We are excited to announce our latest expert guide, focused on the wines of Canada. Learn about Canada's history, geography, climate, wine law, grapes, and regions.

Read an excerpt of the new guide below, and find the full version in the expert guide section.

Canada is a big country with a small wine industry, and, for many years, its wines were little known internationally. The exception was Icewine, the supersweet wine that, beginning in the 1990s, became a successful export, especially in China. These days, quality Canadian table wines are popular on the domestic market, and they are increasingly appearing on wine lists throughout the world.


Canada is one of the youngest winemaking countries in the Americas, but, paradoxically, it is possible that the very first wine in this part of the world was made there. Around 1000 CE, the Icelandic explorer Leif Eriksson reached the east coast of present-day Canada, and one of his crew, a German from a wine-producing region, recognized grapevines growing wild. Eriksson named the area Vinland, and he established a winter camp there. The location was probably in what is now Quebec, on the north shore of the Gaspé Peninsula, which is the south shore of the mouth of the St. Lawrence River. It seems likely that Eriksson’s crew, having exhausted the beer they brought with them, tried to make wine from the grapes.

Although elements of the story are debated by historians and archeologists, it is intriguing as the possible beginnings of wine production in Canada. There is no evidence that Canada’s Indigenous peoples made wine or other alcoholic beverages, and winemaking was not resumed until other Europeans arrived and settled in the eastern regions in the 1600s.

But just before that time, in 1535, in an echo of Leif Eriksson’s journey, the French explorer Jacques Cartier sailed up the St. Lawrence River and encountered an island where wild grapevines were growing up trees. He first named it the Île de Bacchus, after the Roman god of wine, but then more strategically renamed it the Île d’Orléans after his patron, the duke d’Orléans. Situated just downstream of Quebec City, the island is now home to several wineries.

Most of the French and English settlers who established communities in eastern Canada in the 1600s came from regions where wine was consumed only by better-off people. The first French settlers came primarily from Brittany and Normandy, where vineyards were sparse and cider rivaled wine, while the English settlers came from a country where most people drank ale or beer. The colonial administrators and army and navy officers, however, came from the wine-drinking classes, and they had to satisfy their needs by importing wine from Europe.

As in the American colonies at the same time, beer was soon being produced locally, but attempts to make wine from the indigenous Vitis labrusca varieties generally yielded unsatisfying results. Some settlers brought vines from Europe. It is often said, despite ambiguous evidence, that European vines were planted in Nova Scotia in the early 1600s. Louis Hébert, a French apothecary, may have planted vines at Bear River, near the Bay of Fundy, and vines may also have been planted in 1633 at Petite Rivière.

Some of the earliest wines made in Canada from local grapes were produced by French Catholic missionaries. They set off on often yearslong journeys to convert the Indigenous populations with only small supplies of imported wine for use in communion. When their wine supply was exhausted, some turned to the grapes of the Vitis labrusca and Vitis riparia species that grew in many parts of eastern Canada. In 1623, a missionary near Lake Huron, in present-day Ontario, noted that when the wine in the 23-liter barrel he had brought from Quebec City turned bad, “We made some of wild grapes which was very good.” This is the first record of wine being made in Canada.

If the cold winters of eastern Canada proved inhospitable to European Vitis vinifera vines, the climate was more welcoming farther west, at the southwestern end of Lake Ontario, now the important Niagara Peninsula wine region. This area was sparsely populated until the 1790s, when tens of thousands of Americans loyal to Britain (and known as Loyalists) fled the newly founded United States for the British colony in Upper Canada, now Ontario. Most settled in areas today known for viticulture, especially the Niagara Peninsula and Prince Edward County, and there are sporadic but imprecise references to vineyards during the early 1800s.

