Saturday, January 29, 2011

What Ontario needs is a good $7 local red

Imagine a really fine local red selling for about $7 a bottle, grown right here in Ontario.  It doesn't really seem to exist at the moment... but is there any reason why that should be?

Hybrid grapes like Baco, Foch and Dechaunac could easily fit the bill.

About ten years ago, it was still possible to buy varietal Foch of tremendous quality for about $8-9 a bottle.  These reds were oaked, and had a lot of personality.  They were amazing wines to serve with pizza and ribs, and in good years, had enough body to stand alone as sipping wines.

And then, as if in near unison, most of those wines disappeared.

Dechaunac is a one case in point.  Lakeview cellars made an amazing, straightforward varietal Dechaunac up until about 1999 that sold for under nine bucks a bottle.  It was the perfect Ontarian vin de table.  It went superbly with pizza, or wings.  It was versatile and flavourful.

Such wines should still be available.


  1. Paul

    How do i contact you?

    Please contact me at
    tnichp at

    I have some questions about your Dry Concord

  2. But Paul, We can't sell any wine that isn't a California varietal because people just won't buy it! Waaaaah!!! And since Konstantin Frank said we can (and should) grow vinifera in the Northeast since they did it the cold of Russia, well, we'd better do what he said!

    Of course, you know I'm the last person to buy that line. I personally believe Frank did more damage to wine growing in eastern North America than just about anyone (I sometimes wonder if he really was a KGB agent sent to destroy the wine culture and industry in eastern North America!). Seriously, though, Vitis vinifera are ill adapted to the eastern climate on almost every count. Who in their sane mind would keep a weak plant alive with every pharmaceutical available in order to make wine of lesser quality but of the same name as they do in Europe, Australia or California? I can't say how many eastern vinifera wines I have had that are below the quality standard of WalMart's Oak Leaf brand wines selling at $2.97/bottle! This is the state of affairs we have now. What a shame to see those unique hybrid gems of the post-war/Boordy era disappear at the advice of Frank.

    But the pendulum is always in motion and marketing depends on keeping each generation enthralled with the new. What will the wine sellers pick as their next fad for the east? Organic or biodynamic wine? Seems improbable given the disease and pest issues. High tunnel organic? If the extension folks had their way we'd try it! Heritage Varietals? Well, there is a possibility and it may be taking hold with Jenni McCloud's championing of Norton at her northern Virginia Chrysalis Vineyards. I also hear of folks in Upstate NY growing Clinton, Winchell, Vergennes, Diamond and Dutchess. This was the road we were on when teetotalism, prohibition and world war threw eastern wine into the garbage can. When it resurfaced it had no direction (except maybe bathtub Concord). Ulysses Hedrick, Philip Wagner and Frank Schoonmaker saw the possibilities of the old ways and how they could move forward (especially following the lessons of T.V. Munson and what Hedrick learned himself at Geneva, NY.

    The new wine buyer wants adventure, novel wines, potent fruit aromas and a spectrum of sweetness. It doesn't really matter what the wine is made from so long as it is free of defects and is interesting. The errors of the old eastern wines were largely wine making flaws. Lots of oxidation, vinegar, film mold/yeast flavors, bad acid/pH balance and overuse of sulfite. What expensive vinifera grapes DID do for the eastern industry is clean up wine making. If you're using grapes ten or more times as expensive as the old hybrid varieties you tend to put some effort into making the wine well. What folks don't realize, is that if you put the same effort into growing hybrid grapes and making wine from them it also comes out excellent. Well, duh!

    So what CAN small wineries do? I say grow the most disease and pest resistant grapes available (i.e. tough hybrids) and support efforts to breed new disease and pest resistance into grapes by trying new grapes and maybe even trying your own hybridization with your locally evolved vines. Munson states very clearly how to do it in his "Foundations of American Grape Culture" from 1909! It IS easy and any small vineyard operator could dedicate a row to their own productions. What an interesting wine world the East could be if ever winery made high quality wine from carefully grown grapes based on the local wild stocks! And it wouldn't hurt to make wines from the other well adapted fruits of the East like apples, pears, blueberries, elderberries, and may others. This is my vision.

    THANKS for blogging the value of hybrids. It is much appreciated.

    Cheers, C. Ambers

  3. Many thanks for your thoughtful and very accurate post. We are definitely on the same page.

  4. Paul,

    On your cane pruning question, I just break off the "downer shoots" as the upward pointing ones are usually abundant enough anyway. This is one benefit of spur pruning labruscanas as the spurs already point skyward and the new shoots take off that way. You can renew the spurs with a new cane every so often (5 or so years) to get rid of the "antlers" that form and clean up the cordons. I am even trying 'spur and cane' on my Norton which crowds the canes but doubles the crop load. Since Norton is so tough I don't get the kind of fungal funk you'd see if you tried this with a vinifera. With this method I put down a new cane along the previous year's which I spur prune.

    Cheers! Cliff

  5. Cliff,

    I'd like to send you some of my tasting notes on a few wines from American grapes. If you like, e-mail me at: pbulas (at) gmail (dot) com.