For decades now, Canadian wine producers have gathered in Shanghai, London, New York...and tasted Canadian wines from Coast to Coast with wine buyers and connoisseurs.
And yet, right here at home, it's almost impossible to find a wine tasting where you can explore all the diverse wine regions our country has to offer.
We set out to change this with the first-ever Pan-Canadian Masterclass, held on August 18, 2023, at Bella Terra Vineyards in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. Attended by sixty guests, and with over 700 wine glasses in use, the incredible diversity of Canada's wine potential was on full display.
But this was far more than a wine tasting. Where the magic really happened was in the connection and camaraderie between the winemakers and winery owners that joined us as part of the speaking panel, which included (from left to right below):
Rob Hammersley (Black Market Wine Co, Kaleden, BC), Brian Schmidt (Vineland Estates, Jordan, ON), Ilya Senchuk (Leaning Post, Lincoln, ON), Lou Puglisi (Bella Terra Vineyards, Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON), Keith Tyers (Closson Chase Vineyards, ON), Richard Da Silva (Da Silva Vineyards, Penticton, BC).
As one guest put it, "My favourite parts of the event were hearing Richard Da Silva from the Naramata Bench praise the red wines of Niagara, and overall being able to taste BC, ON, and NS wines side-by-side. I would definitely love to see more events like this, especially if accessing wines from other parts of the country becomes simpler.”
Keep reading to find out the amazing wine journey we took that evening through eleven carefully curated world class wines...and a very limited time opportunity to order these wines and try for yourself!
Stop # 1: The Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia
I chose to feature Domaine de Grand Pré, from the Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia, for our first wine of the night at the Pan-Canadian Masterclass.
Because this winery was instrumental to creating the 'appellation wine' of Nova Scotia. Tidal Bay is a first-of-it's-kind initiative in North America. It's perfectly suited to the ocean-side terroir, home to the world's biggest tidal changes, and pairings like fresh shucked oysters.
If you wanted to drive from Domaine de Grand Pre to our next winery, it's a 6023 km drive...highlighting just how vast this winemaking country of Canada is!
2022 Domaine de Grand Pré “Tidal Bay”
90+pts Carl’s Wine Club: Orchard fruits meet oceanic minerality. Poached apple and peach mingle with seaside essence. Apple, pear flavours, a hint of salt, and lemon-ginger tea. A fantastic wine! (07/23/23).
Winery Price: $24.25 including tax/dep
Stop # 2: The Cowichan Valley, Vancouver Island, BC
Next we head to Vancouver Island to taste a Ramato Style Pinot Gris from Alderlea Vineyard.
Alderlea Vineyard is one of the most sought-after pieces of vineyard land in the Cowichan Valley. Zac Brown and Julie Powell purchased the property in 2016 and they continue to create unique, high-quality wines that epitomize the character and beauty of the Cowichan Valley. They're also the only ones to grow Merlot on Vancouver Island and I am pretty impressed with their results.
2022 “Ramato Style” Pinot Gris 🔥 Pre-Release!
91pts Carl's Wine Club: This Pinot Gris is made in the “Ramato” Style, an incredibly unique, old northern Italian winemaking technique. This is of the most popular wines on Vancouver Island, and sells out quickly every year. (tasted 08/18/23).
Winery Price: $25.50 including tax & deposit
Stop # 3: The Naramata Bench, Penticton, BC
Now, join me on the Naramata Bench, near Penticton, BC. The Da Silva family has been farming the Okanagan since the 1950's, and each wine is a tribute to the family farming legacy.
Richard Da Silva truly embodies the 'vigneron' - someone who grows wine in the vineyard by carefully tending to each vine and translating the terroir-specific essence to the glass. He's one of the only winemakers in the Okanagan to geo-tag his bottles with the vineyard(s) the grapes come from, and give credit to each grower.
2022 Da Silva “Hidden Hollow Vineyard” Chenin Blanc
93pts Carl’s Wine Club: This might be THE wine of the summer…A bone dry, highly energetic unoaked white wine with tremendous zippiness and lipsmaking acidity. Arguably the best Chenin Blanc in the country. (tasted 07/22/23).
Winery Price: $41.39 including tax/dep
Stop # 4: Prince Edward County, Ontario
We then head to Prince Edward County, known for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, as their terroir is similar to Burgundy. Here, growing conditions are challenging (they bury their vines during winter to protect from the cold) - but very much worth it!
Winemaker Keith Tyers is one of the most accomplished and knowledgeable winemakers in Ontario and we were thrilled to have him join us at the Masterclass.
2020 Closson Chase “Churchside Vineyard” Chardonnay
94pts Carl's Wine Club: Incredible complexity in this bright, fleshy Chardonnay! Lemon zest, yellow apple, peach, ginger, bright acid and complex minerality. The outstanding 2020 vintage shines in this World Class Chardonnay from Prince Edward County with great body and finesse. (tasted 08/18/23).
