In simpler days, he would have been a Tiger-Cat booster, roaring through Toronto on a memorable Grey Cup weekend, chasing rye with beer and women with, well, gusto. But this fellow—an otherwise average Hamilton resident—regularly rents a hotel room close by a Toronto wine bar
called Vines, and spends most of his weekend in its cramped but friendly confines, sampling three or four different bottles of very good wine. The Hamiltonian, whom Vines manager Tim Lovelock describes as a teacher in his late twenties, makes his pilgrimage once each month. His appetite
could have been a social embarrassment to his wife as little as a decade ago; now, she comes along and they consume in a single weekend nearly half the 1.4 gallons the average Canadian drinks in a year.
There is no question this couple could find thousands of accomplices, for during the Seventies Canadian wine drinkers have finally come out of the cellar to be seen and counted. Toronto’s six wine bars attest to that—there may be as many as nine come summer—as does the spread of wine bars to Vancouver and Montreal. For the most part, they’re filled with ordinary wine drinkers who have found in the grape a fine alternative to the happy hour’s mug of beer, the martini aperitif, or the aftertheatre scotch.
Not everyone has the pocket to fling as much as $40 after a Margauxpremier cru or a 1905 Madeira. But for every drinker who deftly handles the funnel, candle and decanter supplied with fine vintages by the better wine bars, there are thousands of others who enjoy bottles for less than $ 10, and share different wines by passing their drinks—paid for by the glass—around the table.
Lovelock was living in Thunder Bay, Ontario, when he discovered he loved wine. He confirmed it by managing a wine bar in England before taking on Vines when it opened 14 months ago, so he’s the last to see anything surprising in his fellow Canadians’ newfound tastes. “As a nation, we are by nature curious,” he says, “and wine is nothing if not the new toy—one so vast you can’t stop once you’ve begun.”
Promoting a new respectability for wine drinking are people like David Wright, a 46-year-old Saskatoon lawyer whose lively interest in wine has led him to acquire a cellar of some 90 bottles. Overcome at last is the Puritan horror of taking food or drink for purposes other than sustenance—notably for that wanton stimulation of the taste buds which the image of the wine connoisseur, that most noxious of bores, invariably evokes. Even now, the image of the wino reeling from his domestic sherry or port persists. These fortified wines once commanded two thirds of the market and kept Canadian wineries profitable, but 71% of all wines consumed today are table wines.
Small wonder that, in running this gauntlet of vinous terrors, Canadians have sought safety in the light, bubbly wines that don’t carry the stench of the cellar though they have been given names such as Fuddle Duck, Gimli Goose, or Fanny Hill’s Berry Patch. For more than three years, the best seller in Canada, accounting for seven million bottles each year, has been one such “pop” or “mod” wine, a blend of red and white grapes sold by Andres as Baby Duck.
Even in Newfoundland, where con-
sumption is still the lowest though sales have more than trebled since 1970 (to 270,000 gallons last year), there’s evidence of the nation-wide trend away from such fermented grape drinks toward a more mature appreciation of wine. The Germantype semidry white wines are as popular there as in Ontario, where a brand called Black Tower sells nearly 2,000 cases every week. In British Columbia and Alberta, wine has been promoted by that least likely huckster, the government. The markup on wine has been reduced in both provinces: two years ago, BC lowered it to 100% on imports and 46% on BC wines—if only to make it a better buy than liquor, and thus encourage sobriety, BC residents responded with gusto and now drink more wine than people in any other provincetwo gallons a year.
As beer and liquor wane, it’s no longer unusual to find wine lovers like George MacRae of Charlottetown, who maintains a small library on wine history and consumption and keeps up to date through publications such as the three-year-old Canadian magazine, The Wine Press. Like an entire generation of wine drinkers, MacRae, a 55-year-old civil servant, acquired the taste serving overseas with the army. “I had my first wine during the campaign in Sicily,” he recalls, “and though it was only a cheap Marsala it got me started.” His “cellar” of some 60 bottles in a disused third-floor bedroom includes a few Chateau Kirwans and one prize, a $40 bottle of Mouton-Rothschild. “But I’ve never been a connoisseur,” says MacRae. “Blindfold me and I couldn’t tell you if it’s a French wine or Italian.”
The wine industry is being extended in a different direction by Donald Pilla, a wry inventor in Burlington, Ontario, who packages a wine mix called Wonder Wine. It yields a gallon of wine for $ 1.89 “as easily as a cake mix makes cakes.” Pilla is selling his product through supermarkets because he believes drinking wine with a meal “should be a right, not a privilege.” Wine societies promote much the same notion—not the older food and gourmet clubs but the new ones like Vancouver’s Les Bons Viveurs. It has been around for four years now to get its members the best wines at the lowest cost. Nearly a thousand people made selections from the club’s annual bulletin last year.
While the Canadian enthusiasm for wine has some of the trappings of a fad, Ontario’s liquor board, for one, predicts that the “fad” will only grow stronger. It expects consumption to increase by nearly 50% over the next five years. And Peter Caudwell, publisher of The Wine Press, intends to spread the fad south of the border by opening a wine bar in New York—that city’s first—by early summer, before extending his chain to Atlanta and Washington. As one wine bar patron winked, “It’s clearly a case of the Little Apple taking a chunk out of the Big Apple.” KASPARS DZEGUZE
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