Ontario

Ontario

50° 0' 0'' N

LATITUDE

85° 0' 0'' W

LONGITUDE

4

subregions

about this region

The Ontario wine region in Canada is maturing and gaining recognition for its high-quality wines.

Situated in eastern Canada, Ontario is the country's largest wine-producing region, with over 18,000 acres of vineyards, over 700 grape growers and more than 200 wineries. The region's cool climate, fertile soil, and diverse topography create ideal conditions for growing a wide range of grape varietals, including Chardonnay, Riesling, and Cabernet Franc. In recent years, Ontario has gained a reputation for its exceptional ice wines, made from grapes left to freeze on the vine, producing intensely sweet and flavorful wines.

As the industry continues to expand, Ontario's wine region promises to deliver even more exciting developments and delicious wines in the years to come.

The region's wine industry has become a major contributor to the local economy, with over 5,000 jobs created and an estimated economic impact of $4.4 billion annually. According to Statistics Canada, $2581.3 million worth of wine was sold in the province in 2021, $650.43 million of which was wine made in Ontario.  

Ontario's liquor laws provide a hybrid model, allowing for both the LCBO government monopoly stores and a private channel.

Associations

7284

Vineyard Hectares

184

WINERIES

1800 - 2200

growing degree days

Discover Terroir

Nestled in the southern reaches of Ontario, Canada, the Ontario wine region is a real gem, graced by the soothing influences of the Great Lakes and the scenic Niagara Escarpment. Picture this: a landscape dotted with gentle hills and lush, green expanses, crisscrossed by rivers and lakes that create a special microclimate perfect for growing grapes. Currently, Ontario has 4 main wine regions: Lake Erie North Shore, Niagara Peninsula, Prince Edward County and Twenty Valley. In addition, this wine region has several wine sub appellations, each of them contributing to the wine diversity of Ontario: Beamsville Bench, Creek Shores, Four Mile Creek, Lincoln Lakeshore, Niagara Lakeshore, Niagara River, Short Hills Bench,  St. Davids Bench, Twenty Mile Bench and Vinemount Ridge.

The region's land is quite varied, with some parts flat and others showcasing soft, rolling slopes, offering a diverse range of environments for vineyards. The soil is just as diverse, from clay-loam to areas rich in limestone, each type contributing its own unique touch to the flavors of the wines.

The production of high-quality wines in the region is promoted by associations like Ontario Craft Wineries or Wine Growers of Ontario. In addition, the interests of the producers from this region are defended by the Grape Growers of Ontario association.

In this beautiful setting, grape varieties such as Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Baco Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, and Sauvignon Blanc thrive. They soak up the region's unique climate and yield both red and white wines that are making a name for themselves on the international stage for their distinct taste and quality. The Ontario wine region has carved out a special place in the heart of Canada's wine industry, celebrated for wines that truly capture the essence of its terroir and winemaking traditions.

The Ontario wine region, cradled in the heart of Canada's viticultural landscape, enjoys a climate that gracefully marries the whims of nature with the art of winemaking. Here, the vast and serene Great Lakes play a pivotal role, acting as natural guardians that modulate the climate. This gentle moderation by Lakes Ontario, Erie, and the Niagara River is the cornerstone of the region's viticultural success, providing a buffer against extreme temperature swings.

In this fertile cradle, the rhythm of the seasons unfolds with poetic precision. Spring awakens the vineyards with a tender warmth, nurturing the vines from their winter slumber. The summers, warm yet tempered by the lakes' cooling breath, bathe the grapes in golden sunlight, coaxing them towards perfect ripeness. As autumn's cooler embrace settles over the region, it gifts the grapes with slow, flavor-intensifying maturation – a dance of sun and cool air that is especially benevolent to aromatic whites and complex reds. Even in winter, the region's vines stand resilient, the lakes' lingering warmth shielding them from the harshest frosts.

This climatic ballet is further enriched by Ontario's diverse topography. Rolling hills and varied soils create a patchwork of microclimates, each imparting its unique whisper to the character of the wines. This land is not just a place of growth but a canvas for diversity, allowing an array of wine styles to flourish.

Ontario's winters, often brisk and unforgiving, also bear a unique gift – the celebrated Icewine. This liquid treasure, born from grapes frozen in winter's icy grip, is a testament to the region's ability to harness even the harshest conditions in the creation of something extraordinary.

