National interest bubbles for science of sparkling wine

With 90 local wineries now making sparkling wine, it’s not just fizz-loving consumers that are taking notice of the surging sales of the product. The increasingly popular wine — and related research underway at Brock’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI) — has also attracted the attention of the oldest scientific society in Canada.

Belinda Kemp, CCOVI senior oenologist, gave a presentation for the prestigious Royal Canadian Institute for Science (RCIS) in Toronto Sept. 14 on the science of sparkling wine. The RCIS works to enhance public awareness and understanding of science, while creating an environment in which science can flourish and contribute to all aspects of Canadian life and society.

Kirsten Vanstone, organizer for the RCIS fall lecture series, said Kemp’s presentation, held at the University of Toronto, was a “great kick-off” to the society’s 2017-18 talks. 

“Belinda gave a scientific glimpse into the mysterious world of winemaking,” she said. “She is an enthusiastic speaker who was not only interesting, she also gave some great tips on how to best enjoy sparkling wine.”

More than 60 people attended, ranging from top-tier biochemists and geologists to wine bloggers.

“It was rewarding to see how sparkling wine brought all those diverse people together and how they applied the science behind sparkling wine production to their own disciplines,” Kemp said.

She also shared the research CCOVI is doing to help local grape growers and winemakers produce quality sparkling wine, including projects that monitor the impact that different soil types and grapevine leaf removal strategies have on final wine quality, how to best process sparkling grape varieties for the highest quality wines and even how yeast nutrients during secondary fermentation may impact the bubbles.

“We’re getting some really fascinating results for our leaf-removal trial and our clonal study so this was a great way to share the work that CCOVI is doing with a completely different audience,” Kemp said.

In Ontario, overall sales of Ontario VQA sparkling wines are up 13 per cent over last year, and Vintage VQA sparkling wine sales have increased by 25 per cent.

Astrid Brummer, Category Manager of Ontario Wines at the LCBO, said one of the reasons local sparkling wine is becoming more popular is simply because more winemakers in the region are trying their hand at producing it.

“People are seeing the success of the pioneers in Ontario sparkling wine and that you can make a great sparkling wine in this growing area,” she said.

Popping open a bottle of the good bubbly no longer has to be reserved for the celebration of life’s biggest moments, whether toasting to a milestone birthday or anniversary, or christening a new boat.

“Sales of sparkling are so focused on the holiday season, but we’re also trying to be aware of other times when it might be a great choice,” Brummer explained. “‘Celebrate everyday’ has been one of the marketing angles. So, you got the laundry done or you got through Tuesday — that’s worth a glass of sparkling.”

With Ontario being so new to the sparkling scene in comparison to established players like Prosecco and Champagne, there is a lot of diversity in the wines coming out of the region.

Kemp said that is something to capitalize on, too.

“We have an incredible range of potential from our grape range like aromatic white varieties and traditional grapes like chardonnay and pinot noir,” she said. “We’re not trying to compete with the other markets, that’s not what it’s about. We’re taking advantage of the fact that Ontario sparkling wines do cater to all palates and pocketbooks.”

The complex process involved in creating that diverse selection of local options is what makes sparkling wine so appealing, she added.

“Not all sparkling wines are the same and I am always fascinated by how grapes grown on different sites and different winemaking practices can influence the final flavour,” she said. “Every bottle is a labour of love.”

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