VanWineFest 2017 – Trans Canada Tasting

Barbara Philip and John Szabo leading the Trans Canada tasting seminar
Barbara Philip and John Szabo leading the Trans Canada wine tasting seminar

Did you know that there are 671 wineries in Canada, as of Feb 2017?  There are 276 wineries in BC.  There is grape wine being produced in BC, Ontario, Quebec, and Nova Scotia.  As part of the Vancouver International Wine Festival, wineries from across Canada were invited to attend, and to celebrate our 150th birthday as a country.  Bringing together some of the wineries at the Festival, it was logical to have a Trans Canada wine tasting. The seminar that I attended at the Festival was hosted by Canada’s first Master Sommelier, John Szabo, and western Canada’s first Master of Wine, Barbara Philip.  We had wines from BC, Ontario and Nova Scotia to sample at the seminar, along with these interesting panelists, some from the wineries and other wine writers to talk about the wines.

Our Panelists

  • Nikki Callaway, Wine maker, Quails Gate Winery
  • Jamie Goode, Renowned Author, Wine Journalist, Sunday Express,
  • Roland Kruger, Co-proprietor, Wild Goose Vineyards
  • Moira Peters, Wine Writer and Columnist, The Chronicle Herald
  • Craig Pinhey, Wine Writer and Columnist, New Brunswick Telegraph Journal
  • Keith Tyers, Wine maker, Closson Chase

The Wines

Blomidon Estate Winery Chardonnay, Benjamin Bridge Methode Classique, Devonian Coast Wineries Jost Tidal Bay and Gaspereau Riesling from Nova Scotia
Blomidon Estate Winery Chardonnay, Benjamin Bridge Methode Classique, Devonian Coast Wineries Jost Tidal Bay and Gaspereau Riesling from Nova Scotia
  • Blomidon Estate Winery Chardonnay 2014, Nova Scotia $33.26 – Bright lemon with a green tint.  Medium plus intensity nose with ripe tropical fruit and vanilla notes.  Medium plus body, round and soft, with medium acid.  Light tropical fruit and oak treatment. 4.5 stars
  • Benjamin Bridge Methode Classique NV, Nova Scotia, $35.99 – A blend of l’Acadie Blanc, Vidal, Seyval Blanc, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes for this sparkling wine made in the classical, Champagne method. The wine spent 5 years on its lees before disgorgement.  Medium bright lemon with a green tinge in the glass.  Light lees and apple aromas.  High acidity, dry with medium body, and small creamy bubble.  Tart citrus, and green citrus rind, yellow grapefruit.  Good quality. 4 stars
  • Devonian Coast Wineries Jost Tidal Bay 2015, Nova Scotia $19.99 – This Tidal Bay blend is made from l’Acadie Blanc, Ortega, New York Muscat, and Cayuga grapes.  It is very aromatic with a mix of stone fruit, pine needles, and herbal notes.  With air you also get some mandarin orange as well (coming from the Muscat).  Medium body, quite round, with some minerality and stoniness.  Flavours of stone fruit, mandarin orange and pine needles, and a drop of honey.  Very tasty.  4.5 stars
  • Devonian Coast Wineries Gaspereau Riesling 2015, Nova Scotia $19.99 – Light bright lemon with green in the glass.  Light notes, with apples and hints of petrol and stone fruit.  Dry, high acidity with very tart citrus fruit and stone fruit,together with light petrol.  Some orange, floral, and honey on the finish. Nice.  Ageable. 4.5 stars
Hidden Bench Vineyards and Winery Estate Riesling, Closson Chase South Clos Vineyard Chardonnay, Flat Rock Cellars Pinot Noir, and Château Des Charmes Cabernet Franc from Ontario
Hidden Bench Vineyards and Winery Estate Riesling, Closson Chase South Clos Vineyard Chardonnay, Flat Rock Cellars Pinot Noir, and Château Des Charmes Cabernet Franc from Ontario
  • Hidden Bench Vineyards and Winery Estate Riesling 2014,VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario $29.00 – I quite enjoyed the Riesling and Pinot Noir wines I tried from Hidden Bench Vineyards and Winery at this seminar, and the other seminars I attended.  Their Riesling was light lemon with a green tint.  Medium intensity nose with apples and petrol.  Dry, medium body, with higher acidity.  Flavours of tart apples and stone fruit.  Peaches became more prominent on the mid palate.  Excellent quality. 4.5 stars
  • Closson Chase South Clos Vineyard Chardonnay 2014, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario $39.95 – Deeper golden colour.  Big, ripe tropical fruit and vanilla aromas.  Full body, dry and round, with a heavier, buttery mouth feel.  Lots of tropical fruit and vanilla and medium spice. If you like a bigger, buttery Chardonnay, give this wine a try. 4.5 stars
  • Flat Rock Cellars Pinot Noir 2014, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario $24.95 – Medium translucent garnet.  Medium nose, with brambly, smoky, red fruit aromas.  Medium body, dry, mineral with violets and red fruit, and medium intensity pepperiness.  Medium length wine fine tannins. 4 stars
  • Château Des Charmes Cabernet Franc St. David’s Bench, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake 2014 $27.95 – Deep garnet colour.  Ripe cassis, with hints of cedar, capsicum and vanilla on the nose.  Dry and round, with ripe plums, raspberries and black cherries.  Medium tannins and acidity.  Light nutmeg spice and some chalky minerality.  A nice balanced fruity wine.  Freshness and purity in the glass. 4.5 stars
Wild Goose Vineyards Stony Slope Riesling, Quails’ Gate Winery Rosemary’s Block Chardonnay, Averill Creek Vineyard Pinot Noir, and Burrowing Owl Estate Winery Syrah from BC
Wild Goose Vineyards Stony Slope Riesling, Quails’ Gate Winery Rosemary’s Block Chardonnay, Averill Creek Vineyard Pinot Noir, and Burrowing Owl Estate Winery Syrah from BC
  • Wild Goose Vineyards Stony Slope Riesling 2015, BC $17.99 – Pale lemon with green tint.  Sweet stone fruit and green fruit aromas.  Medium body, off-dry with light acidic prickle on the tongue.  Stone fruit, grapefruit rind, and a hint of greenness.  Dry finish. 4.5 stars
  • Quails’ Gate Winery Rosemary’s Block Chardonnay 2014, BC $40 – Medium lemon colour.  Nice nose; medium intensity tropical fruit, oak and sweet spices.  Medium body, dry, round and buttery.  Quite fruity; tropical fruit.  Sweet spices and peppery too. Very good quality. 4.5 stars
  • Averill Creek Vineyard, Vancouver Island Pinot Noir 2013, BC $30.49 –  Andy Johnston, co-owner of Averill Creek Vineyard, I believe was in the audience and spoke up when his wine was being discussed.  He asserted that Pinot Noir is the future of Vancouver Island, and I couldn’t be more pleased.  I really like the style of Pinot Noir from Averill Creek produced by Island grapes.  This wine was medium translucent garnet.  Violets on the nose, leading to more violets on the palate, along with roses, nutmeg, red fruit and tart raspberries.  Mineral along with some pepper and light oak treatment.  Dry with light body and mouth feel.  A feminine style wine. 4.5 stars
  • Burrowing Owl Estate Winery, Okanagan Valley Syrah 2013, BC $39.04 – Deep garnet.  Meaty, sausage, nutmeg and dark fruit aromas.  Dry, full-bodied and round with medium tannins.  Ripe black fruit and raspberries.  Nutmeg, mineral, and a hint of floral.  The wine finishes soft. Ripe and fruity in the glass. 4.5 stars

