Will the Real Canadian Wine Please Stand Up?

Posted by: samy July 13, 2012 No Comments

The Truth Behind What’s in that International-Canadian Blend Bottle

Perhaps it’s the Canada Day long weekend that’s given the inspiration, or maybe the build up to I4C, or even the recent report by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency which reveals most Canadian have no idea what the term “Cellared in Canada” means, but lately a lot of people have been asking us what the difference is between the wines they find in the International-Canadian Blends section of the LCBO and the VQA section.

Admittedly, this is not the sexiest blog we’ve ever written, but as always, you ask and we respond. So here’s (almost) all you’ve ever wanted to know about the difference between VQA and International-Canadian Blends.

International-Canadian Blends

In Ontario, International-Canadian Blend wines can be made of mostly foreign grapes.

A few years ago, the LCBO changed the nebulous term “Cellared in Canada” to “International-Canadian Blends” in an effort to improve clarity for wine buyers.  Since we’re still getting questions about it, we don’t really think it helped all that much, but there you have it.

What it means is Canadian wineries can buy bulk wine grapes, or juice, produced on foreign soils, bottle the wine here and label it under that winery’s name.

In Ontario, these wines can contain 60% foreign grapes or juice. In BC, it can be 100% foreignly sourced.  In both provinces, the back label must show that the wine contains foreign grapes.

The advantage for wineries to do this is primarily cost savings: it allows a winery to put out an inexpensive wine under its own label — even if more than half its content was grown somewhere else.

International-Canadian Blends are a way to differentiate these wines from VQA wines, which are 100% Ontario or BC grapes.


Wines must meet strict regulations before they are awarded VQA status

VQA stands for Vintners Quality Alliance, it’s the wine authority in BC & Ontario that ensures provincially made wines meet a strict set of standards, and manages the wine appellations systems.

(All countries that make wine have a governing body that oversees their wine regions.  In France it’s the AOC, in Italy it’s the DOC, and so on).

VQA status is awarded to individual wines, not the wineries themselves.  To qualify, a wine must be submitted (every vintage its made) to an independent LCBO tasting panel for consideration.

You will know a wine is VQA certified because it will say so right on the bottle.


Well, as mentioned, it means all wines demarcated VQA have gone through testing by an independent panel to ensure it meets the standards laid out by the VQA, including:


Sub-appellations in Ontario are listed with a VQA on either side

In Ontario there are four major appellations: Niagara Peninsula, Prince Edward County, Lake Erie North Shore & Pelee Island.  Within each of those are several sub appellations (eg. St. David’s Bench, Beamsville Bench, etc.).

In BC, there are five viticulture areas: Okanagan, Vancouver Island, Fraser Valley, Similkameen Valley & Gulf Islands.  There are no official sub-appellations at this point.

Appellations, or wine growing regions, all have unique soils and micro climates, which give wines grown in those places distinct character, flavour and structure. Insiders call it “terroir.”

(Ever wonder why some Bordeaux or Burgundy wines are so sought-after they can demand hundreds of dollars a bottle?  A very large part of that reason is because the grapes are grown on revered sites, so its important to manage and monitor legally designated appellations closely).


VQA designations ensures what is listed on the label is what is in the bottle.

Both BC & Ontario require 100% provincial grapes used in VQA wine.

In both provinces, single varietal wines must contain at least 85% of that grape.

For dual varietal wines (eg. Sauvignon/Semillion), at least 90% of varietals named on the label.

Multi varietals must contain at least 95% of grape names stated.

If there is a vineyard or estate designation 100% of wines must come from this vineyard.

Wines listing a specific viticulture area on the label (eg. Okanagan Valley), must contain a minimum of 95% of grapes from that stated area.

To vintage date a wine, in Ontario a minimum of 85% of grapes must have come from year stated on label.  In BC, 95% of grapes must have come from that year.


The Canadian wines you choose to buy are obviously up to you, but like anything in life, it helps to have a bit of a background on what it is you’re buying, so you can make an informed choice.

Wines made with international grapes are produced by Canadian wineries, who employ Canadians, so ostensibly these wines still support local to some degree.

However, VQA wines are made entirely with grapes from the province from which they come, so buying those bottles are not only supporting local but VQA also ensures consumers are buying a quality product.

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