Monday, August 2, 2010

Put More Faith in Foch

Varietal Foch, when well made, and especially when inky-dark and given some oak aging, is in my opinion one of the best red wines that Ontario's wine regions ever produced.  Unfortunately, it has become an extremely rare sort of wine in our times, with only a tiny handful of wineries continuing varietal Foch in their product lines.  I think what probably happened is that with consolidations and takeovers of certain wineries, and perhaps the departure of winemakers sympathetic to the variety, decisions were made to go all-vinifera.  I wouldn't be surprised if some consultants and accountants had a big say in it too!

I am going to say something that many laugh at, but I stick by it nevertheless: Foch, when grown with an eye to producing ripe, not-overcropped fruit, makes a better wine at a better price point in southern Ontario than does the much vaunted Cabernet Franc, and certainly Cabernet Sauvignon, which never truly shed its greenness.  It seems that to get an Ontario Cabernet of competitive quality to one from an area with a longer ripening season, you have to pay well over $25.  I don't know about most folks, but that isn't exactly "table wine" territory. Yet, I recall how barely ten years ago, you could get glass-staining, massively flavourful Foch for under ten bucks a bottle.

What happened?  Why has a good thing been made to disappear?

It has been said that Foch and other hybrids present more work in the vineyard during the growing season: their vegetative growth has less orderly habits than most viniferas.  But isn't that burden lessened by the reduced need for sprays, and certainly by the total lack of need of expensive machinery to keep cold at bay during those famous cold snaps that our part of the world tends to get during some winters?  Foch is naturally winter hardy, and very disease resistant.  If I were a wine farmer, those qualities would more than make up for the need to walk the rows and do some summer pruning.

It seems that everything rests upon image nowadays.  The name, Foch, doesn't sell as well as Cabernet and Shiraz.  But that's just hype working, not facts.  Start with grape varieties that naturally take better to the climate, and work from that point up.  Don't start with what marketing gurus tell you, because in so doing, while you may end up putting the desired name on the label, what's in the bottle won't necessarily be a better wine than what you can make from grape varieties that are so much more in tune with the rhythm of the local ripening season.


  1. Paul I'm in agreement, while the Cabernet Franc can be good often it is not up to that of a good Foch. I think if more grew this vine and Leon Millot, spent more time working with this grape in the winery, and put the effort into promoting these varieties as they do the viniferas - perceptions would change. We regularly host dinner parties and blind taste Foch, Millot, or Castel against the "popular" viniferas from good sources. The vast majority of times the hybrids win. Also, while there are some good Foch wines produced in BC and Ontario. The best I've tasted come from Nova Scotia, where these vines and the wines made from them are their focal points.

  2. I wish there were some affordable Foch wines at the LCBO.

  3. Thanks for your comments. Maybe now with Bill C-311, Ontarians will be able to try Foch and other hybrid reds from other provinces, and see how they compare to the few versions left in Ontario.