era of Extreme Drought

Nautilus' Jon Kelvey looks at how Californian winemakers, brewers and marijuana growers are all dealing with the state's record drought, which threatens all three industries.

 

The War on Terroir

3 Quarks Daily's Dwight Furrow takes a close look at the vigorous debate surrounding terroir, and the science behind whether or not soil composition can actually directly influence the flavour of a wine.

Wine Monopoly

Gargantuan Wine takes a look at the special 'La France Viticole' edition of Monopoly created for French vinophiles.

 

Beer in the Headlights

Sales of beer have flagged, and wine is becoming increasingly popular among young people. Why is that? Slate's Field Maloney investigates.

 

 

New District

Wine Digest: translating wine jargon, a delicious endangered grape, and Bible-era wine

How does one properly translate wine words from one language into another? Will the delicious but endangered Vlahiko still be around in 20 years? What do wine lovers mean by the word 'smooth?' All that and more in this week's Wine Digest.

One Wine, Two Wine, Red Wine, Blue Wine

How does one properly translate wine jargon from another language into English? Damion Searls from the Paris Review investigates the linguistic walls dividing the various wine worlds. 

A Thrilling, Endangered Grape from the Stunning Mountains of Northern Greece

"How on earth can you be so delicious, and yet not be planted more often? Are you impossible to work with, or were you misused and abused?" These are the questions that Gargantuan Wine asks of the Vlahiko grape, a delicious but endangered grape from the Zagori region of Greece. 

An Israeli winery presents the first wines made from Bible-era grapes

We've written before about the quest to discover exactly what kind of wine people were drinking in biblical times. As it turns out, a group of Israeli researchers have been trying to re-create the wines using indigenous grapes.

What Do Wine Lovers Mean by ‘Smooth’?

'Smooth.' It's one of the most popular adjectives used to describe a good wine. But what exactly does it mean? Wall Street Journal columnist Lettie Teague explores.

New District

Wine in a bag: yea or nay?

In researching the various types of wine packaging available on the market today, we stumbled across something particularly interesting.

Witness a Californian White Zinfandel from ASDA groceries, served in a plastic pouch:

Let's put aside the fact that this pouch bears more than a passing resemblance to a Capri Sun (one Reddit user even recently posted a photo of themselves drinking out of the pouch with a straw).

This made us wonder: could drinking wine—a beverage we often associate with refinement, sophistication and attention to detail—out of a plastic bag or pouch ever be possibly acceptable? Will the world of wine ever fully accept wine in a bag?

Don't get us wrong, wine in a bag might deserve some of its negative reputation.

Ever since its invention in the 1960s, wine packaged in plastic bags (and then stowed inside cardboard boxes) has been dogged by the claim that plastic makes wine taste different. Some studies have shown that ethyl butyrate and ethyl hexanoate compounds—which give drinks their fruity flavour—can be absorbed by or even escape through polyethylene packaging.

Boxed wine is also plagued by a constellation of unappealing images and associations. 

The biggest drinkers of boxed wine, Australians, have a particularly unappetizing term for wine in a box: a 'goon bag.' Though the inventor of boxed wine, winemaker Tom Angove, said that the inspiration for wine in flexible packaging came from the old goat skin containers of Angove's childhood, young Australians associate it with binge drinking, intense hangovers, and goon bag "pillows" (made by inflating the plastic bag with air).

But boxed wine technology and marketing has steadily progressed, unhindered by these negative associations. Many boxed wines on the market today use safe materials that do not impart flavour into or remove flavour from the wine. Putting good wine in a bag without compromising its flavour is now a possibility.

Could consumption habits change? Only time will tell.

Or perhaps instead of boxed wine, a different method of storing and transporting wine will unseat the bottle. The last 20 years have seen an explosion in innovative and weird wine containers.

Here are some of them, for your enjoyment (or horror):

1. Cans

Winemakers have experimented with tall cans (borrowing from beer), short cans (soda), thin cans ("for the ladies"), and unique looking cans (for trend riders), all of which have seen limited success. 

2. Unusual bottles

Instead of replacing the bottle, some winemakers have attempted to iterate and refine on the concept. Flasq Wine put their wines in a metallic flask-like bottle. Some French winemakers have introduced plastic bottles that look exactly like their glass counterparts. 

3. Single-serving cups

Some companies have tried selling single servings of their wines in sealed plastic cups. Fans of the TV show Shark Tank might remember how in 2014, single-serving wine cup manufacturer Zipz Wine secured $2.5m in investment—the largest deal in the show's history. Copa Di Vino, another winemaker that has appeared on Shark Tank, said they brought in $25m in revenue in 2014.

4. Tetra packs

We're used to drinking juice from a Tetra Pak. So why not fermented juice?

5. Really, really big boxes

Changing the container in which wine is sold isn't the only way that storing and transporting wine could change in the future. Many wine producers are now transporting their wines in enormous plastic containers, and then bottling them close to the point of sale, resulting in a wine that is less expensive and more environmentally friendly. 

New District

Wine Digest: how prices affect brain chemistry, 'petrol' notes, climate change vs. wine, and more

Can the price of a wine actually alter brain chemistry, and ones enjoyment of a wine? Would you drink a wine that has strong notes of 'petrol'? Why is it that Old World wine is dominated by small producers, while New World wine is dominated by larger ones? All this and more in this week's Wine Digest.

The effect of wine prices on brain chemistry

Can wine labels other placebos cause us to rate a cheaper wine more highly, or do such external factors actually change the way our brain process flavour? Recent research from the Journal of Marketing Research has shed light on how price tags affect brain chemistry. (Read.)

When wine talk gets weird 

Would you drink a wine with notes of 'mineral,' 'tar,' 'petrol' or 'barn yard'? To prevent off-putting novice wine drinkers, winemakers are downplaying such words in favour of other, less ambiguously positive descriptors. (Read.)

Creating Wine: The Emergence of a World Industry, 1840-1914

Why is it that small wine producers predominate in the Old World, while larger producers are more common in the New World? Check out chapter 1 of James Simpson's 'Creating Wine,' a book which traces the economic and historical forces that gave rise to today's wine economy. (Read.)

They Always Buy the Ten Cent Wine

During the great depression, Ernest Gallo offered a customer in New York sample glasses of two red wines, one costing five cents per bottle and the other costing ten cents. Despite the fact that they both contained the same wine, the customer chose the ten cent bottle. "They always buy the ten cent wine," Gallo is reported to have said numerous times on the way to building his wine exporting empire. (Read.)

The Way That France Makes Wine Is About to Change Forever

This summer was the second-hottest on record for France, and a reminder that climate change could upend French winemaking. Bloomberg Business investigates the effect the heat has had on the country's vineyards and the way winemakers are changing their approach to their craft. (Read.)

 

New District

How wine became the first liquid to be poured and consumed on the moon

On July 20, 1969, moments before astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped out of the lunar module onto the surface of the moon, Aldrin took out a pouch containing a small piece of bread, some wine, and a small silver chalice.

Aldrin had brought the items from Houston's Webster Presbyterian church, where he was an elder, with the intention of celebrating the first Christian communion on the surface of the moon (a ceremony in which a congregation will consume wine and bread to enter a closer relationship with Christ).

He then poured the communion wine out of a pouch and into a thimble-sized chalice given to him by Dean Woodruff, the pastor at his church.

"I poured the wine into the chalice our church had given me. In the one-sixth gravity of the moon, the wine slowly curled and gracefully came up the side of the cup."

Aldrin then consumed the bread and swallowed the wine, becoming the first person to consume a 'meal' on the surface of the moon.

"It was interesting to think that the very first liquid ever poured on the moon and the first food eaten there, were communion elements."

The story of Aldrin's communion service wasn't immediately made known to the public, however.

The original intention behind Adrin's plan had been to commemorate the first lunar landing with a symbol that, as Aldrin put it, "transcended electronics and computers and rockets."

To remain calm and collected in the moments after he and Armstrong touched down on the surface of the moon, Aldrin decided to commemorate the occsion with some kind of ceremony, or expression of gratitude.

After discussing the matter with his pastor, Dean Woodruff, the two men settled on the idea of taking communion.

"I had thought in terms of doing something overtly patriotic, but everything we came up with sounded trite and jingoistic," writes Aldrin.

In addition to taking communion, Aldrin has planned to share the event over radio with the general public.

The plan was cut short by Apollo 11 flight crew operator Deke Slayton, however, who feared that the ceremony would provoke unwanted legal challenges from atheism advocate Madalyn Murray O'Hair, who had sued NASA in 1968 after the Apollo 8 crew had read a passage from the book of Genesis live on air.