Winery Price: $52 including tax & deposit
Stop # 5: The Niagara Escarpment, Ontario
Now let's visit Niagara! Canada's largest vinicultural region.
And what better place to start at than Vineland Estates, an early pioneer in the region which now boasts Riesling as one of the main grapes produced.
When the Schmidt family moved from the Okanagan to Niagara, no one thought that Niagara could or should grow Riesling grapes. Their connection with the Weiss Family, owners of St Urban Hof (in Germany) and founders of Vineland Estates, changed the course of Ontario wine history. They helped proliferate the Weiss Clone of Riesling throughout Niagara.
Now, winemaker Brian Schmidt is known for his excellent Riesling wines, and even more so, he is known for his absolutely world class Cab Franc. That though, is a whole 'nother story, for a whole other day! Go ahead and order some Vineland Riesling, and Cab Franc, to taste or yourself.
2022 Vineland “Elevation” St. Urban Vineyard Riesling 🔥 Pre-Release!
93pts Carl's Wine Club: A classic Niagara Riesling where sweetness meets acidity in perfect balance. Textural, sublime, round and soft, this Riesling is honeysuckle and orange blossoms wrapped in lemon...followed by a long, flinty finish. And an excellent price point. A real winner! (tasted 18/08/23).
Winery Price: $22.95 including tax & deposit
Stop # 6: Lincoln Lakeshore, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario
At the Masterclass, there was quite a bit of talk about appellations. Maybe, we went a little overboard on this one. Nonetheless, let's take a quick look at the Lincoln Lakeshore sub-appellation, within the Niagara Escarpment appellation.
Leaning Post Winemaker Ilya Senchuk is at the forefront of the single vineyard, sub-appellation designation movement. With the likes of Thomas Bachelder, Kelly Mason, and Kevin Panagapka, Ilya is mapping Niagara, one vineyard at a time.
There are few winemaking couples as passionate as Ilya and Nadia Senchuk, and I love this quote from them about the winery's namesake: “A leaning post is what you find at the beginning of a row of grapes, anchoring the wires that are the frame-work for growing grapevines. It is the beginning of an obsession to translate a time and place into liquid.”
2019 Leaning Post "Senchuk Vineyard" Pinot Noir
94pts Carl's Wine Club: Power meets elegance. Defined flavours of red cherry, cranberry, earthiness, and a long, long, LONG and complex finish. This might just be the best Pinot Noir from the Senchuk vineyard to date, and the previous ones were already world class. (tasted 08/17/23).
Winery Price: $70 including tax & deposit
Stop # 7: Four Mile Creek, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario
Let's now zoom over to Niagara-on-the-Lake, in the Four Mile Creek sub-appellation. Here, a young Lou Puglisi spent some time in the late 1970's pining for a new sports car.
Lucky for us, his parents convinced him to invest his money into a neighbouring piece of farmland instead...and he's been growing grapes there ever since. Today, his winery is known as Bella Terra Vineyards, growing in Niagara since 1974.
While Lou never did end up buying the sports car, he's earned the coveted Grape King title for his outstanding viticulture. With acclaimed winemaker Fred DiProfio and Lou at the helm, Bella Terra makes some of the best wines Niagara has to offer.
2020 Bella Terra Cabernet Franc
94+pts Carl's Wine Club & #5 Wine of the Year: Wow!!! The texture of this wine is absolutely incredible: soft, smooth, creamy, and feels like satin in my mouth. Very unique and special, just like the 2020 vintage conditions. Displays some of the very best attributes of the Cab Franc grape varietal: dark cherry, blackberry, red plum, black forest cake and chili pepper. The tannins are luxurious and velvety at the highest level, leading to a never-ending finish. (tasted 09/10/2022).
Winery Price: $44.95 including tax & deposit
Stop # 8: The Similkameen Valley, BC
Next, head over to the west, to BC. Just like winemaker Jeff Hundertmark did.
Jeff is a well known winemaker in Niagara who made the transition to British Columbia 5 years ago in order to pursue his dream of making bigger and bolder red wines.
At Mt. Boucherie, Jeff oversees a portfolio of 30 different wines and he has taken the winery to new heights. The Cab Sauv I chose for the Masterclass showcases the potential of the Similkameen Valley, an up-and-coming wine region with rugged terroir and desert like weather.
2019 Mt. Boucherie “Original Vines” Cabernet Sauvignon
94+pts Carl's Wine Club & #4 Wine of the Year: You can add this Cabernet Sauvignon to the long list of exceptional reds made from BC’s 2019 vintage. The length and complexity is extremely impressive. Focused and Old World, with flavours of cassis, blackberry, espresso coffee, dark raspberry, dry herbs, and tobacco leaves. This is a quintessential BC Cabernet Sauvignon and patience in cellaring will be rewarded big time. (tasted 08/06/22 and again 08/18/23).
