Ontario's Appellations

Defining Appellation of Origin

The mark of authenticity for VQA Ontario wines
Grapes on vines, tractor, St. David's Bench

Often referred to as an "expression of place," wine has been associated with its point of origin for hundreds of years. European wine-producing countries, such as France and Spain, have long recognized origin and "terroir" – the combination of location, soil, topography and climate – as having direct influence on both the character and quality of wine grapes. Mapping terroir and accounting for this influence, by defining sophisticated appellations of origin, became a highly valued system for these regions to measure and market the quality and distinction of their wines.

Taking a cue from the European model for appellation of origin, Canada's thriving and rapidly expanding wine industry has developed around regions that produce wines of unique character.

Across Canada, there are now eight primary Viticultural Areas that are recognized to produce grapes for appellation wines certified by the Vintners Quality Alliance system (VQA). These appellations of origin, located in southern Ontario and British Columbia account for 98% of the country's premium wine production. The majority of these appellation wines come from Ontario`s appellations, where approximately 15,000 acres of wine grape vineyards are planted. Stretching along the centre of the world's cool-climate wine belt, Ontario appellations share similar growing season characteristics with some of the most recognized and respected wine-growing regions of the world.

VQA Ontario, Ontario`s appellation authority is responsible for regulating the production of appellation wines in the Province and ensuring label integrity when it comes to the use of appellation names.

Embracing Appellation Diversity

Defining wine culture in Ontario
Vine, Thirty Bench Winery, Beamsville Bench

Wine has gained a place in Canada`s cultural landscape and appellation of origin has become an increasingly important element in exceptional winemaking across Canada. Canada's greatest wines are wines of origin, each having a distinctive personality and style that promise an enjoyable wine experience. Wine lovers appreciate this diversity of character and the experience of each unique place, and it enhances their enjoyment of the wine, their food and their lifestyle experiences. The more a wine elaborates terroir, the more grounded the personality and the more a lasting distinction develops.

VQA Ontario Appellations of Origin

Mapping terroirs of distinction

Viticulture in Ontario is intimately and dynamically related to terroir – to a sense of place. The physical features of land and climate – the nuances of soil and sun; the minerality and taste characteristics of diverse landscapes – influence the choice of vine cultivars and viticultural practices across Ontario and create unique conditions for the production of grapes and wine. As wineries and winemakers cultivate, interpret and elaborate terroir through wine production, they in turn shape our tastes and interaction with the land.

Ontario has so far identified three primary Viticultural Areas or appellations of origin: Niagara Peninsula, Lake Erie North Shore, and Prince Edward County. Within the Niagara Peninsula appellation, decades of grape growing experience and extensive geographical research has identified ten distinct growing areas. These sub-appellations include areas on the plains close to Lake Ontario and the benchlands of the Niagara Escarpment.

Niagara Peninsula
The Niagara Peninsula

Shaped by the natural wonders of the Niagara Escarpment and the majestic Niagara Falls, the Niagara Peninsula provides ideal cool-climate conditions for wine growing. Its diversity has resulted in the identification of 10 sub-appellations.

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Lake Erie North Shore
Lake Erie North Shore

Stretching along the warm, shallow waters of Lake Erie, vines in this southerly appellation enjoy the most sunshine in Canada, providing excellent ripening conditions and full bodied wines.

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Prince Edward County
Prince Edward County

Bordering Lake Ontario and the Bay of Quinte, this appellation – Ontario's newest wine appellation – is surrounded by water and features a rich terroir dominated by stoney soils.

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Regulating VQA Ontario Appellation of Origin

Meeting the promise of quality and authenticity

All Ontario VQA wines are made from 100% Ontario grown grapes. In order to claim a more specific appellation of origin – for example "VQA Niagara Peninsula VQA" – wines must meet quality and production standards demonstrate that all grapes used in production were exclusively grown in Ontario, with at least 85% grown in the stated appellation. Wines from the Niagara Peninsula wines can further claim a sub-appellation of origin, if 100% of grapes used in production were grown within one of the ten sub-appellations.

In addition to sub-appellations, two regions have been created within the Niagara Peninsula to regulate the use of widely recognized names – Niagara-on-the-Lake and Niagara Escarpment. Niagara-on-the-Lake may appear on the label of a wine sourced from the growing area east of St. Catharines, while Niagara Escarpment may be used on wines sourced along the bench area west of St. Catharines.