Heard it Through the Grapevine: with Dr. Belinda Kemp

We had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Belinda Kemp at the Terroir Symposium here in Toronto. Belinda is a wine scientist who received her PhD from Lincoln University in New Zealand. In July 2013, the Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI) at Brock University, Ontario recruited Dr. Kemp to apply her extensive research and hands-on experience to the Canadian grape and wine industry – and we couldn’t be more lucky!

Since joining CCOVI, Belinda’s research has focused heavily on sparkling wine production here in Ontario – investigating the effects of sugar and dosage, and the influences that different grape clones and soil types have on sparkling wine flavour. She organizes the legendary “Fizz Club,” which is a club for current – and prospective – Ontario sparkling winemakers that supports knowledge and experience sharing. Not only that, but Dr. Kemp serves on the VQA Ontario Standards Development Committee and Sparkling Wine Rules Committee.

Intrigued, we were fizzing with excitement to meet Dr. Kemp and to get her scientific take on what the 2017 Terroir Symposium called the “Explosion of Canadian Fizz”! Check out our full interview with Belinda below…

Can you tell us a little bit about your passion for sparkling wine?

Well, like most people, for me it started with tasting and drinking it! I studied and made sparkling wine during my undergraduate degree, but my passion for it increased dramatically in 2010 when I returned to the United Kingdom from New Zealand to take up a position at Plumpton College. I was stunned by the quality of some of the English and Welsh sparkling wines! Also, working with Prof. Richard Marchal from the University of Reims made me realise that there was a gap between the science and chemistry of sparkling wine and in-depth understanding that changes made at each stage of sparkling wine production can have on the final wine.

What do you think makes Ontario such a great place to produce sparkling wine?

The wide range of vineyard sites, the incredible vintage differences (which can be both challenging and rewarding), plus the amazing enthusiasm, and cooperation of Ontario winemakers. The winemakers are both friends and colleagues, willing to help and share their knowledge together for the benefit of the Ontario wine industry.

At CCOVI you’ve worked hard to advance the conversation around sparkling wine in Ontario through “Fizz Club”. Can you tell us a little bit more about the club?

Absolutely! “Fizz Club” is a private, closed door, outreach program specifically for Ontario winemakers (although will be extended to all provinces this year) producing or looking to produce sparkling wine. It is usually based around a day of learning and knowledge sharing, with the aim of working together to advance the quality of Ontario sparkling wine. The focus of “Fizz Club” is on the winemakers, and the dynamics and knowledge transfer that takes place is specific to their needs.

I usually start the day at “Fizz Club” with a presentation on the latest sparkling wine research results from around the world. The presentation puts the research into the Ontario context and highlights important trends and findings for possible use here. I also share the latest CCOVI sparkling wine research and, of course, include a tasting of our experimental wines! Further tastings of the winemakers’ base wines, wines aging on yeast lees or finished sparkling wines happens in the afternoon. We often include a research update from one of our CCOVI researchers, or our collaborative partners, regarding vineyard, marketing and/or sales studies and the relevance to Ontario winemakers.

“Fizz Club” is also where CCOVI generates its research topics: from Ontario winemakers themselves!

Speaking of “Fizz Club”, what’s your most memorable experience from it?

Oh, every time I taste a new release and learn that the winemakers used knowledge derived from “Fizz Club” in its production! This has actually happened quite a lot in the past year as we are now seeing new wines being released onto the market.

Interest in sparkling wine has grown exponentially in the past few years here in Ontario, how have you noticed consumer habits change?

I have seen Ontario sparkling wine sales increase at the LCBO on an annual basis. More and more wines are being released each year. We will have more insight soon because my colleague, Dr. Narongsak (Tek) Thongpapanl at Brock University, has been studying Ontario consumer sparkling wine habits and preferences!

Where do you think the sparkling wine industry in Ontario is headed in the next 5-10 years?

I think we will start seeing the evolution of more Ontario-specific styles. Also, I think we will see some styles decrease in popularity, due to consumer preferences and demand while others will increase their market share. There are a number of wines with long lees aging (7-10 years +) which will be released over the next few years, as well as fruity, fresh, younger styles from specific varieties which are increasing in production in accordance with demand. We are still finding our way here in Ontario on vineyard site potential, grape varieties and our own market demand, which at the moment is predominantly within Canada.

Do you think that Ontario sparkling wines have the potential to compete on a global scale?

Certainly, some can without a doubt! But, not all our sparkling wines are made for international palates, we have a wide range of styles in Ontario, some are made to be consumed by the local market and packaged accordingly or in our restaurants in the area and Toronto. We do not seem to enter many sparkling wines into the international wine competitions, but I suspect that entries will increase in the next few years as production volumes increase and more of the longer lees aged bottle-fermented wines start being released!

If you were to order a glass of sparkling wine at a restaurant, what would it be?

Tough question, and I cannot possibly say except it depends which country I am in and what is on the wine list! But, I always try to go for something I have never tried before!

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Dr. Belinda Kemp