The region's vintners, stewards of this rich and varied land, embrace sustainable practices with reverence, understanding the fragile balance of their environment. They stand vigilant against the unpredictable moods of nature, adapting and innovating to protect and celebrate the unique terroir that defines their wines.

In essence, the climate of the Ontario wine region is not just a backdrop but a dynamic and integral player in the creation of its wines. It is a complex interplay of lake effects, seasonal rhythms, and diverse microclimates, all converging to create a viticultural tapestry that is as rich as it is varied. This is a place where nature's nuances are captured in the essence of each bottle, a testament to the region's unique place in the world of wine.

Nestled in the heart of Canada's wine landscape, the Ontario wine region's reputation for exquisite wines is significantly influenced by its diverse soil composition. This variety in soil types - including limestone, shale, clay, and sandy loam - plays a pivotal role in shaping the unique flavors and characteristics of the region's wines. Let's explore each of these soil types and their impact on viticulture:

  1. Limestone: Revered in wine regions globally, limestone soil in Ontario offers excellent drainage while retaining essential moisture. This balance is crucial for vine growth, especially in drier periods. Limestone imparts a distinct minerality to wines, enhancing the crispness and complexity, particularly in varietals like Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, giving them a notable edge in flavor.
  2. Shale: The layered, fractured nature of shale soil is its greatest asset. It excellently retains heat, aiding grape ripening in Ontario's cooler climate. Moreover, its effective drainage pushes vines to develop deep roots, enhancing their resilience and mineral uptake. Shale soil lends an earthy depth to wines, especially noticeable in reds like Cabernet Franc, adding character and robustness.
  3. Clay: Known for its high fertility and water retention, clay soil is a boon in dry conditions. It retains heat, extending the growing season and allowing grapes to develop richer flavors. Wines from clay-rich areas in Ontario tend to be fuller-bodied and more intense, with varieties like Merlot thriving and exhibiting pronounced flavors.
  4. Sandy Loam: The sandy loam soils, prevalent in parts of Ontario, are valued for their quick heating and efficient drainage. This is advantageous in cooler climates, promoting early grape ripening. Wines from these soils are often elegant, with refined fruit flavors. Varietals such as Riesling and Gewürztraminer particularly benefit, displaying vibrant aromatics and a crisp, clean finish.

Each soil type in Ontario's wine region contributes in its own way, creating a rich and varied viticultural environment. This diversity not only underpins the quality and uniqueness of Ontario wines but also offers a broad canvas for winemakers to craft distinct and memorable wines. The soils of Ontario are indeed as diverse as the wines they help produce, each adding its unique touch to the region's viticultural narrative.

Discover

In Ontario, Canada, several grape varieties are commonly planted, representing a diverse range of red, white, and hybrid grape cultivars. Here are some of the most planted grape varieties in Ontario, categorized by color:

Red Grape Varieties:
  1. Cabernet Franc: Known for its herbaceous and spicy characteristics, Cabernet Franc is a widely grown red grape in Ontario. It thrives in the cooler climate and produces wines with red fruit flavors and smooth tannins.
  2. Pinot Noir: This delicate and versatile grape is widely planted in Ontario, particularly in cooler regions like the Niagara Peninsula. Pinot Noir wines from Ontario often exhibit elegant fruit flavors and vibrant acidity.
  3. Merlot: Merlot is a popular red grape variety in Ontario, offering wines with ripe fruit flavors, moderate tannins, and a smooth texture.
  4. Baco Noir: Baco Noir is a hybrid grape that thrives in Ontario's cooler climate. It produces rich, full-bodied red wines with dark fruit flavors and a slightly earthy character.
White Grape Varieties:
  1. Chardonnay: Chardonnay is one of the most widely planted white grape varieties in Ontario. It adapts well to various terroirs, producing wines with flavors ranging from crisp and citrusy to rich and buttery.
  2. Riesling: Riesling is highly regarded in Ontario for its ability to thrive in cool climates. Ontario Rieslings often showcase bright acidity, floral aromatics, and a wide range of fruit flavors, from citrus to stone fruits.
  3. Gewürztraminer: This aromatic white grape variety is grown in Ontario, producing wines with pronounced floral and spice notes, along with flavors of lychee and tropical fruits.
  4. Sauvignon Blanc: Sauvignon Blanc is grown in Ontario, particularly in the Niagara Peninsula. It yields wines with vibrant acidity, citrus flavors, and herbaceous or grassy undertones.