"Go ahead and have communion, but keep your comments more general," Slayton told Aldrin.

In his memoir, Magnificent Desolation, Aldrin recounts the message he ended up transmitting to NASA before taking communion:

"I would like to request a few moments of silence… and to invite each person listening in, wherever and whomever they may be, to pause for a moment and contemplate the events of the past few hours, and to give thanks in his or her own way."

After taking communion, Aldrin then quietly read a verse of scripture (a passage from John 15:5) he had written on a slip of paper:

"I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me, and I in him, will bear much fruit; for you can do nothing without me."

Aldrin later acknowledged that, if he were to do it again, he might have chosen a more inclusive way of commemorating the occasion.

"Although it was a deeply meaningful experience for me, it was a Christian sacrament, and we had come to the moon in the name of all mankind..." he writes in Magnificent Desolution.

"Perhaps, if I had it to do over again, I would not choose to celebrate communion." 

New District

13 breathtaking photos of British Columbia wine country

It's one thing to drink great British Columbian wines, but it's another thing entirely to actually visit the Okanagan and experience B.C. winemaking firsthand. If you haven't visited B.C. wine country yet, these breathtaking photos snapped by New District photographers Bryce Zimmerman and Andrew Strain should give you a taste of what you're missing:

Looking across the South Okanagan's 'Golden Mile.'

A view of Munson Mountain, from above Lake Okanagan.

Skaha Lake and the surrounding hills reflected off Painted Rock winery.

Looking out from the clocktower of La Stella winery.

A gentle wind blows over Stag’s Hollow winery and vineyards.

A view of Oliver, British Columbia's famous 'Golden Mile.'

A beautiful view of the Naramata Bench.

Looking past Poplar Grove winery, over the Naramata Bench and onto Lake Okanagan.

Sunset on the Naramata Bench.

B.C. wine country abounds in greenery.

Another beautiful sunset over the Naramata Bench.

Burrowing Owl winery at twilight.

Lake Okanagan at sunset.

If you liked these photos, check us out on Instagram!

New District

Party hosting tips from Ancient Greece

In Ancient Greece, if something good ever happened to you—a marriage, the birth of a child, a promotion at work—the typical response was to throw something called a "symposium."

A symposium was, essentially, a big drinking party where the important men of the community would come together to recline on couches, have interesting conversations and consume wine. (Women weren't allowed into symposiums.)

Like the Roman collegium and the Parisian salon, the symposium was a key social and intellectual institution. In addition to being celebrations, they were also where Greeks discussed fundamental questions, like what the meaning of life was, whether man could trust the gods, and whether women should be allowed into symposiums. 

Like any good party, at the helm of every symposium was a host (a 'symposiarch') who observed the rules of the symposium and made sure that everyone was having a good time. The symposiarch did this mainly by controlling the party's wine supply.

At the centre of every symposium was a large ceramic vessel called the 'krater,' where servants diluted wine with water. (Drinking undiluted wine was considered uncivilized by the Greeks.)

Casual symposiums called for wine mixed with three parts water. If the purpose of the symposium was raucous entertainment or celebration, the wine might be mixed with only two parts water. Very rarely did the dilution ratio reach one part wine to one part water: that was reserved for occasions where "orgiastic revelry" was in the cards. 

At the beginning of the symposium, the krater would be rolled out into the middle of the room, and the symposiarch would determine what kind of symposium this was going to be, and how much water should be added to the wine. The symposiarch would also control how quickly people's cups should be refilled. A good symposiarch would keep a close eye on his guests and make sure that people weren't getting too drunk too quickly.

Plutarch claimed that the ideal symposiarch should never be drunk, but should also not shy away from drink. They should be friendly, warm and engaging in conversation, but never afraid to exercise their authority and admonish badly behaving guests. The ideal symposiarch would, for example, break up cliquey one-on-one conversations between guests.

As much as the symposiarch tried to enforce order and good cheer, there were times when symposiums inevitably got out of hand. 

In one of his plays, the poet Eubulus depicts Dionysos, the god of wine, describing proper and improper symposium etiquette:

For sensible men I prepare only three kraters: one for health (which they drink first), the second for love and pleasure, and the third for sleep.

After the third one is drained, wise men go home.

The fourth krater is not mine any more - it belongs to bad behaviour; the fifth is for shouting; the sixth is for rudeness and insults; the seventh is for fights; the eighth is for breaking the furniture; the ninth is for depression; the tenth is for madness and unconsciousness.

The takeaway here? Maybe don't roll out ten giant vases of diluted wine at the next party you host.

Instead, practice all the habits of a good symposiarch: make sure that all of your guests have something to drink, but not too much to drink. Make sure that everyone is happily engaged in conversation with one another, instead of sticking together in cliques. Don't be afraid to bring the hammer down if you think someone is acting in a way that prevents everyone from having a good time. And above all, make sure that your wine is diluted enough and that the entire thing doesn't dissolve into a giant orgy.

As long as you follow these steps, your next symposium should be a hit! ♦

If you liked this article, check out more great wine stories at newdistrict.ca/media

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What kind of wine did Jesus drink?

We started New District because we think that wine is important, both from a drinking perspective and a cultural perspective. 

One way to measure the cultural importance of something is to see how often it shows up in our stories, and few things show up in western literature more often than wine. In Homer's Odyssey, Odysseus pours out wine for his dead comrades, sets sail upon the "wine dark" sea, and kills the Cyclops by getting him drunk. Festivals honouring Dionysus, the Greek god of wine, were the driving force behind the development of Greek theatre. 

Wine also plays a central role in the Bible from the moment that Noah plants the first vineyard in the Old Testament. Jesus's first miracle is to transform water into wine. Jesus and his disciples consume bread and wine during the last supper, and to this day wine plays a central role in the Eucharist. 

But the Bible never mentions exactly what kind of wine Jesus drank. Depictions of the Eucharist often feature red wine, but there is no evidence to suggest that red wine was any more popular than white wine in ancient Judea. So what kind was it?

1st century Judea was part of the Roman Empire, and few ancient civilizations had a deeper appreciation for good wine than the Romans.

By the 1st century CE, Roman winemakers had reached a level of expertise and sophistication that rivals our own. The Romans were the first to write about the concept of terroir, and the first to apply 'grand cru'-style classifications to vineyards. Some historians have argued that Roman garrisons in places like Bordeaux and Hispania were the birthplaces of modern French and Spanish winemaking. At one point, the city of Rome consumed almost 200 million litres of wine every year, enough for one bottle of wine per citizen per day.

One of the most important wine centres of the Roman world was the city of Pompeii, located south of Naples in the shadow of Mt. Vesuvius. In his book Naturalis historia, Roman author and naturalist Pliny the Elder lists Greco, Fiano and Aglianico grapes as some of the most popular grape varieties used in Pompeii winemaking at the time.

Aglianico grapes were used to make Falernian wine, one of the most sought after wines in the Roman Empire. A predecessor to modern ice wine, Falernian wine was a white wine with an alcohol content of 16% — "the only wine that takes light when a flame is applied to it," wrote Pliny the Elder. The wine was produced from late-harvest grapes that had experienced frost and were let to dry for several days before pressing, giving them a sweet, syrupy, concentrated taste.

Herod, king of Judea (the Roman province in which Jesus would have done most of his drinking) much preferred Roman wines to local ones, and might have imported Falernian wine to serve at his court.

But that probably wouldn't have been Jesus' style. The wine served at the last supper was likely a local Judean wine, which is not to say that it was bad wine. Ancient Palestine had a long history of winemaking, and most of the wine made in Judea at the time was made for export to other parts of the Roman Empire.

Historical accounts show that wine would have been too expensive for most Judean commoners to consume every day, but it formed a major component of banquets and religious occasions, like the Passover meal.

The grapes for the wine served at the last supper might have been grown in the Judean mountains, which were known for yielding good fruit. They were likely brought down from the mountains and crushed under foot and fermented with the skins, stalks and pips together in a large stone open air press, like the kind depicted in artwork from the period. This would have made for a very tannic wine that was strong and bitter by modern standards.

Winemakers would also often flavour their wines using a variety of ingredients, including tree resin, honey and herbs. According to Carl Ruck, professor of classics at Boston University, ancient wines were also often flavoured with psychoactive additives like opium, mandrake, and even cannabis. Ruck insists that there is a strong possibility that Jesus consumed cannabis-infused wine.

But let's assume that this wasn't that kind of party. Let's assume that Jesus drank unflavoured wine. What kind of wine would it have been?

It is difficult to tell which kinds of grapes local Judean winemakers would have used in their wines, because most of ancient Palestine's indigenous vineyards disappeared centuries ago under Ottoman-instituted prohibition. But local efforts to resurrect ancient winemaking styles and to match modern grape varieties with the archaeological record have shed some light on what ancient wines might have looked and tasted like.

