Let’s talk about wine tourism.
I live in Nova Scotia, where there is a rapidly growing wine scene. I feel like I know my province’s wine well, if for no other reason than the volume and variety I’ve tasted, and the number of tours I have taken. I talk, tweet and write about it a lot, and we get tons of feedback on the subject from both locals and visitors.
In December I visited Toronto for a short work trip. With only two days in Toronto, and only a few hours of free time to play around with, Ontario wine paired with room service seemed like the perfect way to spend a chilly December night. Local wine by the glass was $10, so I braved the cold (-6, I am not ready for you) a whole two blocks from the Marriott Prince to the LCBO to peruse Ontario’s bounty of wine.
Standing in front of the extensive Ontario wine section at the LCBO, I started to realize what visitors (and even locals) must feel like when faced with our local selection for the first time…
I made my way through 3 isles, my eyes catching on a few bottles that I vaguely recognized, ruling out bottles with a funny animal or kitschy title. I noticed how easy it was to be drawn back to the few names I knew. Wines that, while not my favourite, felt like a port in the storm of the decision I was quickly overcomplicating.
I tentatively pick out a bottle of Ontario Gewurztraminer and make my way to the cash.
“Do you know anything about Ontario wines” I ask. The cashier is young, and stares at me blankly before breaking into a big grin.
“If I’m being honest, not really. I’m new here and I don’t like wine”
He points me towards his fellow staff member. I ask the same question, this time rambling on about my home province and how our ‘thing’ is light, bright, crisp whites, and I really want to taste what Ontario is known for. He walks me over to a third staff member, where I repeat my request.
“Well, it really depends on what you’re looking for, and what area of the province the winery is in. I like wines from Pelee Island, they’re the best in my opinion”.
She walks me over to the Ontario section, and gives me a quick crash course in Ontario wine labelling. The first bottle she picks up is VQA, a certification that lets the buyer know that all grapes in the bottle were grown in Ontario. The second is a mix of Canadian grown grapes with provincially grown grapes.
She walks me through a few of her favourite Pelee Island red’s. Her absolute favourite is missing, but her second favourite is there, and by this point I feel like I trust her opinion. She gives me some parting advice – “Pair this with turkey, or light meat” – and I make my way back to the cash.
I didn’t like the wine in the end, but that’s not really the point. The whole experience got me thinking about how we can best showcase an area’s local culinary goods to a visitor when they don’t have the time (or interest) to travel directly to the source. Sometimes we only get one shot – one bottle – for a visitor to decide the quality of a whole industry, and to determine if the next bottle of wine they select on vacation is a local one, or an imported bottle that they already know they like.
My home province has been playing around with some solutions including an Appalachian (Tidal Bay) that showcases what our growing region does best, but my experiences at the LCBO make me curious to know what other solutions are out there.
Do you drink local wines when you travel? Have you come across innovative ways of introducing tourists to local wines? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!