I recently made my annual pilgrimage to the Okanagan Valley for the fall harvest wine festival, in order to bring you news from our very own Canadian wine industry.
The Canadian wine industry began nearly 200 years ago, but did not really take off until 1998, when a free trade agreement with the USA opened up the markets, which in turn led the Canadian government to sponsor the so-called Great Uprooting, which tore out the foxy-tasting native grape varietals, and replanted them with the Vitis Vinifera old-world grapes of Europe.
In a sense, the modern era of the Canadian wine industry is only 20 years old, and I have witnessed the changes first-hand. My first annual pilgrimage to the Okanagan Valley was nearly 20 years ago, and I have seen both the quality and quantity of Canadian wines grown in leaps and bounds.
Way back in 1990, there were only 17 wineries in the Okanagan Valley, but that number has grown to nearly 300 operating wineries today. Improvements in agricultural technologies and practices have made it possible for the old-world European grapes to survive Canada’s harsh winters, which has allowed our domestic wine industry to flourish.
Interestingly, Canada is one of the few wine-producing countries to not dominate their own domestic market. Perhaps it is our unassuming and humble attitudes, or perhaps the 800kg gorilla of the neighbouring California wine industry distorts our market.
Whatever the cause, Canadian wines only make up around 28% of wines consumed in Canada, while our Yankee neighbours to the south consume 82% of their domestic wine production.
I certainly did my part in supporting our domestic wine industry on my recent pilgrimage to the Okanagan Valley, bringing back six cases of wine to enjoy at home.
Cassini Cellars is located in the southern portion of the Okanagan Valley, between the towns of Oliver and Osoyoos. I have visited the winery several times over the years, but the tasting room at the winery was packed with visitors this year, thanks to Cassini Cellars winning the 2017 Winery of the Year award at the Intervin International Wine Awards in August.
Naturally, I opted to struggle through the teeming masses to secure a spot at the bar in the tasting room, in order to sample the wares of such an auspicious winery.
Cassini Cellars is a small BC winery that has been operating since 2007, and have a well-deserved reputation for ripe and powerful red wines. The plantings are the usual old-world suspects, including Cab Franc, Cab Sauv, Merlot, Pinot Noir, and Syrah.
White wines are not left out, with Chardonnay, Moscato, Pinot Gris, Sauv Blanc, and the less common Marsanne-Rousanne varietals all planted in well-manicured parallel rows.
I particularly enjoyed the Marsanne-Rousanne, a grape varietal native to the Rhône Valley of France that is not often planted here in Canada. This grape typically produces a crisp white wine with plenty of citrus and green apple notes, followed by a long finish of white peach and floral aromas.
The Marsanne-Rousanne from Cassini Cellars had subtle hints of vanilla and spice, a tell-tale characteristic of extended aging in neutral oak barrels, which softens the citrus flavours and adds a smoky complexity to the wine. At only $25, this wine is worth every penny.
The red wines from Cassini Cellars racked up too many gold medal awards this year to list them all, so I will only mention my two favourites.
The Quattro Rosso is a Bordeaux-style blend, made up of Cab Sauv, Merlot, Cab Franc, and Petit Verdot. With plenty of tannic structure, the wine bursts with aromas of lavendar, fresh red fruit flavours, and notes of toasty vanilla from the oak aging. This is a bold red wine that is best paired with a grilled steak or slow-smoked beef brisket. Expect to spend $29 at your local booze merchant.
The Cabernet Franc was my all-time favourite, although the $40 price tag makes it more a special occasion wine than a daily drinker. Blackberry and cedar dominate the palate, followed by a velvety cocoa finish. Pair this one with hard cheeses or enjoy by itself.
Cassini Cellars wines are widely available here in Alberta, with price points typically in the $20-$40 range. Celebrate the 2017 winery of the year by picking up a bottle today!