Canadians take pride in their lack of patriotism; they are a modest bunch. However, a recent appetite for expensive wines, made in (of all places) Canada, has been growing and continues to make a dent in the Canadian wine market.

Indeed, domestically produced wine currently holds a staggering 43% of the market, according to the Wine Council of Ontario.
Johanna Burkhard, manager of media and public relations, said there are no secrets as to why more Canadians are drinking their own wine.

She said: "We are making excellent wine, that's why." Ms Burkhart told that it was the advent of the free trade agreement in 1988, between Canada and the US, which started the winemaking ball rolling.

The landmark decision took away any protection the local wineries had and many in the industry thought Canadian winemaking would be laid to rest if nothing was done. But vineyards were replanted with European varieties such as Chardonnay, Riesling and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Paul Speck, President of the Henry of Pelham winery in Ontario, said the results of the vineyard transformation have been exceptionally good. The vineyards have matured, as have the wineries in terms of knowledge and winemaking skills.

According to Speck, the reasons for the surge in expensive wines such as Henry Pelham's 1998 Cabernet-Merlot (C$30/US$21), or a bottle of Inniskillin's 1997 Founders' Pinot Noir (C$40), is due to the fruits of 1998, which he referred to as "the best vintage the region has had on record."

He added that the fact, for the first time in many years, Canadians are enjoying a booming economy means many drinkers are prepared to spend C$50 or C$100 in a restaurant without hesitation.

Mr Speck said that, unlike their US counterparts, Canadians will not buy local wine to satisfy their patriotism, but because it is of excellent quality and good value for money.

"It is not blind patriotism and that's why our wines have to better quality for less money. But in the US where 85% of the market is domestic consumption, that's not always the case," he said.

Monica Dobey