The province of Ontario grows and produces more wine than any other in the country of Canada.
Many wine enthusiasts are unaware of the unique and incredible Canadian wines that are being produced today, and learning about the wines of Ontario is a great way for them to broaden their horizons.
From dry reds and whites to sparking wine and world-famous Icewine, the wines of Ontario are as diverse as they are unique.
While there are three major wine regions in Ontario today, most of the wine is produced on the Niagara Peninsula.
Exploring the Wines of Ontario, Canada
- Ontario Wine History
- Niagara Peninsula
- Lake Erie North Shore
- Prince Edward County
- Wine Grapes of Ontario
Ontario Wine History
The history of winemaking in the Ontario province of Canada dates back to the early 1800s when a German man named Johann Schiller brought vines from the Pennsylvania area to the region in 1811.
These grape vines were planted near the Credit River, about 12 miles west of Toronto. These early grape varietals included Lambrusco, as well as a handful of hybrid grape varietals from Pennsylvania.
About 50 years later, the first official winery was established in Ontario. It was located on Pelee island and was named Vin Villa Winery.
Less than a decade after that, the first winery was established in Niagara. By the beginning of the 1900s, there were nearly 40 wineries in Ontario.
In 1952, the first Vitis Vinifera grapes were planted in the region, opening up a world of possibilities for high-quality winemaking in Ontario.
The next major breakthrough for wine in Ontario came in 1983 when winemakers began experimenting with Icewine.
The wine-growing conditions in the region of Ontario are absolutely ideal for Icewine production, and by the beginning of the 1990s, the region had gained international acclaim for its Icewine and won major wine competitions.
In 1998, the first bottle of sparkling Icewine in history was produced in Ontario, making the region even more famous for this new variation of the already popular Icewine from the area.
By 2009, Ontario was producing about 90 percent of all Icewine in the world.
The Niagara Peninsula is both the largest and most important wine region in the Ontario providence. More wine is produced in this region than anywhere else in Canada, and it is the largest Icewine producing region anywhere in the world.
While there are many different wine-growing sub-regions scattered across the peninsula, the most important wine regions here are divided into two main subregions.
Niagara on the Lake and Niagara Escarpment are the two main areas, with each having its own sub-regions.
Niagara on the Lake
Niagara on the Lake is home to some of the most productive Icewine manufacturers in the world, with many of them being large-scale operations.
The Icewine produced here is exported all over the world, and there are four sub-regions in the area.
Four Mile Creek
The Four Mile Creek sub-appellation of Niagara on the Lake is the largest in the area and is one of its largest producers of wine. There are just under 20 different wineries in the region, and the soils are extremely fertile.
Pondview Estate Winery Vidal Icewine is one of the most famous bottles from this region and is also one of the highest priced at just under $100 per bottle.
This dessert wine delivers as expected at this price point, and is made using only the Vidal grape.
While the Niagara river sub-appellation is less than one mile wide, the wine produced there is far-reaching and enjoyed across Canada and the rest of the world.
The most important wines from this region are Icewines made from Riesling, Vidal, and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes.
Reif Estate Winery Grand Reserve Cabernet Icewine is one of the most famous and interesting bottles of wine produced in the Niagara River region.
Multiple vintages have been awarded medals at the International Wine and Spirit Competition, and bottles can cost upwards of $150.
The Niagara Lakeshore area is located along the banks of Lake Ontario, which serves as an important temperature moderating factor.
The ambient temperature of the lake works to keep the microclimate in the area cooler in the summers and warmer during the night.
Hinterbrook Winery ‘Nomad’ Riesling Icewine is a fantastic bottle of dessert wine produced in the Niagara Lakeshore region, and it received awards at both the International Wine Challenge and the International Wine and Spirit Competition.
St David’s Bench
The St David’s Bench sub-appellation of Niagara on the Lake is the only region that is better known for its dry red and white wines than its Icewine.
French wine grapes dominate plantings in this sub-region, with the most important being Chardonnay and Gamay.