Elyashiv Drori, an archeologist from Ariel University, has found more than 100 varieties of grape that are unique to the region, 6 of which — Hamdani, Jandali and Dabouki grapes, which are white varieties, and Balouti, Zeitani and Karkashani, which are red — might be suitable for winemaking. Cremisan Cellars, a small winery run by Italian monks just outside the city of Bethlehem, has already begun producing a dry white wine from Jandali and Hamdani grapes.

Drori claims that the next step is to match the wild grape varieties to grape seeds and remains found at ancient archaeological sites. If archaeologists are able to find intact ancient grape seed specimens, 3d scanning technology will be used to determine whether it matches with any of the wild varieties documented by Drori.

In the end, it looks like a lack of historical sources prevents us from identifying the specific kinds of wines that Jesus might have enjoyed. But matching modern seeds to ancient ones could put us one step closer to recreating the wine that was enjoyed by the common citizens of Judea, and that might have been served at the last supper. ♦

If you liked this article, check out more great wine stories at newdistrict.ca/media

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The curious story of 'Vin Mariani'

Why did Queen Victoria, Thomas Edison and the Pope drink wine mixed with cocaine?

The short answer is because the wine had cocaine in it.

The longer explanation starts in 1863, when Parisian chemist Angelo Mariani first started selling a concoction of Bordeaux wine and coca leaves which he called 'Vin Mariani.'

Mariani claimed that his tonic had numerous medicinal "strengthening" properties, and marketed it as a cure for "loss of sleep, indigestion, melancholia" and many other ailments. Mariani made many dubious claims about his tonic, but of one thing we can be certain: Vin Mariani got you really high.

When alcohol and cocaine combine, they apparently form a third compound called cocaethylene, which results in a more euphoric high than the kind produced by regular cocaine use. An account on erowid.org describes the effects of a Vin Mariani-like mixture of wine and coca leaves as "definitely a good high. Far more subtle than snorting cocaine, and at the same time still intense. A very smooth up, a very steady high and a very smooth comedown."

Needless to say, this made Vin Mariani extremely popular.

On top of its obvious neurochemical appeal, Vin Mariani also benefited from a wildly successful European and North American marketing campaign that relied on its biggest fans: celebrities.

Celebrities loved Vin Mariani. And Mariani wouldn't let people forget it. Advertisements routinely featured lists of famous people who recommended Vin Mariani for its apparent health benefits, and its ability to combat fatigue and increase concentration.

One ad claimed that Pope Leo XIII bestowed the company with a papal "gold medal" in praise of the tonic. At one point, Mariani began publishing leather-bound volumes listing all of the company's celebrity endorsements, complete with photographs and quotes referencing Vin Mariani, like this one:

Now is a good time to stop and remind ourselves of what exactly Vin Mariani was: it was essentially Bordeaux wine mixed with cocaine.

Keep this in mind when you look at this list of confirmed Vin Mariani drinkers and supporters:

Pope Leo XIII

Queen Victoria

Ulysses S. Grant

Jules Verne

Alexander Dumas

Arthur Conan Doyle

Henrik Ibsen

Thomas Edison

Emile Zola

William McKinley

Sarah Bernhardt

John Philip Sousa

It is not inconceivable that these people, all of them giants in their fields, accomplished some of the things they did while coked out of their minds.

This seems hard to believe. Surely at some point someone responsible must have stepped in and said "maybe it's not such a good idea for everyone to be drinking cocaine."

What's surprising is that Vin Mariani survived until the beginning of the 20th century (when laws controlling cocaine finally did catch up). Around that time, Mariani's celebrity-fuelled advertisements had shifted from medicinal claims to trumpeting the drink's "enjoyable" effects as a "stimulant." This only made the drink more popular, and inspired many imitators. 

One such imitator, Dr. John Stith Pemberton of Atlanta, Georgia, substituted the wine (alcohol sales were banned in Georgia at the time) with sugar syrup and called his drink "Coca-Cola," a drink that would survive Vin Mariani, and a time when seemingly every famous person on the planet was drinking wine mixed with cocaine. ♦

If you liked this article, check out more great wine stories at newdistrict.ca/media

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Escape from Castle Colditz

Unless you're Quentin Tarantino, the history of the Second World War probably doesn't seem very funny to you. But the story of Lieutenant Airey Neave and his attempt to escape Colditz Castle in 1940 would tickle even the most sombre war historian.

Colditz castle, located in eastern Germany between Leipzig and Dresden, was one of the war's most notorious prisoner-of-war camps. Between 1940 and its liberation in 1945, it held thousands of prisoners, many of them high ranking allied officials. During the war, German authorities often boasted that Colditz was an "escape-proof" POW camp. In 1973, the Parker company even created a board game called 'Escape from Colditz':

Among those imprisoned at Colditz in the winter of 1940 were thirty British officers, lead by Lieutenant Airey Neave. According to Colditz historian Michael Booker, after attempting numerous forms of escape, the officers decided to try tunnelling their way out of the castle.

After nine months of digging, the officers emerged not outside as they had planned, but in the castle's wine cellar, which belonged to the then presiding commander, colonel Gerhard Prawitt. They had read the compass wrong.

According to Booker, the officers proceeded to drink 137 bottles of the colonel's wine, filled them with their urine, placed them back, and escaped back through the tunnel. That works out to about four and a half bottles per person. The escape attempt had clearly made Neave and his men very thirsty.

The story wasn't confirmed until 1974, when Prawitt's widow Elisabeth Prawitt grudgingly confirmed it. However she claimed that the stunt had been pulled not on her husband, but on the colonel that had been in charge of Colditz before him.

For those wondering what eventually happened to the British officers, there is some good news. Lt. Neave became one of the few people to escape Colditz on January 5th, 1942 after he procured a German uniform, climbed through a secret attic passageway the prisoners had found, walked confidently across the grounds of the castle, and made his way to the Swiss border in civilian clothes. He became the first British officer to make a 'home run' (escape successfully) out of the castle. ♦

If you liked this article, check out more great wine stories at newdistrict.ca/media

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Is wine from the Titanic still drinkable?

In August of 1985, a US Navy-sponsored expedition lead by marine archeologist Robert Ballard was struggling to find the wreck of the Titanic. Ballard and his crew were given twelve days to sweep a potential resting place of more than 150 square miles using new technology that allowed for exploration below 10,000 feet.

One week into the expedition, Ballard and his crew propitiously stumbled across the Titanic's "debris field," a large trail of debris left by the ship as it broke in half and sank to the ocean floor.

The debris field contained millions of objects: suitcases, clothes, bathtubs, jugs, bowls, hand mirrors and numerous other personal effects. One item that caught Ballard's eye in particular were fully intact wine bottles, which appeared to still contain their corks.

The number of wine bottles scattered around the Titanic—an ocean liner whose main appeal was its luxury—isn't a surprise. The ship's first class passengers enjoyed extremely elaborate, 10-course dinners, with accompanying wine pairings for each dish. Corks retreived from the wreck indicate that Champagne from Moët and Heidsieck & Co. was popular on board.

Champagne-style wines were favoured on the Titanic because they could be easily chilled after being brought onto the ship. Bordeaux wines were less favoured because the rumble from the enormous steam engines could dislodge sediment from inside the bottle. To slake the thirst of its first class passengers, the Titanic held more than 12,000 bottles of wine in its cellar.

This begs the question: if photographs indicate that the wreck of the Titanic holds thousands of sealed, unbroken bottles, could some of that wine still be drinkable?

It's difficult to say, mainly because samples from the wreck are few and far between. Ballard himself refused to take bottles of wine from the wreck, claiming that doing so would be tantamount to grave robbing:

"Maritime collectors around the world would have paid thousands of dollars for a piece of the ship... How I would have loved a bottle of Titanic champagne for my own wine cellar. But from all our discussions it became clear that the Titanic has no true archaeological value... Recovering a chamber pot or a wine bottle or a copper cooking pan would really just be pure treasure-hunting."

Bottles claiming to be from the wreck of the Titanic do occasionally appear at auctions, but the ship's extensive wine collection remains mostly undisturbed on the ocean floor.

If other wrecks are any indication, however, there is some hope. A shipment of wines that lay buried in a wreck on the ocean floor for 138 years off the coast of Georgia was retrieved and tasted by divers in 1979, who described the wines as "incredibly good" (the collection contained 1839 red Bergundy of Cru quality, 1834 Port and 1830 Madeira).

