A Canadian wine landscape

- Susanna Danieli

Hey folks! As you know our university is pretty famous for didactic trips which, apart from a full immersion in different cultures, involve visiting all kind of food operators: in practical terms this means eating and drinking a lot. So what a better opportunity for us to explore the wine scene happening outside of Italy?


As for me, this time I got Canada, specifically the western region called British Columbia.
Our visit was focused on Vancouver Island, a piece of land facing Vancouver with a diverse food production: to mention some, wild Canadian salmon, seaweed harvesting, honey mead and, kind of surprising, wine-making.  

First question that comes to mind: wine in Canada?
Is any wine-making possible out of the very much celebrated Ice Wine, a product of snow and frozen temperatures? To my own astonishment, I was struck by British Columbia’s climate which, unlike its sister regions Ontario and Alberta, is not that harsh at all, even in winter time (they haven’t been seeing snow for many years). Second question: natural wine making in a nation in which even chaptalization (addition of sugar in the must) is allowed? In fact yes: a few wine producers, riding the natural wine wave that runs strong in Northern America, are experimenting with a non-invasive, respectful and sustainable approach in viticulture. 


Take Mike of Rathjen Cellars, located in Saanich, BC: he started wine making in 2015 on rescued farmland which would have been abandoned instead. He reconstructed the top soil using mulch and sowing clovers and other leguminous crops to ensure essential nutrients to the vines. He’s also collecting fruit trees’ grafts to create an orchard: his goals are to increase biodiversity in the vineyard and to develop a circular economy in which animals, soil and plants are connected to each other in a virtuous production.
Grape varieties are mostly European: Mike take inspiration from climate areas in the Old Continent similar to the oceanic and windy one of British Columbia, for example Loire in France and Galicia in northern Spain. Local varieties are not commonly used to make wine, hence our tasting session which was mainly composed of the well known Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris plus some blends from American hybrids Regent and Petit Milo.

The difficulties for a natural wine-maker of British Columbia?
First of all, Mike says, cost of the land: for farmers it is simpler to buy many different little plots scattered around, instead of many acres all in one place. This is challenging for the management of vineyards, giving the differences that can be found in the soil structure and possibly in the microclimate. Also organic certification is a controversial issue because it is very costly and has to be applied to every plot, meaning one has to pay a certain (expensive) amount, every year for every lot in which vines grow. Anyway many like Mike work in a wholly natural and organic way without any certification - in the end it is the wine speaking for itself.
Last but not least, we are still in Canada and wild animals are free and abundant in the forest. All those pretty little creatures, especially raccoons and deers, have a sweet tooth for grapes, which must be protected with fences, not just around the vineyard but also directly on the single vines: a hard work that must be done and checked all year long.

We wish Mike to keep up the good work and to spread the word about what a natural approach in wine-making can give back in terms of good practices and sustainability for the land and for the palate!