Commercial wine production began in the 1840s or 1850s in the Niagara region of Ontario—less than two centuries ago and around the time when wine was first produced in New Zealand. In 1860, a producer named John Kilborne wrote in an agricultural magazine that his wine was selling for $1.75 a gallon, but he complained that it should fetch a higher price, because “it is worth four times as much as the miserable stuff sold by merchants under the name of wine.” Kilborne won a prize (of $3) at the 1862 Provincial Exhibition in Toronto for “the best bottles of wine made from the grape,” which suggests that wines made from fruit other than grapes were also produced at this time.

From the 1860s, commercial production can be verified. One producer was William Kitchener, who planted vines and fruit trees in 1859. By 1876, it was reported that Kitchener had sold more than 50,000 gallons of “Native Wine” at $2.50 a gallon, and that he had 80,000 vines, presumably labrusca varieties.

Other producers established wineries in the Niagara region and in Prince Edward County, a peninsula on the north shore of Lake Ontario (not to be confused with Prince Edward Island, on the Atlantic coast), that now has its own appellation.

In the 1870s, a winery was established on Pelee Island, in Lake Erie, Canada’s southernmost inhabited land. Vin Villa was owned by three entrepreneurs from Kentucky, and they sold finished wine in Ontario as well as Catawba grapes to Ohio wineries along the south shore of Lake Erie. In 1888, the Pelee Island Wine and Vineyard Company was established on the island, and, by the 1890s, it was producing a well-regarded sparkling wine called L’Empéreur Champagne. It is considered Canada’s first commercial winery, and its ruins are now a tourist attraction.

Repeated references to adulterated wines suggest that Ontario wines came in a wide range of styles and quality levels, but there are seldom references to grape varieties or winemaking methods. Yet by the end of the 19th century, a small wine industry had been established in Ontario: the 1891 census listed 28 wineries in the province, most (23) along the north shore of Lake Erie and the rest on the Niagara Peninsula. Although there were fewer wineries on the Niagara Peninsula, the region produced 60% of Ontario’s grapes, compared with 12% on the north shore of Lake Erie. Indigenous grapes made up most of the plantings on the north shore of Lake Erie, but the Niagara Peninsula was planted with higher-yielding American hybrid varieties, such as Isabella, Delaware, Catawba, and Concord.

Prince Edward County had seemed promising for viticulture, but it became mainly a vegetable-growing area until viticulture began to boom again at the beginning of the 21st century. Before long, the north shore of Lake Erie became an important region for tobacco, a more profitable crop than grapes. The Niagara Peninsula remained Canada’s only significant wine region in the early 1900s. By that time, there was wine production elsewhere in Canada—in British Columbia, Quebec, and Nova Scotia—but not on a commercial basis.


  • Hi Stevie,

    Producers to look up in the Okanagan would be

    Synchromesh - especially for riesling, cab franc

    Meyer - pinot noir, chardonnay

    Le Vieux Pin/La Stella - syrah, other Rhone varieties

    Tantalus - Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Noir

    Martin's Lane - pinot noir, owned by the big Mission Hill group - others include Cedar Creek, et al

    Blue Mountain - late disgorged sparkling, chardonnay, pinot blanc

    Nichol - oldest vine syrah in province, also Lock and Worth (same winemaker, hi Matt)

    Bella - sparkling

    Pamplemousse Jus - sparkling/Pet Nat)

    L-ST Projects - cidermaker at Creek and Gully, extremely limited production, no tasting room

    Orofino - riesling and syrah, good bordeaux varieties, in the nearby Similkameen valley.

    Off the top of my head, other producers that are great - Roche, Rigour and Whimsy, Ursa Major, Scout, Blasted Church (some interesting tiny project wines beside their bigger production stuff).  

    A few of the smaller wineries might not be open or will be appointment only this summer due to the past winter conditions. Red wines might be limited due to smoke in the 21 vintage. They've had some tough vintages the past few, but it's such a beautiful region full of passionate folks. 

  • Thanks for this! We're looking at visiting Okanagan Valley later this summer (late July) and would love to get some recommendations on wineries or producers to visit. We tend to look for small-production, super responsibly farmed, thoughtful projects with good people behind them. Anything come to mind??