In 2010, Finnish divers discovered several crates of champagne and beer from a sunken ship that had been at the bottom of the Baltic Sea for nearly 200 years. When changing pressures caused one of the champagne corks to pop out of its bottle, the divers tasted the wine and found that it was still drinkable.

"Bottles kept at the bottom of the sea are better kept than in the finest wine cellars," Champagne expert Richard Juhlin explains. If experts like Juhlin are right, if there is anywhere wine could survive for 100 years, it's the bottom of the ocean.

Perhaps the closest comparison we have to the Titanic is the RMS Republic, another massive White Star ocean liner which sunk in 1909 when it collided with the SS Florida. A key difference between the two wrecks is that the Republic experienced relatively little loss of life, making salvage efforts less prone to accusations of grave robbing.

Expeditions to the Republic have found a similarly large collection of wines: Moët & Chandon and Dom Ruinart champagnes; several Mosels, other white wines of uncertain origin, and some Bordeaux. When divers from a 1987 expedition opened a bottle of 1898 Moët & Chandon Champagne from the wreck, they found the wine to be "effervescent" and "wonderful." When they sent some of the bottles to the New York office of Christie's auction house, however, the wines were found to be malodorous and unpleasant.

"The bottles they brought us were debris," Robert Maneker of Christie's told The Wine Spectator in 1987. Experts at the auction house determined that the wine bottles were nothing more than a collection of "curiosities," like "shrunken heads," and said that newspaper reports estimating that the bottles could be worth up to $4,000 were "absolutely rubbish."

If past shipwrecks are any indication then, the Titanic's wine collection could have met a variety of fates. Fluctuations in temperature, bacteria and water pressure could have removed the seals of the bottles completely. Seepage might also have slowly replaced the original contents of the bottles with saltwater. Or perhaps some of the Titanic's wine collection lies on the ocean floor still intact, after more than a century of deep sea cellaring, still waiting to be tasted. ♦

If you liked this article, check out more great wine stories at newdistrict.ca/media

New District

Wine Digest: wine was invented in Georgia, boxed wine is good, red wine is a superconductor, and more

This week's digest features a book about the invention of wine, a philosopher's take on wine storytelling, and the modest pleasures of boxed wine.

Inventing Wine, by Paul Lukacs

Why did we ever begin to take wine so seriously? Paul Lukacs talks to NPR about his fantastic book, Inventing Wine, which charts the liquid's transformation from a terrible-tasting commodity to a consistently delicious social signifier.

How to read a wine

We are constantly told that every wine has a story. But what does that actually mean? Philosophy professor Dwight Furrow breaks down how to properly put words to wine in this insightful essay for 3 Quarks Daily.

The Origin of Wine

Vinophiles have been known to bicker about who makes the best wine. But who started making wine first? The short answer is "maybe Georgia." The long answer involves an interesting romp through agricultural science and history. In this article, scientist Greg Laden tries to update his current knowledge of the origin of wine.

The modest pleasure of boxed wine

Wine in a bottle is considered high class and snobby, but boxed wine conjures the complete opposite associations. Is that fair? Is drinking excellent wine out of a plastic bladder really that terrible? It isn't. Megan Kaminski breaks down wine in a box for the skeptics, and makes the case for a boxed wine future.

Red wine is an excellent superconductor

Researchers at the National Institute for Materials Science in Japan studying supercondictivity had a bunch of whiskey, sake and wine on hand. After a long day of research and a few post-work drinks, they began doing what any of us would do: dipping the superconductive compound into booze. Surprisingly enough, this increased its conductivity. And red wine did the best job. As if red wine didn't have enough magical properties already.

If you liked this article, check out more great wine stories at newdistrict.ca/media

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What does the future of Canadian wine look like?

In our last post, we asked whether Canadian wine was overrated. Wine drinkers inside the country often laud its products. However, with only a sliver of international output to its name, low exports and a snowbound reputation, Canada looks, to the foreigner, like a tiny blip on the radar.

But there’s hope when it comes to the big picture. We can find it in two places: In growth, and in East Asia.

Regarding the former, there is no denying that Canada’s wine industry has exploded. The average Canadian now consumes thirty-six bottles of wine per year, and wine has matched beer in popularity - largely thanks to growing Gen Y interest. In the period from 2000 - 2007 alone, per capita consumption went up more than fifty per cent.

Thing are looking up on the consumer side. But production has seen rapid growth as well. Between 1996 and 2006, the number of Canadians employed in the wine industry doubled. Shipments, measured in millions of dollars spent, did the same. Growth is steady. Every year, the industry increases spending by about 12.4%, pouring cash into building wineries and cultivating land. 

Sure, relative to the rest of the world, Canada may not make a lot of wine. But its industry is expanding non-stop. What it lacks in size, it makes up for in vigour.

Meanwhile, demand for Canadian wine is growing in places where before it barely existed. Canadian Jamie Paquin was able to open a store in Tokyo selling only Canadian wines; it’s frequented by both ex-pats and locals. And in China, ice wine is so popular among the expanding middle class that counterfeit bottles are being sold.

It’s this increasingly well-heeled Chinese demographic that may hold the greatest promise as foreign consumers of Canadian wine. Not only is wine’s popularity growing in China, but buyers have an eye for expensive, prize-winning varieties - and as we mentioned before, Canadian wines have been sweeping up international awards. In fact, on reputation alone, a 2009 offering from Painted Rock Estate Winery that retails for $55 at home is fetching $950 a bottle in Shanghai.

Plus, with an influx of foreign investment in the Okanagan, signs point to stronger connections between China and the British Columbia wine industry, especially. There may come a day when BC wine is as popular in Shanghai as it is in Vancouver - and selling for twenty times the price.

Canada’s imprint on global wine production is tiny, when you take a step back. But closer inspection reveals a thriving, constantly expanding industry that continues to delight both local consumers and international awards judges. And thanks to growing interest from our neighbours across the Pacific, we can expect to see Canadian wine stretch far beyond its present borders. 

If you liked this article, check out more great wine stories at newdistrict.ca/media

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What does the world think of Canadian wine?

When you love Canadian wine as much as we do, it’s easy to assume the rest of the world does too. But outside the borders of the Great White North, how does Canadian wine measure up against competitors? Is it as good as we think it is? Or is Canadian wine overrated?

This is when most Canuck vinophiles start ticking off awards. Canadian wines have definitely picked up some big ones, especially in recent years. Good luck walking to the corner liquor store and finding a bottle of Mission Hills’ 2011 Pinot Noir; it was named the world’s best. And just this summer, Church & State’s Coyote Bowl Malbec was ranked the finest in North America.

But prestigious awards don’t reflect how many people worldwide actually enjoy Canada’s output. While you can find Canadian ice wine stocking store shelves from Sydney to Shanghai, you will have a difficult time unearthing any non-specialty varieties, much less a broad selection to choose from. 

That’s because, relative to the rest of the world, Canada has a very small output. In 2010, we produced 56 million liters. That may sound like a lot, but it’s only 0.2% or global wine production. And, as critic Jancis Robinson points out, a big chunk of that volume is lower quality blended wine made partially from imported grapes. Finer estate wines are made in such small quantities that they rarely cross provincial borders, let alone leave Canada.

It's true that some prominent international critics have said very flattering things about Canadian wine. Just last week, British wine critic Steven Spurrier told British Columbians "I think you undervalue yourselves: your wines are sensational" after a blind tasting of BC and California wines.

But in the eyes of the regular wine consumer, Canada has a stigma to overcome: People think it’s too cold for wine. If you’ve ever spent a summer in the Okanagan or Niagara-on-the-Lake, this may be hard to contemplate. But when consumers think of Chile, Australia or Southern France, they think of sun. When they think of Canada, they think of snow. 

To most international wine drinkers - especially those familiar only with Canada’s ice wine - the thought that Canucks can craft excellent pinot noirs or malbecs is ridiculous. Before people abroad ask themselves “Is Canadian wine good?” they need to ask themselves “Does Canadian wine exist?” And that just isn’t happening.

One more thing. If you were drinking wine in the ‘70s and ‘80s, probably your only experience with Canadian vino would have been Schloss Laderheim or Baby Duck. Those memories are enough to make even some of our Southern neighbours dismiss Canada’s wine industry out of hand.

Taking all of this into account, Canada begins to look like a downright backwater. Is all lost? Has the bubble been popped? Are Canadian wine aficionados utterly delusional? Find out in our next installment. 

New District

A short history of Baby Duck, Canada's favourite wine

If you were a teenager in the ‘70s or ‘80s, you probably have bittersweet memories of Baby Duck wine. And if you’re a little younger, and you don’t know about Baby Duck, you’re missing out on an important part of Canadian wine history.

