Canada produces both table grapes (chiefly Vitis labrusca) and wine grapes (Vitis vinifera and hybrids). Approximately 80% of the grapes produced in Canada are used for wine production.
Wine grape acreage has been increasing steadily over the past twenty years. From a country total of 4,555 ha in 1993, this figure had risen to 11,139 ha in 2011. The majority of wine grapes are grown in Ontario and British Columbia, with smaller amounts being produced in Quebec and Nova Scotia.
Broadly speaking, Canadian wine grapes are used to produce two types of products. About half are blended with imported bulk wine or must to produce an International Canadian Blend (ICB). Confusingly, these products are labelled as “Cellared in Canada” even though the local content of ICB wines in Ontario varied from 60% in 2009 to only 1% in 2005. Because the Canadian wine industry is small and costs compared to international competitors are high, there is a strong financial incentive for blending. Pronounced vintage variations in Canadian grape production have also supported proponents of the use of imported must and wine. Ths is especially true for the larger wineries who are looking to produce a “Canadian” brand in the sub $10 price category. Currently an ICB wine must have a minimum content of 25% Canadian grapes.
The second product class consists entirely of Canadian grapes and meets quality criteria designated by the Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA). These are the wines which are of interest to wine enthusiasts and which make up the Canadian export market.
Just over half of all the Canadian vineyard area is located in Ontario. Grape production here shows a strong vintage variation with 2005 being a particularly poor year due to a late winter freeze.
Of the ca. 60,000 tonnes produced in 2012, approximately one third was white vinifera, one third was red vinifera and one third consisted of French hybrds. The most important white vinifera varietals are Chardonnay and Riesling. Smaller quantities of Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris and Gewurtztraminer are also produced. Red vinifera varietals in order of produced quantity are Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Gamay.
French hybrids constitute less than 3% of the wine grape acreage of British Columbia and hence make only a small contribution to its grape and wine production. In the late 20th century British Columbia both expanded its vineyard area and changed from predominantly whites to a more even mix of black and white varietals.
The 2011 harvest was evenly split between red and white varietals. The five most important red varietals by production were Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc and Shiraz. For whites, the largest producing varietals were Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewurtztraminer and Pinot Blanc.
The growth of the national vineyard and production has meant that wineries are increasingly looking to the export market. Exports have increased from 7.8 million litres in 2008 to 26.2 million litres in 2012, but value has risen from Can$20.3 million in 2008 to only Can$41.2 million in 2012. Much of the dilution in terms of $/litre is attributable to sales in the US, which is by far the largest export market by volume. As a high cost producer, Canada will need to ensure that it does not devalue its products by discounting heavily as production rises.