The Beginning of Wine Making in Canada
1927 Chateau -Gai Champagne
Back, way back, around the year 1001AD
Leif Eirikson - aka: Leif the Lucky and Bjarni Hejolfson left Iceland and sailed to
the shores of Newfoundland. Leif found (what he believed to be) wild grapes in the
vicinity and called the place Vinland. The uncovered ruins of the Vinland community
at L'ans aux Meadows indicates the Vikings were the first to make wine in what later
Many amateurs tried their hand at producing wines but the wild Vitis riparia and Vistis labrusca were of poor quality compared to european wines. Father Bruyas tried planting new varieties around 1619, as did many others over the next few years, their efforts failed. But through cross pollination the first American Hybrids were created.
The true story of Canadian wine making may have begun with
Johann Schiller, a German who served with the 29th Regiment of Foot
in Quebec in 1784. By 1811 he had moved to Ontario's Niagara regionobtaining 400 acres.
Having worked at winemaking in the Rhine, he began growing grapes and producing his own wine. He obtained hybrids
from Pennsylvania and began to supply the needs of his neighbours. His wines were very much appreciated, he is
considered to be the father of the Canadian Wine Industry. Unfortunately his success was short lived
as Schiller died in 1816. Schiller's sons sold the property.
The first vineyards in British Columbia were planted in
the 1860's at the Oblate Mission of Father Charles Pandosy near Kelowna
in the Okanagan, but it wasn't until the 1930's that the first winery
was established in the valley.
Winemaking in the 1870's, 80's and 90's, was more of a kitchen or basement hobby. The wines were sold out the back door or through the local drug store. Two farm wineries owned by John Kilborn and W.W. Kitchen of Grimsby may have been the first to advertise their wines. One problem these winemakers faced was the grapes. The native hybrids like Catawba and Isabella were too low in fructose and too high in acidity.
Another variety gaining popularity was the Concord grape. Back in 1836 in the New England town of Concord Ephram Wales Bull planted a grape seed from the wild Laabrusca grapes. The result was the grape he named Concord. Bull failed to make a commercial success of the Concord as others also grew the grapes. His tombstone read He sowed but others reaped. However the Concord did not make great wines it was better used for producing jams and jellies. Despite its lack of winemaking ability the concord grape was the backbone of the industry until the 1940's. Remember Baby Duck
A grocer by the name of Major J.S. Hamilton became interested in the wines of Pelee Island. In 1871 he was granted a royal charter to sell wines and liquor. In 1874 he entered into agreement with the Pelee Island growers and moved the actual winemaking operation to Brantford. The J.S Hamilton and Company Limited absorbed the Pelee Island Wine and Vineyard Company in 1909. Forty years later in 1949 It was all sold to the London Winery
Back in British Columbia the Oblate Father's vineyard at their mission near Kelowna was producing wine starting in the 1920's. Father Charles John Felex Adolphe Marie Pandosy was the founder of the first settlement in the Okanagan Valley, the planter of the first apples and grapes. He built the first school for settlers and native children, and acted as counselor, confessor, agriculturalist, musician and sports coach. He soon became known as a peace-maker and defender of justice; especially for the underdog.
It was the gold rush that brought settlers to the Okanagan.
When the gold panned out. Orchards were planted allowing for the valley
to prosper for many years. At the northern end of the Okanagan the
town of Salmon Arm was founded officially in 1890. Pictured above is the first commercial
orchard, the McGuire Orchard in 1891. It is believed that
the earliest record of commercial grape production in BC was in Salmon Arm, by W.J. Wilcox.
In the 1860's through to prohibition the main
focus on winemaking was in Ontario developing and experimenting with
grapes and techniques to conquer the local weather conditions. This
led to the introduction of the Niagara Grape. a cross between Concord
and Cassady. Its' presence was first recorded in 1882. By 1890
there were 41 commercial wineries across Canada, of which
35 were in Ontario.