Before the late ‘80s, the wine shelves in Canadian liquor stores looked drastically different than they do today. Selection was much more limited. You could choose between table blends (including both jugs such as Carlo Rossi and riesling imitators Schloss Leiderhame and Black Tower), expensive French varieties, and “pop wines.”

Those belonging to this last variety were syrupy sweet, sparkling whites with alcohol content around seven percent. Designed for easy drinking at ice cold temperatures, they were extremely popular. And Baby Duck is responsible for starting the trend.

Hungarian immigrant Andrew Peller founded Andres Wines in 1962 in the BC community of Port Moody. Later, his family would become known for Peller Estates. But early on, Peller was the force behind the Duck.

In 1967, Andres began selling a wine called Chante. It sold in red, white and rose varieties, and boasted a low alcohol content. It would be the rough sketch for Baby Duck. Andres had more success in 1971 with the creation of Cold Duck.

Cold Duck was a twelve per cent blend of cheap sparkling white and burgundy wines that was hugely popular in the USA. Andres couldn’t secure a patent for the name in Canada, however, and soon imitators popped up. What’s more, because of its relatively high alcohol content, Cold Duck was taxed at $2.50 per gallon, which seriously cut into profits.

The solution? Cannibalize the unsuccessful Chante and make something new. By blending Chante’s red and white varieties, Andres created a russet-hued, seven per cent sparkling wine for which they were taxed only twenty five cents per gallon. They took care to immediately patent the name Baby Duck.

It was hugely popular. By 1980, it had sold more than 60 million bottles in Canada. Imitators appeared: Fuddle Duck, Luv-a-Duck, Baby Bear, Baby Deer and Pink Flamingo were just a few of the more colourfully-named off-brand varieties.

By 1983, though, the Duck had peaked. Sales began going downhill. Maybe consumers were regretting the saccharine hangovers of their youths; maybe tastes were just changing. Either way, the budget wine market began moving toward dry table blends. And by the beginning of the ‘90s, in order to compete with Californian imports, the Canadian government was pushing growers to switch from labrusca and French hybrids to vinis vinifera grapes. The Canadian wine renaissance was under way, and Baby Duck was left in the lurch.

However, Baby Duck is still available. Despite its sinking sales, the product has survived unchanged into the modern day. Whether you’re looking to revisit your youth, or dip into the Canadian wine’s sugary history, it’s still possible to hunt down a bottle of the Duck. Just don’t come quacking to us the morning after. 

category: history

New District

Canada's lesser-known wine regions

If you love Canadian wine, then you’re already familiar with the Niagara Peninsula and the Okanagan Valley. Wineries from these regions boast stacks of awards, widespread recognition, and the lion’s share of Canadian wine production.

But these aren’t the only areas in the country creating great wine. Sea to shining sea, Canada boasts a wide range of innovative producers. Here are five Canadian wine regions you shouldn’t miss.

The Annapolis Valley

Nestled between two mountain ranges in western Nova Scotia, the Annapolis Valley has long been famous for its agricultural output. Today, it also boasts a robust wine economy featuring unique cold weather varietals such as Marechal Foch and L’Acadie Blanc. Visitors shouldn’t miss Gaspereau Vineyards, the oldest wine producer in the region, or Planters Ridge, whose newly renovated patio overlooks the Minas Basin.

Prince Edward County

Canada’s newest wine region is just across the water from Niagara-on-the-Lake. With colder winters than its lakeside cousin, Prince Edward County forces its growers to treat their vines with special care. Their hard work pays off. Check out Keint-He’s ultra-premium, terroir-infused pinot noir, or the small-batch riesling from Trail Estate.

The Eastern Townships

No tour of Quebec would be complete without a visit to the province’s storied summer retreat. The Eastern Townships was the first region in Quebec to begin producing wine. Visitors should explore the Brome Missisquoi wine route, which features over twenty producers. These include Chapelle St-Agnes, which features a romanesque stone chapel and several levels of medieval-style cellars, or Les Pervenches, which uses Certified Organic growing techniques.

The Gulf Islands

With Vancouver Island a short ferry ride away, the Gulf Islands have climates similar to their larger sibling, but feature greater small-scale charm. No visitor should miss Salt Spring Island, a former hippie haven turned upscale locavore cornucopia. Salt Spring Vineyards hosts rustic B&B rooms overlooking the vines. Over on Hornby Island, Little Tribune Winery produces blueberries in addition to grapes, and features a rammed-earth winery building overlooking the scenic Little Tribune Bay.

Saskatchewan

For a taste of the far-flung, visitors to Saskatchewan should visit Cypress Hills Vineyard and Winery. Old World aficionados may turn up their noses at Cypress Hills’ red and white blends and fruit-based offerings; but where else will you get a chance to try chokecherry or rhubarb wine? Visitors the the winery are encouraged to stay for a while and enjoy catered picnic lunches. 

category: wine

New District

BC wine: learning the basics

To the beginner, learning about BC wine can seem intimidating. From Oliver to Osoyoos, Similkameen to Summerland, Canada’s westernmost province is filled with options for the lover of fine wine. The cup, as they say, overfloweth.

So where to begin? Before picking up an expensive bottle, it’s best to educate yourself in British Columbia’s many winemakers and regions. We’ve listed some places to start. Soon, you will be well on your way to becoming an expert.

Pick Up a Book

Print media is still alive and kicking, especially if you have a taste for luscious coffee table editions. John Schreiner’s British Columbia Wine Country is a photo-rich introduction to the subject and the region, filled with the personal stories of winemakers and wineries throughout the province.

But maybe you’re not ready for a cross-province viticulture road trip. In that case, grab a copy of Troy Townsin’s Cooking with BC Wine. Each recipe is authored by an esteemed chef and paired with a one-of-a-kind BC wine, so you can create a regional gourmet experience at your own dining room table.

Take a Tour

Driving from winery to winery through rolling fields of vines seems picturesque - unless you want to swallow the wine. Stay safe on the road and save yourself from the indignities of the spit bucket by letting someone else take the wheel. In addition to talks from knowledgeable guides, many package tours even include food and accommodation.

Remember, package tour companies often provide discounts for large groups. Get your friends or family organized, and reap the benefits.

Go to a Festival

There is no better way to meet fellow wine fanatics and taste the best this province has to offer than by attending a festival. You’ll also get a chance to talk to the people who actually produced the wine you are sampling. Wine BC offers a search option for events in general, through which you can weed out small-scale tastings to find full-fledged fests.

Or if you’re in Vancouver, check out our essential guide to Vancouver wine festivals.

Enroll in a Class

As part of its Continuing Studies program, the University of British Columbia offers Wines of BC (BC310). You’ll learn about BC’s must-visit wineries and how to pair BC wines with food. Required materials include a set of six ISO tasting glasses. Going back to school has never been so delicious.

Read a Blog about BC Wine

Looks like you’ve already got this one covered! 

 

category: wine

New District

5 must-attend Vancouver wine events

Are you planning a vacation in Vancouver? Or are you a long-time resident?

Either way, if you don’t know about the city’’s wine festivals, you’re missing out. Not all of us have the time, money or inclination to tour the Okanagan or Cowichan Valleys. Hitting up a festival in the heart of the city is a great way to try the finest wines BC has to offer, as well as learn from the experts and meet fellow oenophiles.

So clear your schedule and cleanse your palate. Here’s a rundown of Vancouver’s most unmissable wine fests.

Drop Top - September

The priorities for this consumer and trade event are terroir and sustainability. Cideries and breweries make an appearance, but the majority of participants are producing wine. Their dinner series features meals hosted by some of BC’s top chefs, paired with to-die-for tipples from around the world. Don’t worry, though: Local wineries come out strong, with 2015’s edition including pairings from Blue Grouse, Lock & Worth, and Synchromesh.

Fraser Valley Cork and Keg - September

A mix and mingle free-for-all, this festival is a great opportunity to sample delicacies from Vancouver’s neighbouring farmlands, paired with local wine, beer and spirits. Trade and consumer events are divided, so the professionals can schmooze in private while you go full glutton on delicious local treats and offerings from the likes of Dirty Laundry or YK3 Sake.

Feast of Fields - September

You’ll want to attend just to visit UBC Farm. This little patch of country at the edge of Point Grey is the perfect place to stroll around, listening to live music and sampling local fare. Feast of Fields includes food producers, restaurants, breweries and wineries in equal measure, with Blasted Church and Backyard Vineyards showing off the art of the grape for the 2015 version.

Vancouver International Wine Fest - February

The big one. It’s huge, internationally renowned, and features wine creators and experts from around the world. Almost too much to handle, if you’re obsessed with wine, but not to be missed. Seminar topics include “From Tapas to Tempranillo” and “California Cruisin’.”

