By Sarah Moore
Charles Bénard is close to the wine industry, but far from home.
His parents manage the Champagne Bénard-Pitois vineyard and winery in France, and Bénard himself is a second-year student at AgroSup Dijon, the French national institute for food and agronomic sciences. But for his internship he chose to come to Canada, specifically to Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI).
“Brock and CCOVI works a lot on wines, and since I am from Champagne, I didn’t see a lot of different methods [at home],” he said. “I saw that Canada makes a lot of wines with different grapes, so I said it would be great to observe this in another country with different methods than in Champagne.”
The young French national is a sign of the times. Google the name Denis Bunner, and the deputy cellar manager from France’s renowned Bollinger Champagne pops up in blogs, articles, and conference notes from South Africa to Britain to Finland.
Bunner recently came to Canada for the first time when he attended the Shaping Bubbles seminar, where 50 winemakers gathered to hear European industry leaders talk shop about Champagne, Prosecco and other production methods of sparkling wine. The event, sponsored and organized by Nuance Winery Supplies, was part of a growing calendar of industry events held at CCOVI that attract Canadian and global speakers and students from places like Australia, Germany, and France to host workshops, contribute to discussions or participate in seminars.
Last summer, CCOVI’s rising profile also helped Canada’s first-ever successful bid to host the International Cool Climate Wine Symposium. The event, which will be held at Brock in 2020, takes place every four years and attracts hundreds of grape and wine researchers, trade professionals and media from wine regions around the world.
At the Shaping Bubbles seminar, Bunner — who split keynote duties with Italian winemaker and industry consultant Marcello Galetti — welcomed the opportunity to share his decades-old practices with a Canadian audience, but says he also learned a few things from the industry here in Ontario, too.
“I have a culture of sharing knowledge and craftsmanship,” said Bunner, “and I think it’s interesting to show people another way of doing things.
“(But) it was also very interesting to see how you prevent frost in your country and the different products you can have. You are in a good climate position to produce sparkling wines, you have this freshness and fineness — which are important for sparkling wines.”
Sparkling wine is hugely popular with consumers, and the Shaping Bubbles seminar examined how Canadian products are pushing their way into the spotlight. While famous names like Champagne and Prosecco still command a large share of retail shelf space, domestic brands are rivaling the Europeans. In Ontario, overall sales of Ontario VQA sparkling wines are up 13 per cent over last year, and Vintage VQA sparkling wine sales have increased by a remarkable 25 per cent.
In this era of new market opportunities, Thierry Lemaire, who owns the Canadian company Nuance Winery Supplies, sponsored the Shaping Bubbles seminar, brought in the speakers and worked with CCOVI senior oenologist Belinda Kemp, who prepared a presentation analyzing the rise of Ontario sparkling wines in a bubbling sparkling market.
“CCOVI is the natural place where people come with questions,” he said. “They are centered in the industry, and a lot is happening here. People recognize that, and they want to be a part of it.”