Ontario, B.C. Chardonnays go to New York
Meyer's Tribute Chardonnay (right) goes to New York tasting
Thirty-one Canadian wineries plan to host a tasting of 54 Chardonnays in New York on March 8, following up on a Chardonnay tasting done last spring in London by 22 Ontario wineries.
There is no doubt that Canadian producers these days have enough quality wine to explore export markets.
However, several questions came to mind when I read the news release:
1. Why are there only six British Columbia Chardonnays at the New York event?
These two tastings are clearly an initiative of the Wine Council of Ontario. Was British Columbia an afterthought or was the ball dropped by the British Columbia Wine Institute?
Or is it that British Columbia wineries realize they will get more bang for the buck by hosting tastings in Toronto and Calgary. The consumers there, unlike American consumers, at least know there is a wine industry in British Columbia. Six Chardonnays, even if they are among our best, won’t make much of an impression in New York.
Perhaps few Okanagan wineries bothered to participate – or even knew this was going on. I would guess that most British Columbia wineries prefer to promote themselves exclusively as British Columbia wine rather submerge themselves in a sea of Ontario wines, however good those wines have also become.
The British Columbia wines in New York are limited to two from Burrowing Owl, two from Quails’ Gate and one each from Meyer Family Vineyards and Mission Hill Family Estate Winery. These are excellent choices but hardly the only top flight Chardonnays in British Columbia.
2. Why Chardonnay? The variety has been out of fashion for some time. There may be little rhyme or reason why consumers have turned away from Chardonnay, but that is an unfortunate fact.
In British Columbia, Pinot Gris rivals Chardonnay in quality. And it has been a hot varietal for about eight years in the North America market. We also produce excellent Viognier, to name another variety that is hotter than Chardonnay.
3. Are we just fishing for some complimentary pats on the head from Jancis Robinson or The Wine Spectator? Do we still need validation that our wines are world class from people who live somewhere else?
In Britain, there might still be the lingering stigma from the disastrous wine tastings which Canadian wineries – mostly the Ontario wineries – hosted periodically in London in the 1970s and 1980s. The English wine writers just sniffed at the mediocrity that was poured. In 1984 Hugh Johnson, the dean of British wine writers, brushed me off totally when I asked him to look at the manuscript of my first book on Canadian wine. In retrospect, I quite understand; our wine industry was just emerging from the Dark Ages.
British snobbishness toward our wines is a thing of the past. By all reports, the British wine press – one of the hardest audiences to please – was impressed last spring. Whether that translates into sales is quite another thing.
The wines for the tasting have been screened by a tasting panel of wine judges, all from Ontario. That, along with the quality of Ontario Chardonnay, may account for the overwhelming number of Ontario wines in the coming New York tasting.
When the Wine Council of Ontario gets foreign junkets out of its system, perhaps it should consider bringing a tasting like this to the west coast. It would make for a spectacular tasting at Cornucopia in Whistler. I would venture that the British Columbia market would be at least as receptive to Ontario Chardonnay as New York or London.