Garagiste North - June

A sort of punk rock response to Vancouver International Wine Fest, Garagiste North features the best wineries you’ve never heard of. Relatively low-key, featuring food pairings from Tacofino, this festival deserves a space on your calendar. The first annual event included Black Market Wine Company pouring samples from unlabelled bottles, and asking tasters to recommend names. 

 

category: wine

New District

Did the Greeks Drink Blue Wine?

On top of scent, flavour and mouthfeel, the experienced taster also takes into account a wine’s colour. With a palette ranging from grayish yellow to blackish red, the colour of a given wine can be read to predict its flavour, as well as determine how aging will affect its chemical makeup.  

But we take colour for granted. Wine has been around for at least six thousand years and enjoyed by many societies, both ancient and modern. Would an Phoenician comment on the “blackcurrant notes” in his goblet of red? Would a Vestal Virgin draw attention to the “buttery yellow” of her glass of white? Not likely.  

Case in point: The “wine-dark sea.” This phrase recurs throughout Homer’s Odyssey and Iliad, both of which were put into writing around 730 BC. And it has puzzled scholars for centuries.  

In terms of color, there is nothing about Aegean Sea that sets it apart from other coastal waters. On your average sunny Mediterranean afternoon, its colour is more swimming pool blue than malbec red. So what was Homer talking about?  

Theories abound. Some scholars have argued that the Greeks of Homer’s time suffered a specific type of color blindness. Others have pointed to red algae blooms as the inspiration behind the famous verse, or wondered whether it was meant to evoke the sea at sunset. But there isn’t much hard evidence for the colour blindness theory, and “wine-dark” is used within the context of different time periods in both works, which would require a permanent algae bloom - or a very, very long sunset.  

In 1983, two Vancouverites had a unique take on the problem. What if ancient Greek wine was blue?  

Robert H. Wright and Robert E. D. Cattley (a research chemist and a classics professor, respectively) noted that Greeks usually diluted their wine with water, reaching water-to-wine ratios as high as eight-to-one. A lot of the action in the ancient epics takes place in the Peloponnesus, a geological region rich in chalk. This area would produce highly alkaline groundwater. Wright and Cattley reasoned that the combination of sufficiently alkaline water with wine could cause a chemical reaction, turning the liquid blue.  

It’s an interesting theory, one that’s never been proven. The real answer may be more mundane. Homer was a poet, after all. “Wine-dark” was probably not meant to be taken literally. It could communicate the drunken unpredictability of the waves, or the rich, fathomless hue of deep water.  

Plus, with the exception of the Byzantines and the Egyptians, virtually no ancient civilizations had words for the colour “blue.” Based on written sources, the palette of the Ancient Greeks revolved around black/white, metallics (gold, silver, bronze), yellow, and red. So for Homer, the purplish-red of wine - especially diluted wine - might be closest metaphor he could find for the hue of the Aegean.  

All of this is pretty esoteric. The real kicker, though? From the original Greek, the phrase isn’t actually “wine-dark sea.” It’s “wine-faced sea.” One American translator, who favoured “wine-dark,” said that, as an attractive turn of phrase, it “can’t be improved on.”   

Sometimes, poetry beats accuracy. 

 

category: wine

New District

What is craft wine?

When you enter a liquor store today, a variety of different products vie for your attention.

Brewers, distilleries and winemakers are always looking for ways to distinguish their product, whether through unique packaging, an interesting story, or simply by producing a great product.

When we started New District, we knew that we wanted to showcase only the best Canadian wines. If we could find a way to convince Canadians to look at Canada's smaller, lesser-known wineries, we knew they would fall in love with the product immediately. This presented us with an interesting marketing challenge.

We reasoned that the best way to distinguish the wines we liked from the rest would be to borrow from the craft beer movement, and to start calling the wines on the New District platform 'craft wine.'

Craft breweries often emphasize their focus on quality, flavour and technique, and on producing small batches of product at a time. This matched perfectly with the way we saw our favourite Canadian wineries producing their wine. Over the past few decades, Canada's wine industry has matured and grown tremendously, in much the same way that Canadian beer has improved and matured.

We also believed that the 'craft' label was the easiest and most direct way of signalling value to customers. One need only look at the success of craft breweries to see how much people value product that has been produced with attention to detail.

Shortly after taking up the 'craft wine' label, however, we had a bit of an epiphany.

'Craft beer' might be having its moment in the sun now, but attention to detail has been a part of winemaking tradition for centuries.

One could make the argument that many components of the 'craft' beer ethos — an iconoclastic, individual approach to production, a desire to reflect local settings, and focus on complexity of flavour — are all borrowed from winemaking.

What we realized, ultimately, was that craft wine—'complex' wine, 'local' wine, or simply 'good' wine—is part of a tradition that extends back several hundred years, and one that has been sustained by a belief that good things come from sustained, focused effort. ♦

 

category: wine

New District

The cost of a cellar

What’s in your basement? Boxes of Christmas and Hallowe’en decorations? Bikes your kids have outgrown? That rec room reno project that still needs carpet?

Or row upon row of fine wine?

For true acolytes of the vine, an in-house wine cellar is a logical step. Maybe you’re a compulsive buyer of “special occasion” bottles. Maybe you’re a dedicated collector set on amassing a thoughtful, well-rounded supply of wine you can show off to house guests. In either case, space is bound to become an issue. 

Plus, if you’re serious about storing or aging your wine in top-notch conditions, a cellar is the way to go. Wine needs a controlled climate for long-term storage: Cooler than room temperature, with consistent humidity and protection from stray sunbeams, in order to prevent the corks from contracting and expanding, ushering in unwanted oxidation. Good luck getting that level of protection in a kitchen cabinet. 

Cellars are big right now. In fact, those shopping for high-end real estate in Vancouver have begun taking them for granted. Jacuzzi? Check. Garbage disposal? Check. Temperature-controlled vino cave? Of course.

For the non-super-rich, however, taking the wine cellar plunge requires some planning. 

Assuming you’ve got a basement, you have a head start. Going subterranean gives you the best protection from light pollution and other environmental troublemakers. Plus, the ambient temperature underground is lower than above, meaning your wine cooling unit will have to do less work.

The wine cooling unit (WCU) is essential. A basement is a benefit, but not an instant cellar. You’ll need this unit to keep the temperature regulated. The WCU will cost you anywhere from 1,000 - 10,000, depending on quality and capacity.

Then there’s the rest: Vapour-protected walls, to keep the room enclosed; an airtight door; bottle racks; and other details, like lighting and flooring. 

That’s a lot to factor in. But if you’re in the early stages of your wine cellar journey, there’s an easy way to chart the cost. A simple rule of thumb: Building a wine cellar will cost about the same as remodeling your kitchen.

There are a lot of ways to remodel your kitchen. You could go with laminate flooring or imported tile. A stainless steel gas range or a budget model from your local appliances outlet. Your kitchen could be large enough to film an episode of Chopped, or just big enough to prepare dinner for your partner and yourself. 

Similarly, your wine cellar will be shaped by your needs. What’s the priority: Function or style? Will you be dipping in occasionally to grab a bottle to go with dinner, or hosting tasting parties for your most distinguished guests? Are you just looking for a place to keep your growing collection of bottles safe and out of sight, or are you preserving an investment worth thousands of dollars?

There are small-scale, DIY options. There are companies, like Vancouver’s Blue Grouse, who will do all the work for you. Research your options, keep your priorities straight, and soon your personal in-house oenophile retreat could be competing with the best the real estate market has to offer. ♦ 

Image via Luca Moglia

category: wine

New District

Which is better for you: beer or wine?

For a while, the saying went, “A glass a day keeps the doctor away.” A University of Texas study found that adults who drank one to two servings of red wine daily lived longer, healthier lives. Cheap zinfandel started flying off the racks.

Unfortunately, the epidemiologists at U of T failed to account for differences in their subjects’ ages, diets and levels of physical activity. Adjusted for these variables, their study showed no difference in lifespan between consumers of wine, beer, and liquor. (But it held true that those who consumed moderate amounts of alcohol daily outlived teetotalers. Cheers to that.)

So much for a clear-cut victory. But surely wine consumption is more than the sum of its parts. After all, there are “beer people” and “wine people,” right? This applies to whole cultures and diets. We don’t look to Provence for a rich history of lagercraft; the English aren’t known for their complex bruts. 

For the sake of pitting vine against grain, can we at least debate whether wine drinking cultures are healthier than those that consume beer?

The Japanese are notoriously prone to producing centenarians, despite a love of Sapporo. Beer only appeared in Japan in the 17th century, though, via the Dutch. Sake is the traditional mainstay, and even if it’s made with rice, it’s still considered a wine.

