Global sparkling wine sales are exploding

By / Magazine / April 26th, 2018 / 10

Bubbly. Fizz. Champers. Whatever you happen to call the self-appointed beverage of celebration, know this: sparkling wine sales around the world are exploding.

One in 10 bottles of wine sold globally now has bubbles — a statistic driven, no doubt, by the phenomenal success of Prosecco and the equally impressive sales curve of Spanish Cava.

In North America last year, sales of Champagne — it should be tautological by now to have to describe it as “French Champagne” — were up by 10 percent. The only explanation is that the world must be in party mode. (Conversely, in Britain, Champagne sales were down by nine percent last year — probably because the British have nothing to celebrate.)

The world-wide love affair with bubbles has inspired Canadian producers to start making sparkling wines on an unprecedented scale.

Some winemakers here follow the traditional Champagne process of secondary fermentation in the bottle, which requires a process called riddling to remove the dead yeast cells. This is either done by hand or mechanically. Others employ the less costly cuvée close or Charmat method by which the secondary fermentation is carried out in large stainless-steel tanks and the wine is then drawn off into the bottle under pressure to preserve the mousse.

Why, I wonder, has it taken so long for Canadian wineries to jump on this jovial bandwagon? After all, our wine producing regions share a climate that is ideally suited for the production of sparkling wines.

The base wine for champagne and other sparklers has to be high in acidity. This means that the grapes destined for sparkling wine are harvested earlier than those that are to be fermented into still table wines. With their high acidity and low sugar levels these early-picked grapes produce a wine that would make your face pucker — but that’s what you want as the base wine for sparklers.

Most producers of bubblies look for between 17 and 19 percent brix levels (sugar readings) at harvest, as opposed to 22 to 24 percent brix needed for dry table wines.

Given the vagaries of the Canadian weather in the fall, growers are happy to get their grape harvest safely in for sparkling wines rather than take the gamble of leaving the bunches to hang on the vine into October for extra ripeness.

It’s difficult to track the number of wineries in Canada that currently produce sparkling wine. The four wine growing regions in the country use different figures and there’s little research available about Quebec’s production.

What I could gather from surfing the net is that some 100 wineries in British Columbia now make sparkling wines.

In Ontario, according to the VQA’s annual report for 2017, wineries made 104 sparkling products — an increase of 85 percent over the previous year. The number of wineries producing these wines rose from 47 in 2013 to 68 this year. And look for more in vintages to come.

Ten of Nova Scotia’s twenty wineries currently make sparkling wines (and some of the best in the country — witness Benjamin Bridge, Blomidon Estate, Grand Pré, Lightfoot & Wolfville and L’Acadie Vineyards).

At my count, 16 Quebec wineries are currently making sparkling wines.

Looking at the category as a whole, there are some interesting outliers. The production of sparkling Icewines (a world first for Canada) led by Inniskillin and Magnotta. Then there is the use of Icewine as the dosage (the sweetening wine) for Peller Estates Ice Cuvée Sparkling White and Rosé.

So you can expect to see more Canadian sparkling wine on store racks. And with a bit of luck they might just knock Pinot Grigio off its undeserved pedestal. (Ok, so sue me — I’m not a great fan of Pinot Grigio.)


Tony Aspler, Order of Canada recipient, has been writing about wine since 1975. He is the author of 18 wine books, including The Wine Atlas of Canada and three wine murder mystery novels. The best concert he ever attended was Rush with the Tragically Hip as the opening band. His favourite comfort food is milk chocolate and his cocktail of choice is a Kir Royale. At home, he drinks wine (lots of wine).

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