Wines of Canada | Book Review / by Brian Yost

The Wines of Canada, by Rod Phillips. London: Infinite Ideas (2017).

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When one thinks about Canada as a wine-producing nation, the first thoughts might be of ice wine. Of course the Canadian viticultural landscape cannot be defined so narrowly. Rod Phillips’ recent book, The Wines of Canada, presents readers with a story that is much richer than a single style of wine.

One might correctly guess from the first chapter that Phillips is a professor of history. As a good historian, he first establishes his subject within the grand narrative. In other words, Phillips places Canadian wine in its historic context. This is a story that begins with the arrival of the Vikings in 1000 CE, then through colonial attempts at winemaking and on to the present day. For over two millennia, it seems, wine played a part in the larger Canadian story.

In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, Phillips explains the political efforts to better define Canadian wine. This includes the loose system of federal and provincial regulation. In the end it is the lack of political will that forces grower’s associations to rescue the industry’s reputation. This topic might otherwise be deadly dull, but Phillips’ engaging style makes it accessible and a relatively lively read.

Historical and political background, it seems, are simply a brief prelude to the real purpose of Phillips’ work. The bulk of the pages are devoted to orienting the audience to the winemaking geography. From British Columbia to the Atlantic Provinces, the author summarizes the various regions, growing conditions and styles of wine. Some producers of note are added as additional reference.

In the end, it seems that this book deftly accomplishes multiple tasks. Tackling history, politics and geography in a single volume, Phillips gives us a book that is simultaneously an easy read and a desk reference. For anyone interested in exploring Canadian wine, The Wines of Canada, is an indispensable primer.