The Nordic diet has been making waves. High fat, low carbs, long life - that’s the theory, anyway. And Scandinavians love their beer. But beer isn’t stipulated as part of meal plan. Carby lagers might be more of a bug than a feature when it comes to eating Northern style.

What about wine-drinking cultures? Enter the Mediterranean Diet. It’s hard to find a diet that is better backed up by evidence. Diet fads come and go, but the Mediterranean style of sustenance has been going strong for more than twenty years.

In a study from the ‘90s, the traditional cuisines of Greece and southern Italy were shown to give people long, healthy lives. Numerous meta-analyses done in the 2000s backed this up, suggesting that those who stick to a Mediterranean diet will see a 9% reduction in risk due to cardiovascular disease. 

What’s on the Mediterranean plate? Mostly whole grains, vegetables, olive oil, moderate amounts of dairy and fish, very little red meat or refined sugar - and a regular glass or two of wine with dinner.

So, thanks to the Greeks and their neighbours, we can point to wine-drinking cultures’ superiority when it comes to overall health and lifespan. 

But before you start gorging on zinfandel and halumi, a word of caution: The world’s healthiest regional diets are healthy because they practice portion control in combination with active lifestyles. Unless you’re following these guidelines, no mixture of ingredients is going to guarantee you good health. But practice moderation in all things, and you could live to a fine old vintage.  ♦

Image via Houston Ruck

category: wine

New District

Wine vs. Climate Change

Climate change is arguably the greatest threat civilization has ever faced. The seas are rising, storms are raging, and droughts are setting in. That’s the big picture. On a smaller scale, our increasingly turbulent environment threatens many industries and products we take for granted.

For instance, what about wine? Should vinophiles prepare themselves for a post-apocalyptic future where there’s nothing good to drink?

A recent study predicts that the world’s most productive wine growing regions will no longer be productive by 2050. Bordeaux, Tuscany and Rhone will see their output drop by eighty five percent. New World sources will be hit hard as well, with a 70% decrease in California (which is already being hit hard by water shortages), and Chile facing a 40% cut in production.

Australia will be hit hard as well. Love Aussie shiraz? Then you’d better stock up. Current predictions point to its looming disappearance from shelves, with the continent facing a 73% decline by 2050.

Grape vines are fickle. A small change in weather patterns can have a drastic effect on their output.

For instance, when the heat goes up, tannin production goes down, and the flavour of the wine is negatively affected. And increased UVB meddles with the formation of other flavour compounds, ultimately changing how the wine tastes and looks.

Besides that, a rise in CO2 hinders photosynthesis, and water shortages can make it impossible for vines to get the hydration they need to grow. 

 Wine regions are shrinking, but demand for good wine isn’t going to decrease any time soon. For some parts of the world, this is an opportunity. Places where it was once too cold to grow grapes may soon be producing some of the world’s most popular wines. 

Sweden is a growing force in the industry, thanks to climate change. And all predictions point to an upcoming viticulture explosion in China. New parts of the USA are opening up to wine production, too. Environmentalists are already gearing up for a showdown over vineyards’ land use near Yellowstone National Park.

Meanwhile, lovers of British Columbia wine can rejoice. Forecasts show improved production of wine in the Okanagan as the climate shifts.

It looks like the wine landscape is going to change worldwide. The old guard is on its way out! Get ready for new wines from new regions. In the meantime, though, many producers are using eco-friendly practices to help mitigate or slow the effects of global warming. We may not be able to stop change, but we can at least slow it down by supporting local wineries devoted both to their product and to the planet. ♦

 

category: wine

New District

Why do biodynamic wines taste so good?

Even the most amateur viniculturalist recognizes the role grape growing conditions plays in the quality of wine. Weather, soil, hydration: Through the complex chemical dance of winemaking, all of these eventually make their way to your palate.

But what about, say, the phase of the moon? Or the position of Mercury? Or the life energy of an animal?

Biodynamic agriculture harnesses early 20th century thinker Rudolph Steiner’s esoteric worldview to grow fruit and vegetables in harmony with the cosmos. (You might recognize Steiner as the mind behind Waldorf education, an individualistic approach to learning that places as much emphasis on music and handicrafts as Math and English.)

Biodynamic food is organic by default, free from pesticides or chemical fertilizers. But it goes even further. Farmers might take body parts from ritually slaughtered animals, fill them with organic compounds, and plant them in fields so they can absorb the energy of the sun; or determine cycles of sowing, harvesting, pruning and fertilizing based on the positions of the planets; or prepare compost teas by stirring them in directions meant to draw down the power of the Universe.

To the analytic, Western scientific mind, all of this is ridiculous. The position of Saturn in the night sky has no impact on how a plant grows. Compost aged in a cow horn can’t possibly fertilize twenty acres of grapes.

And yet.

Wines made from biodynamic grapes consistently receive awards and accolades. They tend to be pricier. And overall, you’re very unlikely to sip one that is sub-par.

To understand why, we have to look beyond the hocus pocus. It may be that, just like Mom’s cooking, biodynamic wines’ most important ingredient is love.

The Okanagan’s Summerhill Pyramid winery is the only fully certified biodynamic wine producer in British Columbia. They use the cow-horn-and manure technique. They age their wines in a specially built pyramid structure that utilizes “sacred geometry.” 

They’ve also been using organic farming practices since 1986. 

Organic practices are highly involved. On their website, Summerhill offers a breakdown. Pests are removed manually, or controlled with free-roaming chickens. Vines are fertilized with specially-prepared composts and teas, plus a wide range of mineral additives. Equipment is scrubbed out by hand with brushes and soap.

A lot of extra, detailed work goes into keeping a crop certifiably organic. And the hocus-pocus? Maybe it makes a difference. Maybe it doesn’t. But there is something poetic about turning farming into a ritual. Summerhill’s methods might not have provable, quantifiable effects. But it’s a way of engaging with winemaking that goes beyond dollars and cents. It’s an ethos and an aesthetic, and bound up with that is attention and care. There is no way a biodynamic vitner can use the methods they do and not be tuned to the finest details.

So next time you get a chance to order a glass or buy a bottle, try some of Summerhill’s product. The way they create it might not make perfect sense. But the experience of a great wine goes beyond logic. It’s magic. 

 

category: wine

New District

Is this the end of the line for microbreweries?

Visit any liquor store, and you’ll see beers with funky labels and weird names edging in on territory previously held by Coors Light and Molson Canadian. And if you live in a city on the West Coast, microbreweries are starting to outnumber Starbucks.

Small-scale, locally brewed beer has apparently exploded in popularity over the past ten years, to the point where some experts are predicting a market bubble. But despite the overflow of limited-edition hop-forward session ales and grapefruit-infused whatevers, wine is still going strong.

In fact, wine holds just as much market share as beer. This is new. Beer has always been North America’s favourite alcoholic beverage. But a recent survey shows that vino has caught up. Its biggest fans?

The under-30 set.

This is puzzling at first. For many people, the early stages of adulthood are a time of economic uncertainty, dominated by cheap beer, coolers and liquor. With extended “adultlescence” the norm for post-recession college grads, the world of fine wine seems like a strange choice.

There are a few explanations for this. First, since the 1990s, wine producers have been pushing their marketing in a less formal direction, choosing labels and names, for instance, that are more wacky than refined (think Blasted Church.)

Second, it has become less difficult and less expensive to get your hands on good wine. Two Buck Chuck is holding its own in blind taste tests. And while Trader Joe’s trademark tipple isn’t everyone’s cup of, uh, wine, drinkers are beginning to recognize that you don’t have to dish out half the weekly grocery budget for a bottle of something tasty.

But perhaps one of the most important - and least talked-about - contributors to wine’s under-30 popularity surge is the Hundred Mile Diet.

Or some variation thereof. “Locavore” entered the OED in 2007, and well before then, certain demographics were voting with their dollars in favour of fair trade, organic, and locally-sourced eats. Many Millenials were becoming economically independent just as Michael Pollan was hitting the New York Times Bestseller List. According to industry experts, buyers under thirty are waist-deep in the conscious eating trend.

And what better example of a locally produced beverage than wine from a nearby vineyard? Microbreweries may blend, boil and age their ingredients locally; they might even ascribe a place of origin to their hops; but you’d be hard-pressed to find a beer that sources its barley (the bulk of any beer recipe) from a local farmer.

Meanwhile, you can buy a bottle from Venturi-Schulze or Blue Grouse, and know precisely where the grapes came from and who grew them.

Plus, wine and location have been tied together since ancient times. We find references to place affecting wine’s flavour as far back as Pliny the Elder. In the 17th century, agriculturalist Olivier de Serres prioritized an understanding of terroir as “the fundamental task in agriculture.”

