The Canadian Fruit Wine Revolution
Lenore Newman, Ph.D – Contributor
Fruit wines are becoming an increasingly popular value-added product in Canada. When properly made, fruit wines are summer in a bottle, capturing the aroma and flavour of fruits at the peak of the season and blending them into complex flavour profiles that pair well with any meal. The rising interest in fruit wines, which are also known as country wines, mirrors the rising interest in culinary tourism and cuisine in general. Canada’s developing cuisine highlights wild products, seasonal flavours, and fresh local products; these qualities can be captured in a good fruit wine. For the producer, an excellent fruit wine can provide a year-round revenue stream and can help use up excess fruit at the height of the summer season. Tasting rooms are excellent elements for inclusion on a culinary trail, and help draw customers onto the farm, where they will often buy other products as well.
Making a good fruit wine is a fairly complex undertaking that takes practice. Grapes are the most common fruit for wine making for a reason; they have a balance of sugar, tannin, water, and food for yeasts needed to produce a stable and pleasant wine. Country wines require that one or more of these properties be adjusted. Sugar levels often need to be supplemented in order for alcohol levels to be acceptable. Honey can be used for this step, creating what is called a melomel. In some cases fruit carries too much sugar; water can be added to adjust the product. Some fruit wines can be so acidic as to be undrinkable. Many of Canada’s fruits and berries create very acidic wine, and the new winemaker must be careful to add water before fermentation to control the acidity. This can, unfortunately, diminish the final flavour. Adding a back-sweetener such as honey or sugar after the fermentation can help with this effect. Maple is an interesting back-sweetener for a Canadian country wine, adding a distinctive and very Canadian flavour. A lack of natural yeast can also be a problem for country wines, and this can be controlled by adding yeast nutrients. Aside from these specific issues, a great fruit wine requires excellent quality fruit at the peak of ripeness. The fruit must be very clean, and any mold, pits, stems, or leaves will taint the flavour of the final product. A general rule is that fruit for winemaking should be of the same quality as fruit for the table, and similar care should be used in handling the fruit.
A successful country wine has the potential to be a powerful branding tool for a farm, but many producers muddy their brand by trying to be all things to all people. As a general rule, stick to fruits from the region, and ideally to fruits associated with the farm itself. This helps build both the regional brand and associates the farm with particular products. Be sure to label clearly, and try to stick to a small product line with a few dry wines, a few sweet wines, and perhaps a dessert wine or two.
Sweet dessert wines are a hallmark of Canadian cuisine, and can be popular sellers. As a general rule, the complex flavour of true wines won’t mix with country wines, so don’t mix grape wines into a country wine tasting. The conflicting flavour can detract from both products. A successful line of fruit wines takes hard work and thought, but can add nicely to a farm’s bottom line while building a successful culinary brand.