Ontario wine is making headlines. It’s being used to fill the glasses of sommeliers across the nation. It’s listed on the menus of our country’s finest restaurants.
Of course, with such a rapid explosion of popularity, it is important Ontario wine drinkers don’t forget where the fantastic taste came from.
The Meaning of “Terroir”
“Terroir” is a French term used in viticulture to describe the factors influencing the quality and distinction of wine – including location, soil, climate and topography. The fact that Terroir involves so many different considerations, all of which have a great influence on the final product, is part of what makes the winemaking process so mysterious and magical.
|Fun Fact: We use the French word “Terroir” because there is no English translation.
Even within Ontario, the range is vastly distinctive. Comparing Prince Edward County (PEC) and Niagara-on-the-Lake (NOTL) is like comparing apples and oranges; the regions are located within three hours of each other and yet the Terroir is completely different.
Let’s take a closer look at how the Terroir differs across the Wine Appellations of Ontario.
Bordered by Lake Ontario on the North, the Niagara River on the East and the Welland River and Hamilton to the South and West, the Niagara Peninsula is the largest and most diverse viticultural area in Canada. The appellation is known for its rich, fertile soils and unique microclimates, which offer supreme conditions for producing wine grapes with greater complexity and deeper flavour than many warmer climates.
- The Niagara Escarpment passes directly through the appellation, creating slopes, which determine sunlight, and elevation (up to 335m above sea level), which determine influence of breeze and lake effects.
- This results in 10 unique sub-appellations that produce a diverse range of grape-growing conditions.
- The area between the Escarpment and Lake Ontario, thick layers of clay are permeated with silts and sands.
- Soil composition and drainage varies across the appellation, allowing for many different varietals to thrive.
- Cool-climate appellation, ideally situated near N43 degrees latitude.
- Relatively high shifts in temperature from day to night, with ample sunshine during the growing season.
Prince Edward County (PEC)
Prince Edward County is Ontario’s most northern appellation, located at the eastern end of Lake Ontario, just south of Belleville. This appellation relies on the surrounding waters of Lake Ontario to provide a moderate and productive cool-climate growing season.
- Distinguished by its openness and irregular topography, deep valleys dig into the broad, flat foundation of Trenton limestone.
- Soil composition is shallow, with reddish-brown clay and sand overlaying broken limestone bedrock.
- Stony soils allow excellent drainage, encouraging early warming in the spring and forcing vines to grow deeper during hot summer months.
- Openness allows most vineyards to collect maximum benefit from lake breezes, which moderate temperatures throughout the year.
- Average temperatures remain around 22 degrees C during summer months; temperatures have been recorded to drop to -34 degrees C in the winter.
Lake Erie North Shore
Jumping to the southwestern extremity of Ontario, this auspicious southerly location extending along the shoreline of Lake Erie enjoys a long growing season. The warming effect of the shallow lake waters encourages ripe fruit with an ideal balance between natural sweetness and acidity.
- This appellation is surrounded by water – with the Detroit River to the west, Lake Eerie to the south and Lake St. Clair on the northwest side.
- Long gentle slopes facing all directions, with elevations ranging from 172m to 196m.
- The lake breeze is in full effect during the entire growing season.
- Having previously been covered in deep waters, the appellation acquired smooth ridges with large deposits of sediment.
- Soils are light-textured and well drained, containing mostly sandy loam and gravel deposits which cover the shale limestone bedrock.
- This appellation has the highest number of heat units of all of Ontario’s viticultural areas.
- Growing season thrives off of quick summer warming of shallow Lake Eerie waters and ample sunshine, often resulting in early harvest seasons.
Compare the Regions
Try the same varietal of wine from two of the different regions above and see what differences you notice. We suggest comparing the Grange Riesling from PEC, which has a lot of minerality, to a Niagara-On-The-Lake (NOTL) Riesling like Lailey. Or, to really mix it up, try bringing in an old world wine like Germany’s Leitz Out.
A second comparison worth trying is pairing two Merlot-Cabernets – such as Cooper’s Hawk from Lake Erie North Shore vs. Red Tractor from NOTL.
Link to the article above