Today, terroir is applied everywhere. Locavores dwell on the terroir of farmer’s market carrots and grass-fed beef. In that light, wine is the natural vehicle for locally-sourced flavour.

The story of wine’s growing popularity isn’t just about market trends. It’s a reflection of how people today are changing their approach to how they choose what to eat, drink, and savour. ♦

Photo via Reno Tahoe

category: wine

New District

BC wine: a short history (part 2)

This is part two of our two-part series about the history of BC wine. Click here for part one.

With the repeal of Prohibition, wine was back on the table. But up until then, there had been no serious commercial attempts to meet demand. That’s when Grower’s Winery showed up.

Several investors formed Growers in 1921 in Victoria. They used loganberries and then native labrusca grapes to produce their wines. By the ‘30s, some of those grapes were coming from the Okanagan. Wine was not yet the multi-million dollar industry it is today, but there was enough demand that establishing vines had become a lucrative source of income for some farmers. 

British Columbia wine saw a small revolution in 1963. Up until then, wine from BC tasted very different from that produced in Europe. The labrusca grape, native to North America, is suited to Canadian climates. But it imparts a distinct, musky flavour that sets it apart from European varieties.

In 1963 Quails’ Estate Winery in the Okanagan began importing hybrid vines from France, encouraged by one of the vineyard’s French employees. The vines did well in the Okanagan’s climate, and they produced a higher quality wine. By the end of the ‘60s, the new grapes had spread throughout the valley.

More inspiration would arrive from Europe ten years later. In 1973, a new personality arrived on the BC wine scene. Helmut Becker was a member of the German Geisenheim Grape Breeding Institute, which worked to develop and spread grape varietals internationally. He made a deal with Okanagan growers to provide cuttings if they would allow him to reproduce his Geisenheim experiments on BC soil. Becker reasoned that, with a latitude almost identical to Rhine Valley, the Okanagan should be able to support Old World grapes.

Two plots were planted. They were a huge success. Becker’s work established Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Gewurtztraminer varietals in BC. These grapes still form the core of BC’s fine wine industry today.

Throughout the ‘80s, consumers in BC were able to find some locally-produced, quality wines. However, the market was still spotted with products made from inferior labrusca and hybrid grapes. This wasn’t a big deal when Canadian wine was still cheaper and easier to find than international offerings. But the tables were about to be turned.

The 1989 Canada-US Free Trade Pact changed all that. Suddenly, BC liquor stores were flooded with low-priced, quality wines from California. British Columbia’s inconsistent standards couldn’t compete.

Provincial and federal governments stepped in to provide a much-needed boost. They offered growers cash incentives to tear out their old labrusca and hybrid vines, and introduce Vinis vinifera in their place. Vineyards jumped on board, and before long, BC wine was catching its second wind. The establishment of the BC Wine Institute and the VQA appellation introduced high standards of production and gave a voice to the industry at large. 

Today, BC wine is internationally recognized. The province boasts more than 250 wineries, and last year, over twenty million gallons of wine were produced from BC grapes. We’ve come a long way from Father Pandosy’s frontier vines. 

However, there is still room to grow. In 2012, the federal government passed Bill C-311, amending the 1928 Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act. In theory, this makes it easier for consumers to order wine from other provinces. But legislative red tape makes it difficult to order more than a few bottles. Residents in BC are lucky enough to have full access to the nation’s finest selection of locally produced wine. Only time will tell whether the rest of Canada is granted this privilege. ♦

 

category: history

New District

BC wine: a short history

It’s easy to take for granted British Columbia’s rich wine culture. More than ten thousand acres in this province are occupied by vines, and with every year that goes by, BC is more widely recognized as a producer of distinct, high-quality wines.

But wine in BC is a relatively recent phenomenon. While European settlers started fermenting grapes here one hundred fifty years ago, it wasn’t until the ‘70s and ‘80s that BC began producing the kinds of wine you wouldn’t feel embarrassed bringing to a dinner party.

This two-part series will look at the history of BC wine: Where is started, and how it got where it is today.

The Mission

The first wines produced in BC served a sacred purpose. French priest Father Pandosy arrived in the Southern Interior in the 1860s. There he established the Okanagan Mission, a hub for Catholic settlers and a home for the small group of oblates Pandosy had brought from the Old Country. At the Mission, he began producing Communion wine, most likely from cultivated native grape varieties, making the Okanagan the entry point for viticulture into BC.

In the years that followed, wine production in BC remained an informal, small-scale affair. Beer, cider and hard liquor were more popular. If you drank wine at all, you would do so in a restaurant, and most likely be enjoying a European product. Smaller batches might be produced by farmers for personal use, and be rounded out with berries or whatever fermentable fruit was on hand.

But during the early 20th century, producers of all alcohol - whether at home or on a professional scale - faced a serious obstacle: Prohibition.

Since the 19th century, it had been possible for Canadian provinces to vote in favour of Prohibition, banning all alcohol consumption and sales. Given alcohol’s widespread popularity, none had moved to do so.

But in 1917, the temperance movement was growing strong. That’s the year BC elected to ban the consumption and sale of alcohol. Every other province did the same thing at around the same time, so BC wasn’t unique. Prohibition was a failed experiment, though, and in 1921, BC was one of the first provinces to re-legalize booze.

With the reintroduction of legal alcohol to the Province at large, there was a growing demand for wine. Find out how BC’s wine revolution really got kicked off in our second instalment.

category: history

New District

A brief introduction to Canadian wine

We don't often think of Canadian wine as having a long and storied history, but it does. People have been growing wine grapes in Canada for close to two centuries now—granted, with varied results. But the steady resolve of Canadian winemakers, particularly over the past century, has resulted in a winemaking community that is garnering more and more attention at international competitions—something especially impressive considering Canada's status as a beer drinking culture.

A brief history

Canada's wine history got off to an uncertain start in 1000 AD, when Viking Leif Eirikson stumbled upon present day Newfoundland. He christened the place 'Vinland' after noticing an abundance of wild grapes in the vicinity.

Vinland wouldn't fully live up to its name until the early 1800s, when an enterprising German, Johann Schiller, established a vineyard in Ontario's Niagara region. Using skills obtained while working as a winemaker in the Rhine, Schiller began privately experimenting with Vitis vinifera grapes from Europe, with limited success.

By the mid 1860s, the Clair House estate in Ontario's Niagara region—built on the site of Schiller's original winery—became the first commercial winery in Canada. Wines from the estate went on to win prizes at the 1867 Paris Exposition and the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial. These early successes would anchor the Niagara region as a major centre for Canadian winemaking.

The first grape vines in British Columbia were planted in 1859, for the purpose of making sacramental wine at the Oblate mission, located near the present-day site of the Summerhill Pyramid winery. Commercial wineries followed soon after, cementing the Okanagan's status as a centre for fruit growing and agriculture.

During the first half of the twentieth century, the temperance movement and later consumer demand for fortified and sweet wines hampered the development of a quality table wine industry in Canada.

It wasn't until after the repeal of alcohol prohibition in Canada in 1927, after provinces stopped strictly limiting the number of licences to produce wine, that the Canadian wine scene truly began to grow. Between 1989 and 2014, the number of wineries in British Columbia skyrocketed from 13 to 236 — more than double the current number of BC breweries (approx. 100). By 2004, vineyard acreage in BC grew to 6,000, and today it stands at more than 10,000.

Today, Canadians consume more than 220 million bottles of Canadian-made wine every year. To satisfy that demand, more than 700 Canadian wineries grow and harvest more than 27,000 acres of vineyard a year.

Popular regions

The Canadian wine scene is dominated by wineries from British Columbia's Okanagan Valley, the Niagara Peninsula of Ontario, and in Essex County Ontario. 

Given the region's cool climate, the majority of all wines produced in Ontario are dry table wines. The most common varietals grown are Chardonnay, Riesling, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc. Other popular white grape varieties are Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer and Vidal Blanc, and reds include Cabernet Sauvignon, Gamay Noir, Syrah and Baco Noir. Ontario's Icewines are also enjoyed around the world, and its sparkling wines have risen to prominence in the last decade, benefiting from cool climate conditions and traditional techniques.

British Columbia's Okanagan Valley produces wines across the spectrum of sweetness levels, including still, sparkling, fortified and dessert wine styles—most notably ice wines. More than 60 grape varieties grown in the Okanagan, including Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot noir, Pinot gris, Chardonnay, Auxerrois blanc, Marechal Foch and Cabernet Franc. In the 21st century, growers have been planting more warm climate varieties typically not associated with the Canadian wine industry. ♦

category: canada