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More than just Icewine: Canadian Production Growth

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 production by province

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.


Ontario Grape Production

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.

British Columbia

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.



Australia’s Best Wine Regions – Langton’s Classification V

Langton’s, the important Australian wine auction house, publishes a Classification of top Australian wines every five years. Their latest (Classification V) was published in 2010 and included 123 wines that they regarded as being the “best performing ultra-fine Australian wines”.  What can this classification tell us about the performance of different wine regions and varietals?

Chart showing performance of Langton’s Classification V wines by colour

The Classification divides fine wines into four classes based on auction prices over an extended period.  Hence wines with a limited track record (<12 vintages) are automatically excluded.

The first point to make is that the vast majority (88%) of the included wines are red.  This might can as something of a surprise to lovers of Hunter Valley Semillon, Eden Valley Riesling or Margaret River Chardonnay. All of these wines have representatives in the Langton’s Classification V – just not very many of them.  In 2010, 39% of Australia’s then vineyard total of 152,000 ha was given over to white varietals, so at a top level we may conclude that white wines are an underperforming sector.  Yet varietals such as Pinot Gris and Viognier are relatively recent additions to the Australian vineyard.  Hopefully we can look forward to fine examples of these varietals in future Langton’s Classifications.

Best performing black grape varietals

Unsurprisingly, red wines are dominated by single varietal Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon.  Although Merlot is used in top performing blends, there is currently no single varietal Merlot that makes it into this classification.  Is this one area where the market (and not just in Australia) seems to under-appreciate a potentially great varietal?  Two of the foremost up and coming black varietals in Australia are Tempranillo and Sangiovese, but with a limited track record  it will probably be several future editions of Langton’s before these varietals feature.


The best performing states are South Australia and Victoria with strong representation in all four categories.  In 2010, Victoria’s 26,000 ha of bearing vines was only a third of South Australia’s 72,000 ha, so its degree of representation in Langton’s is impressive.  Fine wines are being produced across the state, but with a particular concentration in the Yarra Valley and Mornington Peninsula regions of the Port Phillip Zone.  South Australia’s finest wines are more evenly spread across the state with representations from the Barossa Zone (Barossa Valley, Eden Valley), the Mount Lofty Ranges Zone (Clare Valley, Adelaide), the Fleurieu Zone (McLaren Vale and Langhorne Creek) and the Limestone Coast Zone (Coonawarra).


Marlborough Vineyard Development: Video Presentation

This short video shows how some key vineyard characteristics in Marlborough have changed through time. Note how Marlborough has become the largest vineyard area in New Zealand, the rise and rise of Sauvignon Blanc, and the relative importance of other varietals such as Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris.


How Large is That New Zealand Vineyard Region?

For the early part of the 21st century, New Zealand Winegrowers produced an annual statistical report which provided detailed information on vineyards and varietals throughout the country.  These studies helped estimate future wine production, determine infrastructure needs and better understand disease management requirements.  They were an invaluable aid for studying the development of the New Zealand wine industry and their curtailment after 2009 left researchers dependent upon estimated projections.

Regional Vineyard Growth in New Zealand

So many workers will welcome New Zealand Winegrowers’ recently published Vineyard Register Report for 2012, together with news that in future this will be updated on an annual basis.  The current report provides a timely snapshot of the New Zealand vineyard and a chance to see how past projections have  played out.

The most noticeable feature is the continued – yet seemingly unpredicted – growth of vineyard area in Marlborough.  New Zealand Winegrowers had predicted that between 2009 and 2012 the Marlborough vineyard area would increase by 6.4% from 18,401 ha to 19,570 ha.  In fact the increase in the Marlborough vineyard area was a whopping 4,186 ha (22.7%), giving it a total vine-bearing area in 2012 of 22,587 ha.

Growth of varietals in Marlborough

There has been much recent interest in Pinots from Marlborough and it might have been thought that these varietals would account for a good part of the Marlborough vineyard area increase between 2009 and 2012.  In percentage terms they both showed substantial gains with the Pint Noir vineyard area increasing by 18% (367 ha) and the Pinot Gris vineyard by 74% (405 ha).  Yet Sauvignon Blanc with a 27% increase (3,705 ha) accounted for the vast majority of the expanded vineyard area in Marlborough between 2009 and 2012.

Outside of Marlborough, recorded changes to regional vineyard areas from 2009 to 2012 are small in absolute terms.  The most noteable change is the increase in vineyard area in Otago (1,532 ha to 1,787ha).  Coupled with a reported downsizing in Gisborne (2,149 ha to 1,617 ha), this means that Otago is now officially the third largest vineyard region in New Zealand after Marlborough and Hawke’s Bay.  Don’t try to remember this unless you’re a serious pub quizzer or wine student!


The Australian Vineyard Continues to Shrink

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has just released the latest version of their report Vineyards, Australia.  It contains a wealth of information including vineyard areas by Geographical Indication (GI) and details of the sources of vineyard water.

Australian vineyard plantings and removals

Since 2008 the Australian vineyard has been shrinking and one way to track this is by looking at the amount of new plantings and removals. In 2011/12, new plantings of only 940 ha were the lowest since reliable records began in 1995. Removals in 2011/12 were 2,863 ha, which is close to the long-term trend.

Although the gap between removals and plantings has narrowed considerably since 2010, there still remains an imbalance between grape supply and demand.  National industry wine organisations called for a 20% reduction of the 2009 vineyard area of 157,000 ha as part of their Wine Industry Restructuring Agenda.   This would equate to a net reduction of ca. 30,000 ha, of which about half has been achieved to date.  With 12,357 ha of Australian vineyard left unpicked in 2011/12, we should expect the total vineyard area to continue to decrease for a least the next few years.