By April Ingram
Over the past 15 years, international sales of Champagne and sparkling wine have strengthened. The increased sales are due, in part, to the increase in exceptional sparkling wines being made in wine regions throughout the world, including Canada. Even though Champagne remains the gold standard, with the rise in quality sparkling wines at reasonable prices, consumers no longer have to wait for a special occasion to pop open a bottle, and sales have skyrocketed.
Belinda Kemp, senior scientist in Oenology at Brock University, wanted to provide a technical foundation for the growth of Canada’s sparkling wine industry, so in 2013 she worked with Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI) to create Fizz Club.
According to the Brock University website, the CCOVI was established in 1996 in partnership with the Grape Growers of Ontario, the Winery & Grower Alliance of Ontario and the Wine Council of Ontario. They focus on assisting grape growers and winemakers to produce top quality sparkling wines. Much of the research conducted at CCOVI surrounds the affects soil types have on sparkling wine flavor, mouthfeel, and texture. Kemp works out of her “Bubble Lab,” known for its leading sparkling wine research and outreach work, culminating in an annual event called “Fizz Club.”
Fizz Club is a rare opportunity for Canada’s leading sparkling winemakers to come together and talk shop. The club is members-only, limiting membership to sparkling winemakers or wineries already underway or considering a sparkling wine program. At the event, winemakers discuss the most significant issues facing the Canadian wine industry, hear presentations on the newest research and technology, network, compare notes, exchange ideas, and of course, taste wine.
Each year, the event has grown. In its inaugural year, only a handful of Niagara wineries participated. In 2018, more than 80 winemakers stepped out of their cellars and came together in Niagara, Ontario with the goal of making Canadian sparkling wine even better. To that end, the corks of more than 130 bottles from four provinces were popped while Canadian winemakers talked candidly about sparkling wine production.
In an article in Brock University’s Brock News entitled “How Fizz Club is shaping Canadian sparkling wine,” Simon Rafuse, winemaker at Blomidon Estate Winery in Nova Scotia said, “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. 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.”
In the same article, winemaker Karen Gillis of Red Rooster Winery in British Columbia said, “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, 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.”
Lawrence Buhler, winemaker at Henry of Pelham, has been attending Fizz Club since the beginning, telling Brock News, “The first Fizz Club was a few of us hanging out tasting wines in a lab, and now 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 whom you can learn a lot from and people who are pushing the boundaries when it comes to winemaking.”
According to “How Fizz Club is shaping Canadian sparkling wine,” topics discussed at the December 2018 event included yeast strains and pétillant-naturel, also known as “methode ancestrale,” a reemerging process of winemaking where sparkling wines are bottled while they’re still fermenting. Its origins are thought to have been a mistake, with early winemakers thinking fermentation was complete and bottling their wines too soon. The result was a particularly fizzy sparkling wine.
Rafuse told Brock News, “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. 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.”
Rafuse and other Canadian winemakers are certainly succeeding at creating bubbles that attract attention—winning medals and awards on the world stage—leading to surging sales, nationally and internationally.
Tom Stevenson, one of the world’s leading sparkling wine experts and the founder and head judge for the Champagne and Sparkling Wine World Championships, traveled from the United Kingdom to Brock University to sample wines at Fizz Club. “I am really pleased because there are a lot of really good sparkling wines here. After the first flight I found a few potential gold and silver wines,” Stevenson told Brock News.
He hopes some of those potential gold and silver winners will participate in global competitions. “It would increase the profile of Canadian sparkling wine. We haven’t typically had many entries from Canada in the past to really see what these producers have available from a competition perspective,” Stevenson said.
Overall, Kemp found the 2018 Fizz Club to be a success and thinks Stevenson could be on to something with his praise of Canadian bubbly. “I’m so pleased we were able to showcase wines from so many wineries,” she told Brock News. “It is quite incredible to watch the progress of Canadian sparkling wines as we raise awareness of production techniques and tackle challenges with CCOVI research. This is just the beginning for Canadian sparkling wine.”