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NIAGARA IN A GLASS: Wanted: More Ontario wine drinkers

Craig Youdale.

By Craig Youdale

A bottle of Niagara College teaching winery chardonnay. (Craig Youdale/Special to Postmedia Network))

A bottle of Niagara College teaching winery chardonnay. (Craig Youdale/Special to Postmedia Network))

I am sure each of you have a favourite wine or favourite producer where you get your daily “go to” wine that always brings a smile to your face.

The problem we have here in Ontario is that choice is not always local, so much so that we barely reach over 40 per cent of total wine sales using Ontario grown grapes.

The story gets sadder; only 10 per cent of those sales are 100 per cent VQA wines.

The majority of wine regions around the world have a local consumption in the 70 per cent and up range with some regions over 90 per cent.

A visit to Bordeaux a few years ago brought me to a massive wine selection in a local market store. I made the classic tourist mistake of asking where in the store I would find something from Alsace. Soon after I was greeted with an incredible look of disgust from the store owner and made to feel like I had scorned his beloved child. I was asked, “Why on earth would you want to drink Alsatian wine when you are in the heart of Bordeaux?” I would like to attach the same logic to drinking Ontario wines.

So here in Ontario we are “blessed” to have a selection of wines from around the world in the LCBO and in our favourite restaurant, including the giant producers from France, Italy, California and Australia. I, too, love wines from all these countries; and as a lover of wine, should I not be able to choose what I love and what makes me happy? I would never make anyone give up their favourite grape ferment but would hope that some amazing Ontario wines are also included in that “go to” list of wines they cannot live without.

My challenge to you all is to find an Ontario wine that you love just as much as your favourite international wine. When you shop for food, you most likely look for some local vegetables and fruit, search for the local beef or seek out for some free range local chicken?

We feel good about these choices because it supports local farmers and producers and creates a smaller carbon footprint on our environment. So why can we not use this logic for our next wine purchase? Grape growers are farmers too, and buying 100 per cent VQA wine supports our entire economic structure and helps grow our local economy.

Next trip to the LCBO or your favourite eatery take a bold leap; instead of selecting that teeth-staining Barossa Shiraz or over-oaked California chardonnay, I hope you will give our local wine magicians a chance so Ontario wines can take a step closer to being the majority wine of choice.

— Craig has been in the food and beverage industry for three decades as a chef, restauranteur, professor, international competitor and now dean of the Canadian Food and Wine Institute at Niagara College. His passion for all things food and wine has led him to Niagara to lead the Institute to become the world’s foremost educator in fermentation sciences and culinary arts.