Winery Price: $57.59 including tax & deposit
Stop # 9: The Okanagan Valley, Kaleden, BC
Next we reach the little known, up-and-coming Kaleden region, just outside Penticton, BC.
The story of Black Market Wine Co. is a story of the passionate, family run winery. Rob Hammersley and Michelle Shewchuk moved their three kids from Calgary to the Okanagan in 2018, after spending years making wine 'virtually' with the help of a consultant winemaker in the Okanagan.
Since turning his attention to making wine full time, winemaker Rob Hammersley's wines have accumulated a cult following. Those who know, know.
This is one of those wineries to watch, and get your hands on the very limited releases early before they sell out each year. In fact, they just release three new wines, available to us this week, in addition to this exclusive release tasted at the Masterclass.
2019 Black Market “Unsanctioned Series” Merlot
🔥 Exclusive Release. Only 6 bottles remain!
93pts Carl's Wine Club: A spectacular red, bold wine from the 2019 vintage which has everything it takes to blow your socks off. Depth, concentration, length, and complexity can all be checked off the list. The front palate is filled with cassis, plum, blackberry and black cherry while the mid-palate offers mocha, cedar, and a hint of vanilla. The lengthy back palate offers subtle notes of cinnamon, cloves and also finishes with cracked black pepper. A wine with a long cellaring potential at an outstanding price point! (tasted 04/11/22).
Winery Price: $51.79 including tax & deposit
Stop # 10: The Okanagan Valley, Skaha Bench, BC
Our next and final wine region to explore today is the Skaha Bench.
It's in this exact region that visionary John Skinner arrived after spending four years searching for the best vineyard site for his winery, Painted Rock.
Working with Alain Sutre, one of the top French winemaker-consultants (of Chateau Petrus fame), Painted Rock has rocked the boat internationally with exceptional and multi-award winning wines from their first vintage in 2007.
The Red Icon is one of the most iconic wines in Canada and has helped set a new bar in terms of quality and international accolades.
2019 Painted Rock Red Icon
🔥 Exclusive Library Release!
94pts Carl's Wine Club: A perfect representation of the 2019 vintage, which produced some of the best reds in recent years. Blackberry, black currant, ripe cherry, graphite, tobacco. An absolutely world class complexity hallmarks this wine, and a terrific future awaits for those patient enough to cellar it. (tasted 08/18/2023).
Winery Price: $92.09 including tax & deposit
Bonus Stop! Back to the Naramata Bench, BC
Just weeks before the Pan-Canadian Wine Masterclass, we discovered that D'Angelo Winery was just about to release their FIRST EVER Montepulciano Rose.
This is the first Montepulciano wine ever to be made in Canada commercially, to my knowledge. Winemaker Sal D'Angelo has the first Montepulciano Merlot blend in barrel, likely to be released in the Fall of 2023.
Naturally, we just had to get our hands on some for the Masterclass, and D'Angelo obliged, providing us with the opening wine upon arrival.
2022 D'Angelo Montepulciano Rose
91pts Carl's Wine Club: The aromas of this wine are seductive and sublime! Soft and round, with a tightly knit mid-palate, this wine offers flavours of red cherry, peach, and a hint of fresh herbs. A long finish with lemon-peel tartness. (tasted 06/23/2023).
Winery Price: n/a - sold out
This rose was a real hit! And by the time of the Masterclass it was completely sold out at the winery. Less than 70 cases were made. However, D'Angelo makes several other rare and excellent wines, available for a short time here.
Thank you for joining me as we explored these regions and wines, from Coast to Coast. We have everything right here: for the novice, for the expert, for the red wine lover, for the white wine lover...it's all here in the world's most diverse wine terroir.
It's my mission to challenge every Canadian wine lover to discover more Canadian wines...they're just too world class to pass up.
Don't forget to order your wines asap if you'd like to taste some of these gems for yourself!
A BIG Thank You is in Order...
Bella Terra Vineyards, Co-Hosts and Venue Sponsor
Thank you to our co-hosts and venue sponsor, Bella Terra Vineyards, and especially to Marcel Morgenstern and his team, without whom this event would have not taken place.
I would also like to thank each of the wineries who contributed by participating in this event with their wines and for allowing us to share their stories:
Lakeview Vineyard Equipment, Supporting Sponsor
ASL Print FX, Supporting Sponsor
About Carl's Wine Club
Founded on Canada Day in 2020, Carl’s Wine Club is free to join and features a different Canadian winery each week via social media and e-mail. Members can learn more about each winery and have the option to purchase a tasting pack from that winery. Carl Boucher, along with his wife and business partner Mira Boucher, taste over 1,000 Canadian wines per year to bring you the most interesting and diverse and delicious wines. With over 10,000 members across Canada, Carl’s Wine Club is dedicated to helping wine enthusiasts discover – and fall in love with – Canada’s wines.