It's important to note that these are just some of the popular grape varieties grown in Ontario, and the specific varieties can vary depending on the vineyard and wine region within the province.

The Ontario wine region produces a diverse range of wines, reflecting the region's climate, terroir, and winemaking expertise. Some of the notable wine types produced in Ontario include:

  1. White Wines: Ontario is known for its production of high-quality white wines. Riesling, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc are popular wines from this region. Ontario Rieslings often exhibit vibrant acidity, crisp fruit flavors, and characteristic minerality. Chardonnay is the grape of choice in Ontario. These wines are known for their aroma profile of apple, pear, and peach, but their complexity deepens with oak aging, adding notes of vanilla, butterscotch, and woody flavours. The naturally high levels of acidity in Chardonnay grapes give these wines a robust structure that can hold up to a variety of foods and occasions. Chardonnays can range from unoaked, showcasing pure fruit flavors, to oaked styles with rich, buttery notes.
  2. Red Wines: Ontario produces a range of red wines, with Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot being prominent varieties. Gamay Noir wins has also gained popularity in recent years. Pinot Noir from Ontario often displays elegance, red fruit flavors, and a balanced structure. Cabernet Franc is a signature red grape, known for its herbaceous and spicy notes. Merlot is also widely produced, showing ripe fruit flavors and smooth tannins. These red wines tend to be full-bodied with a fruit-forward flavour profile that appeals to many palates.
  3. Icewine: Ontario gained international recognition for its production of Icewine, a sweet dessert wine made from grapes that are left on the vine until they freeze. This process concentrates the sugars, resulting in a lusciously sweet and intense wine. Ontario accounts for a significant portion of Canada's Icewine production.
  4. Sparkling Wines: Ontario's cool climate is well-suited for producing sparkling wines. Traditional method sparkling wines made from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes can be found, offering crisp acidity, delicate bubbles, and complex flavors.
  5. Hybrid and Indigenous Varieties: Ontario also explores hybrid grape varieties such as Baco Noir and Maréchal Foch, which are well-adapted to the region's climate. These grapes produce red wines with unique characteristics. Indigenous grape varieties like Vidal Blanc and Seyval Blanc are often used for Icewine production and also produce dry white wines.

The Ontario wine region continues to evolve and experiment, with winemakers exploring new grape varieties and winemaking techniques. This results in an exciting and ever-expanding range of wine styles and expressions.

altitude

75 - 200 m

rain

800 - 1000 mm

soil

Limestone in Niagara and stony soils in Prince Edward County and Lake Erie North Shore

top varietal

Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc

History of wine

Ontario's wine region has a rich and evolving history that can be divided into different periods:

  1. Early Beginnings (17th century): Wine production in Ontario traces its roots back to the 17th century when the first native Labrusca grapes were grown. These grapes were used to produce wines by early settlers, although the industry was still in its infancy.
  2. Arrival of European Settlers (19th century): The Ontario wine industry started to take shape in the 19th century with the arrival of European settlers. In 1811, Johann Schiller, a German immigrant, introduced hybrid grape varieties to the region. These hybrids were a cross between European grape varieties and native Labrusca grapes, making them better adapted to Ontario's cooler climate.
  3. Rise of Riesling and Icewine (20th century): In 1979, Herman Weiss planted Riesling grapes in Ontario, which thrived in the region's cool climate. Riesling became a significant grape variety for the region, known for its ability to produce high-quality wines with vibrant acidity. In 1983, Ontario gained global recognition for its production of icewine. This sweet dessert wine is made from grapes that are left on the vine until they freeze, resulting in concentrated juice with high sugar content. Ontario accounts for approximately 90% of Canada's icewine production, solidifying its reputation as a world-class producer of this unique and sought-after wine.
  4. Modern Era (Late 20th century - Present): The Ontario wine industry continued to grow and flourish in the late 20th century and beyond. Wineries and vineyards expanded across various regions within Ontario, particularly in the Niagara Peninsula and the Prince Edward County. The focus shifted towards cool climate grape varieties such as Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Franc, known for their suitability to Ontario's terroir.

The modern era has seen the emergence of numerous award-winning wineries, innovative winemaking techniques, and an increasing emphasis on sustainability and quality. Ontario's wine region continues to gain recognition both domestically and internationally, showcasing the unique characteristics and diversity of its wines.

Overall, Ontario's wine region has come a long way from its humble beginnings, evolving into a dynamic and influential player in the global wine industry, with a storied history and a promising future.

Subregions

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