How Fizz Club is shaping Canadian sparkling wine

They came from across the country to taste and talk about sparkling wine with the goal of making the Canadian product even better. This is Fizz Club.

As the name suggests it’s a special club for sparkling wine and those who make it. A rare opportunity to compare notes, exchange ideas, build friendships and hear the latest research, all in the name of making great sparkling wine.

Fizz Club was created at Brock University in 2013 with a handful of winemakers. It’s organized by the Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI) and led by Senior Scientist Belinda Kemp to provide the technical foundation for the growth of Canada’s sparkling wine industry.

Around 80 winemakers from across Canada travelled to Brock University for the sixth annual Fizz Club hosted by Brock’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute.

Now in its sixth year, it has now become a national event. This year’s was the largest gathering to date with winemakers from across Canada travelling to Brock to be part of the club.

“The first Fizz Club was a few of us hanging out tasting wines in a lab,” said Lawrence Buhler, winemaker at Henry of Pelham. “You can see how valuable something like this is based on how fast this group has grown. It is great to see people attend from across the country, including veterans in sparkling wine who you can learn a lot from and people who are pushing the boundaries when it comes to winemaking.”

“Talking about some of the alternative yeast strains was pretty interesting. Back in the day those were some that maybe we were slightly afraid of and now we are learning to embrace them and use them for what they can do in the cellars and in our final wines,” said Buhler.

It’s not every day these winemakers get the chance to step out of their cellars and network like this.

“The winemaking community doesn’t have a lot of opportunities to come together and spend time face-to-face with other winemakers across the country,” said Simon Rafuse, winemaker at Blomidon Estate Winery in Nova Scotia. “To focus in on one specific style of wine, which is one we do extremely well here in Canada, and to be able to spend the time to hear the latest research being done at Brock is a great opportunity.”

Rafuse pointing to the discussion and tasting of pét-nat, short for pétillant-naturel, an approach to producing fizzy sparkling wines that are bottled while they’re still fermenting.

“It is great to see the efforts in studying that style, figuring out techniques and ways to make those wines and hearing from winemakers who have experience making them,” he said. “Knowing where we can focus our own research and our own trial efforts will hopefully lead to us making better wines at Blomidon Estates and across our industry as a whole.”

As an outsider, one doesn’t hear much about what’s discussed behind the Fizz Club doors. It’s an off-the-record, members-only gathering, giving winemakers a chance to openly discuss triumphs and challenges relating to sparkling wine production and learn about new research developments.

“It is nice to be able to be in a room where you can openly communicate with other winemakers because there are certainly some challenges that everyone faces,” said winemaker Karen Gillis, who has been working on reinventing the sparkling wine program at Red Rooster Winery in B.C. “To have that opportunity to work that out with other people is great.”

“We are looking to learn from our peers from across the country and share some knowledge and challenges to try to see how we can do a better job and make sparkling wine that is competitive around the world,” she said.

The industry is succeeding at that goal. The bubblies these Canadian winemakers have been making are attracting attention with surging sales and international awards. Recently, the largest-ever tasting of Canadian sparkling wine was hosted by CCOVI.

“It is the first-ever national event for winemakers. Fizz Club‎ continues to have an impact on sparkling wine quality in Canada,” said Kemp. “We have seen an increase in Canadian wines winning medals in national and international competitions and the profile of these wines will continue to grow as we collaborate and work together.”

Kemp shared the latest research CCOVI is doing to help local grape growers and winemakers produce quality sparkling wine, including new results from studies regarding how different soil types affect sparkling wine flavour, mouthfeel and texture.

“CCOVI is always embracing the opportunity to take research and make it applicable for the industry, they really are serving the industry well,” said Buhler. “Belinda brings that research back to the industry with something like Fizz Club or maybe even a glass of wine over lunch, she is very open and willing to try anything that will help make Canadian wine better.”

That’s why Yvan Quirion, winemaker at Domaine St-Jacques in Quebec and President of the Quebec Vintners Association, organized a group of 20 winemakers to travel to Brock to attend Fizz Club for the first time.

“Sharing ideas with other winemakers is essential to making great Canadian wine,” said Quirion. “It is impressive to have all these winemakers together.”

With some 300 sparkling wines available for tasting, Fizz Club is a special gathering.

“Pouring nearly six thousand glasses of sparkling wines for this year’s Fizz Club, from base wines to new releases and pét-nat is really impressive,” said CCOVI’s Barb Tatarnic, who is the outreach manager and works with Kemp to organize the event.

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