Yesterday we introduced an exciting new addition to our Rascal family, Henry of Pelham, of Ontario, Canada. We learned about the history, the sustainable practice and the working relationship of the three Speck brothers.

But we couldn’t stop there! These guys certainly have a great story, but their wines stand out on a completely different level. We didn’t know what to expect when trying vino from snowy Canada. Perhaps some elegant, razor sharp whites, but certainly not the selection we got. Punchy like The Rock, as fruity as Pamela Anderson and as rambunctious as Jim Carrey, there was clearly a lot more to Canada than we (and many of you at London Wine Fair) expected!

So we decided to find out more about viticulture in Canada, particularly the Niagara area of lower Ontario, to which Henry of Pelham are so wonderfully wedded. In fact, Henry of Pelham lead the charge in implementing a VQA classification for that region; the first area of wine quality control in Canada!

But why listen to us when you can get it straight from the moose’s mouth. We asked Vice President Dan Speck about the VQA and more…

Firstly we’d love to know more about how Henry of Pelham were involved in the Niagara region’s VQA classification and why it was important to them at the time.

“When we started making wine 30 vintages ago (1988) there was no appellation law in Canada. We had no legal status for 100% authentic, locally grown wines. So with a few of our colleagues (Don Ziraldo of Inniskillin, Len Penechetti of Cave Spring Cellars etc — about 6 or 7 wineries) my brother Paul set to work on developing our wine law.


 We needed this to distinguish ourselves from wines that used terms like Ontario (and later BC came on board) for wines that were a blend if int’l and domestic juice. So the Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA) was born and gave credence to the various appellations, securing names like Ontario for VQA wines. It also established quality standards that must be achieved to get VQA certification.

 The most relevant appellations for us, in order of specificity, are: Ontario (our province), Niagara Peninsula (the main appellation in Ontario and even Canada), Niagara Escarpment (a collective of three bench appellations but not commonly used) and finally, Short Hills Bench (where our 300 acres are). These appellations helped us create a category, and ultimately premiumize our wines.”


How is the region different to the more typical climates in the wine world. We read that Lawrence, your winemaker has spent a lot of time learning winemaking across many countries in the old world and the new. What makes Canada stand out?

“First off, Canada really has two main wine regions that are about 3000 km apart. In the west, in the mountain interior of the province of British Columbia, is the Okanagan Valley. This is the northern tip of the Sonora Desert which runs all the way south to Mexico if I recall. The winters are cold but the summers intense — up to 40 C in Oliver. The season is compact and the wines are more Mediterranean, like most New World wine. And good too. There are other appellations in BC, but this is the main one


 Ontario is very different. There are three appellations, of which the Niagara Peninsula accounts for 98% of Ontario’s production and about 2/3 of Canada’s total wine-grape production. Niagara has a range of micro-climates, but overall it is more akin to a classic northern European climate like Burgundy/Champagne with some years getting heat units akin to Bordeaux/Napa. So it’s more of an Atlantic/Continental climate, and as such is different than almost any other New World wine region (as virtually all NW wine regions are Mediterranean). Ontario is like a classic Old World wine region in the New World, with average rainfall and heat accumulation akin to Beaune or Dijon, which is why we say on the back labels of Henry of Pelham ‘taste the new Old World’

The weather surely makes winemaking a tricky prospect, but there are even rumours of trouble from bears, cougars and black widow spiders in Canadian vineyards. Have you had any such trouble?

“Bears can be an issue in BC but not in our part of Ontario. Perhaps with cougars in BC, but in Ontario the only cougars are found in bars, and they wear lipstick. Not sure about black widows, even in BC. Our winters are pretty hard on insects, which is how we like it. Canada isn’t like Australia— almost nothing here wants to kill you — except the winter that is. The variability of our climate is the starting point of out discussion of terroir. It narrows the focus of varietals that we go. But what it really means is that our natural opportunity is to produce reds and whites with bright fruit flavours and aromatics. Our wines have brilliant acidity, and our reds have structure.”

There you go, a crash course on Canadian winemaking. Sounds good, eh?

There’s still one more thing we had to left to squeeze out of poor Dan. Look out in the coming days, as we’ll be grilling him on his mysterious, yet incredibly popular Baco Noir.