What Did Our Panelists Have to Say?

Following are general discussions from the panelists and our moderators.  I did not list who said what as there was an interaction between the panel, but if a particular wine is being mentioned, then it would typically be by someone from the winery.

Before having the panel talk, John Szabo gave us some general background on Canadian geography and wine. Many wine makers would say that the best wines comes from the margins of the growing zone from 30-50 degrees latitude. Canada is at that 50 degree margin. We have a short growing season between last spring frost and first fall frost so the wines that tend to do best are the ones that ripen in the shortest time; Chardonnay and Pinot Noir for example. Greatness is possible at the edge of possibility.

Nova Scotia and What is Tidal Bay?

In Nova Scotia, l’Acadie Blanc is an aromatic hybrid variety grown there that is making very exciting sparkling wines; the most exciting wines during the Festival are from this grape.  Look for Gamay Noir wines from Nova Scotia in the future.

The Annapolis Valley is a principal growing area in Nova Scotia. There is the presence of a large body of water nearby and the Bay of Fundy tides, a moderating influence on the climate. Nova Scotia no more than 60km from ocean.

Commercial wine making in Nova Scotia began in the 1980s and hit its stride in the mid 2000s. In the late 2000s aromatic whites from the Tidal Bay appellation became recognized. Many wineries are family run. A community of young wine professionals with enthusiasm; Bringing their families to rural areas. The Tidal Bay appellation with its concentration on use of aromatic and semi aromatic grapes has expanded Nova Scotia’s notion of identity.  This is our wine and feels like Nova Scotia. Our Gamay Noir and Pinot Noir won some awards in a recent competition.  In 2017 there is the Atlantic Wine Symposium, with speakers coming from around the world to Halifax in June.  Everyone welcome.