Chateau des Charmes St. David’s Bench Vineyard Droit Gamay Noir is one of the top-selling red wines from the St David’s Bench area and has received scores in the high 80s from multiple different wine critics and publications.
Some of the highest quality bottles of wine in the entire country of Canada are grown and produced in the Niagara Escarpment region. The three most important grape varietals are Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Riesling.
These three dominant grape varietals are often used to produce very high-quality Icewine, though single varietal bottles are also common.
There are three different sub-regions of the Niagara Escarpment, each with its own winemaking techniques and styles.
Some of the best wine grapes in all of Canada are grown in the Beamsville Bench sub-appellation of the Niagara Escarpment.
A convenient vineyard walking trail runs through the region allowing travelers to visit six different wineries in one day.
Hidden Bench Estate Pinot Noir has won multiple international wine awards, and it is one of the top-selling and most important bottles of wine from the Niagara Escarpment.
At under $30 per bottle, this is a fantastic deal on a high-quality dry red wine.
Twenty Mile Bench
Riesling and Chardonnay are the two most important wine grapes in the Twenty Mile Bench sub-appellation of the Niagara Escarpment.
The dry white wines produced here showcase the terroir of the area, and very little is done to change the wine during production.
Tawse Quarry Road Estate Riesling is one of the most recognizable bottles of white wine from the Twenty Mile beach area, and it has gained a cult following in many parts of the world for its balanced taste profile and crisp finish.
Short Hills Bench
The Short Hills Bench area is located east of the Niagara Escarpment’s other two sub-regions, and the wines reflect the change in microclimate.
Wines from this part of the Niagara Peninsula are unlike any other in the region, making them very prized and sought after.
Henry of Pelham Riesling Icewine is made by one of the most famous wine producers in all of Canada, and this lush dessert wine is partially responsible for putting the entire Ontario region on the map in the eyes of many wine enthusiasts.
Lake Erie North Shore
The Lake Erie North Shore wine-producing region sits on the very southern tip of the Ontario province, much of which sits south of the city of Detroit across the border in the United States.
Cold growing conditions from the nearby lake make it a top Icewine producing area.
Pelee Island is the birthplace of wine production in the Ontario province and is located in the Lake Erie North Shore region.
The area is still an important producer of different wines and has been perfecting local winemaking for hundreds of years.
Colio Estate Vineyards CEV Vidal Icewine is an upscale dessert wine that is made using the Vidal grape. A single bottle can cost over $100, and this is a reflection of both the wine’s quality and international popularity.
Prince Edward County
While Prince Edward County is relatively new to the Ontario winemaking world, it has quickly made a name for itself by producing high-quality bottles of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
There are about 40 wineries in the region today, with more being established every year.
Norman Hardie County Unfiltered Chardonnay is a round and somewhat creamy bottle of Chardonnay produced in Prince Edward County that has drawn both a local following and international acclaim.
At around $30 a bottle, it is an incredible value for a bottle of quality white wine.
Wine Grapes of Ontario
While Icewine is the most famous style of wine produced in the providence of Ontario, there are a wide array of different wine grapes grown in the area that are used to make all kinds of different wines.
About 60 percent of all wine grape plantings in Ontario are white grape varietals, with the other 40 percent being red.
Vidal and Riesling are the most commonly planted grapes in the area, and these two varietals are often used in Icewine production.
There are hundreds of different wine grapes being grown in the Ontario region today, and many wine enthusiasts are not sure where to start when learning about wine from Ontario.
Here is a list of the most important and widely planted grape varietals in Ontario today:
- Cabernet Franc
- Pinot Noir
- Sauvignon Blanc
- Pinot Gris
Wines of Ontario – Conclusion
Ontario is a powerhouse producer of Icewine, as well as a wide array of other wine styles.
The most important wine-producing region in the providence of Ontario is the Niagara Peninsula, and there are many sub-regions within the peninsula. With so many great producers to choose from, the Ontario region is one well worth exploring.