Book review: Canadian Wineries by Tony Aspler

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Expectations will play a big part in how highly you rate “Canadian Wineries” by Tony Aspler and Jean-François Bergeron. Expect a researched, academic treatise on the current state of the Canadian wine industry and you will be sorely dissapointed. Looking for a light reading, coffee-table book that introduces you to the wine regions and significant wineries of the whole country? This is the book for you.

Firstly, a sticky point. I can’t comment directly on some of the ‘facts’ from other wine regions but am confident enough with those from BC to notice a few things that should maybe have been checked before publication. For instance, contrary to the sequence of events on p. 20, the new winery facility at Black Hills was constructed 2006, before the sale to Vine Quest International. Matt and Christie Mavety from Blue Mountain are siblings and not spouses as indicated on page 24. And if Vincor has built a stand-alone winery for Osoyoos-Larose away from the Jackson-Triggs facility as stated on p. 55, I’ve never seen it. I had heard that it was part of the original plan but was shelved when Constellation bought Vincor. (Constellation has sincesold their share of Osoyoos-Larose who will effectively be on their own at some point soon.)

I know from experience in wine shops that sometimes the stories told by wine shop staff get stretched a little over time. A 75-acre vineyard in June can easily become a 90-acre estate by Labour Day from anyone telling the same story over and over again. And while wine people love to think they remember vintages and the weather of each year, sometimes the chronology gets a little muddled. It one thing to mix up facts in a wine shop but another altogether include them in a publication.

The list of wineries included is overall quite thought out, although I’m sure that there will be some people who will object to missing their favourite winery. In selecting wineries, Mr. Aspler states in the introduction that he was looking for wineries who sustained quality across their portfolio and from “vintage to vintage”. Wineries also had to be historically significant or have influenced the industry in some way and have an “aesthetic appeal to the property and its setting”. As was expected, most if not all of the large corporate wineries and their brands are represented with a few exceptions probably for aesthetic reasons (Jackson-Triggs in Oliver is more Industrial Park than National Park in its appearance). While there are a few wineries that I would have liked to have seen included here, the most glaring omission in my mind that seems to fit all of Mr. Aspler’s criteria is Gray Monk Estate Winery. Perhaps seen as a little ‘uncool’ to the era of Parkeristic wine criticism because of the Germanic-influenced wine portfolio heavy on aromatic varieties, I’d hoped that we’d moved past that era in some ways. Leaving Gray Monk out of the book leaves out a significant early pioneering family of BC’s modern estate wine making era that named their estate after a white variety that 30 years later is now the most popular grape variety in BC – Pinot Gris.

Regionally it is far more generous to the smaller wine regions than I was expecting. Usually publications that cover wine in “Canada” usually mean wine in “Ontario” or “BC” (weighted according to the author’s or publisher’s home turff) with only a few other outsiders mentioned. Ontario’s wine industry is unquestionably the largest by any measure and they get a generous third of this book while BC makes up a slightly smaller third. Quebec and Nova Scotia split the remainder equally (about 35 pages each) which is honestly about 30 pages more than I’d expected, especially since Mr. Aspler is based out of Ontario and proclaims as much at the start of BC’s section on p. 13. He rightfully deserves full credit for adventurously including Quebec and Nova Scotia’s growing wine scene even though this book is more readily available throughout the country than the wines from these two provinces.

The photography of Jean-François Bergeron is extremely good – not the typical, over-produced, seen-it-a-million-time-already landscape photography that appears in tourist brochures and large coffee table books. The often-photographed MacIntyre Bluff, an icon of the south Okanagan, does not appear anywhere in this book. The BC photos suffer a little from the less than perfect weather that photographer Mr. Bergeron probably had to deal with during his trip. The natural light with slight cloud cover (optimistically called ‘filtered sunshine’ by Vancouverites) won’t make much difference in the rest of Canada. In BC however, the result is mountains with no tops that fade into something unfocused and dull. Diffuse, low-contrast natural lighting tends to blunt what are otherwise spectacular vistas.

Such is the weather in however and fortunately for this book, Mr. Bergeron turned his lenses on something else that is sometimes lacking in other books about wine – fun and casual photos of the people who actually work with the wine. I remember seeing a video clip about wine making years ago with a winemaker who was about to start his day doing punchdowns and he said something like, “If someone tells you he’s the wine maker and he’s wearing clean clothes and isn’t stained purple, he’s not really the wine maker.” A lot of the time, the people who actually do the physical work with the grapes don’t get the same recognition as the wine maker. In ‘Canadian Wineries’ however, I was thrilled to see great shots of Aaron Crey and Gabe Reis, both hard-working and extremely knowledgeable winery personnel, representing their respective wineries (Nk’Mip and Painted Rock) in portraits that accompany their wineries’ profiles. Along with a collection of less formal photos of winery owners such as John Weber of Orofino (sporting what I can only assume is his “harvest beard”), the photography is captivating in its intimacy and that it shows what people in wine country actually do which is work – a lot. Of course there are a collection of clichéd photos of wine makers holding glasses up to the light to ‘examine’ the wine with serious expressions on their faces, but by and large the photos in this book show accurately what those of us who live and work in the industry already know; We love our jobs and it shows.

Overall, this is a good looking year book of the Canadian industry as it is now, or likely as it was in 2012 when the research was likely conducted. As someone who has toured through all of these wine regions at some point, it is great to see so many familiar faces represented here and I largely agree with Mr. Aspler’s choice of wineries to be included. As a current WSET diploma student though, I can say that this book will not be used for any factual references. Even still, I will no doubt turn its pages in advance of my next trip to visit Ontario, Quebec, and Nova Scotia.

Cheers from wine country!
~Luke

2 thoughts on “Book review: Canadian Wineries by Tony Aspler

    • Hey Gregg,

      Sometimes the *best* is the most *recent*, and Canadian Wineries is, as far as I know, the most recent book about Canadian wine right now. The problem (or advantage, depending on your point of view) with book publishing as a medium is that it can become outdated very quickly but factually it should be solid (something that irked me a little with Canadian Wineries).

      If it’s wine knowledge or appreciation in general that you’re looking for, there are some awesome titles out there. Look for;

      “The Art and Science of Wine” by James Halliday and Hugh Johnson – everything that you’d want to know about wine explained in easy terms and with great photos from around the world. It’s from 2006 but the tech doesn’t change that quickly in wine and it explains all of the processes and terms that you’d read in a wine mag or hear in a wine shop.

      “The World Atlas of Wine” by Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson – There’s a new 7th edition of this which I just bought and it’s fabulous. Maps, descriptions, styles, geography, history, and anything about wine’s terroir is in this book somewhere. Everyone wine person should have a version of this book.

      “Grapes & Wine” by Oz Clarke – an alphabetical reference of every grape used in producing wines today. Well written (hilarious sometimes) and with great details. Amber used this book a lot for research in our Wine Country BC podcasts.

      “Reading Between the Vines” by Terry Theise – my favourite wine book ever. Road stories from a wine importer with philosophy and wine knowledge in one book.

      “The Judgement of Paris” by George M Taber – The *real* story that the movie Bottle Shock was based very loosely on. It’s a far better story than the movie was.

      And of course, there are any and all of John Schreiner’s books about BC wine. Look for the latest editions.

      Hope this helps!

      ~Luke

      I could go on and on but that will get you started.

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