Tidal Bay wine is a style tied to a region.  The wine is a blend of different grapes including l’Acadie Blanc, New York Muscat and more.  The wines have some RS to take the edge off the acidity.  Fresh, light, easily drinkable wine. All wines have a floral, tropical fruit nose component coming from the New York Muscat. Wine makers put together their blend to a set of parameters, e.g. varieties and percentages and submit to a tasting panel (blind.  The panel does not know which wine is made by which winery).  They ask if the wine shows the characteristics that they want Tidal Bay to be? Is it too sweet, too acidic, too aromatic? A blend can be rejected. The tasting panel guarantees the consumer a certain level of quality.


Did you know that Cabernet Franc has the largest acreage planted in the Niagara region?  In 1973 first winery in Canada was from Ontario. First vinifera grapes were planted in Ontario. Ontario has 3 main appellations:

  1. Prince Edward County (PEC) 2 hrs NE from Toronto.  It is a giant limestone plateau jutting in Lake Ontario. A cool area. PEC soil is rock. The stone makes the wine. These rocks get very hot  in the summer and you can’t hold them in your hands. The heat in the rocks keeps the vines warm when the sun sets.
  2. Lake Erie North Shore has the longest sunshine hours in Canada, and
  3. Niagara Peninsula (with 10 sub-appellations) where most of Ontario’s wine is produced. The sub-appellation based on scientific parameters, such as slope and soil type. Water is very important for the Niagara Peninsula.  There area is affected by Lakes Ontario and Erie. There is a lake effect breeze causing a constant circulation of air which keeps vines from getting too hot in summer and not freezing in winter.

For those people traveling to Ontario in July, there will be the International Cool Climate Chardonnay conference in the Niagara Peninsula July 21-23, 2017.

Pinot Noir is a great grape for Ontario. In the last 7-8 years quality has improved. Cabernet Franc is important in the Niagara Peninsula because it goes into blends like Bordeaux and you can make ice wine with it. 2014 was a cool white wine year, but also was good for Gamay and Pinot Noir.


In BC most of wine production is in the Okanagan. BC has most diverse wine regions in Canada, from a maritime climate on Vancouver Island to desert in the south Okanagan. We have many grape varieties as we have many different climatic areas. Pinot Gris and Merlot are the most planted varieties in BC.

For Riesling, Roland Kruger from Wild Goose Vineyards noted that their soil is all rocks. No soil. They planted 6000 Riesling vines. You could not stick a shovel in the ground. The early 1990s had some poor vintages, but the climate has changed in the last 7 years, and the grapes now have more sugar at harvest. The last 5 vintages have been very good for Riesling in BC.  They want to make a perfect Riesling so they taste a lot of Rieslings. Their Stony Slope Riesling is half fermented in oak barrels and half in stainless steel before blending.

The owner from Averill Creek says that the future of wine on Vancouver Island is Pinot Noir. But noted the growing season is very short, so they stretch the season by wrapping their vines in saran wrap and warming the vines in the Spring. They do not believe in over extracting Pinot Noir; Punch downs only, gentle 2-3x a day. They do not want to extract hard tannins.

The owners of Burrowing Owl looked to the South Okanagan for a vineyard to buy when the hybrids were being pulled out in the 1970s. Their consultants said not to go south to plant new vines as no people lived in the South, but now the whole valley is filled with wineries. Syrah is one of our great grapes. It doesn’t like cold winter so hopefully this year will be good as our winter was very cold.  Burrowing Owl’s style for making wine is straightforward. Do as little as possible. For the Syrah, some American oak is added for a spice accent.  French oak for their other wines.

I hope you enjoyed reading about these different comments by the winery principles, panelists and moderators, as well as my tasting notes.  Some of these wines may still be purchasable at a BCLDB store, until the stock runs out, so look for them sooner than later.  Enjoy.

Author: mywinepal
Drink Good Wine. That is my motto and I really want to help you drink good wine. What is good wine? That can be a different thing for each people. Food also loves wine so I also cover food and wine pairings, restaurant reviews, and world travel. Enjoy life with me. MyWinePal was started by Karl Kliparchuk, WSET. I spent many years with the South World Wine Society as the President and then cellar master. I love to travel around the world, visiting wine regions and sharing my passion for food & wine with you. Come live vicariously through me, and enjoy all my recommended wines.