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Wily consumers will look to domestic sparkling wines as summer heats up

Commentary

The French city of Rheims is the centre of Champagne production. It lies right at the 49th Parallel North, east of Paris.

Conventional wisdom states that the vitis vinifera, or common wine grapes, can only be grown in temperate climates between 30 and 50 degrees of latitude. Global warming is stretching this zone northward, but of the major wine regions of the world Champagne is certainly considered to be a “cool climate” growing zone.

Some regular wine, especially Pinot Noir, is made in Champagne, but its cool climate really does make it best suited to sparkling wines, particularly those made in the traditional Champagne way. When yeast turns sugar into alcohol the byproduct of that fermentation is carbon dioxide.

I have been in wineries when grape juice was being turned into wine and got dizzy from all the extra CO2. The bubbles in most sparkling wines come from that process, but in this case a second fermentation is kickstarted by the winemaker, who adds a dose of sugar to the wine in the bottle.

It’s thought that Champagne became the centre of sparkling wine production in the 17th century when glass bottles became widely used. Wine that had stopped fermenting because of cold winter weather was put into bottles, and started fermenting again when warm spring weather restarted the process. In any event, to counter balance the sugar added for the second fermentation that makes the wine sparkling, it’s best to begin with a wine that is strongly acidic. High acidity is a hallmark of cool climate wines.

The effect of cool climate on Champagne was not lost on wine producers in this country. The bigger producers all make some kind of sparkling wine in the “traditional method.” And there are smaller, family-run wineries across Canada making sparkling wines, with centres of excellence in the Annapolis Valley, Niagara Peninsula and Okanagan Valley.

Champagne is famously a luxury item, and like most luxury products, its consumers are willing to pay high prices for a guarantee of quality.

According to the Comité Champagne website, the latest production numbers were for a bit more than 230,000,000 bottles annually. (Most Champagne is “non-vintage” and made by blending wines made in different years, so presumably this figure is fairly stable.) Consumption is about evenly split between France and export markets.

In France there are many smaller houses that compete for consumers, including “grower Champagnes” made by the families that tend the vines. The export markets, however, are dominated by handful of large producers who buy grapes from multiple sources. So, while Champagne may be a luxury brand, what’s sold in Canada is made on a scale much more in line with a mass consumer product.

This summer in Canada looks to be one of celebration. Families and friends will be reunited after months of little or no contact. Milestones and accomplishments will be toasted and people will get together safely under the cover of vaccination. Bottles of sparkling wine will be opened and enjoyed. Many consumers will pay more for the sparkling wines that come from Champagne. But many wily ones will instead look to domestic bubbles made in the traditional method, that cost less and come from one of the cool climate regions within our borders.

Three pioneering Canadian sparkling wine families and producers that are widely available across Canada are:

Benjamin Bridge in Nova Scotia: https://benjaminbridge.com/

Henry of Pelham in Ontario: https://henryofpelham.com/

Blue Mountain Vineyard and Cellars in British Columbia: https://www.bluemountainwinery.com/

Opinion: It’s a bad sign when elites are adopting Chinese Communist Party rhetoric

Commentary

Here we go again.

Lately, there have been some in the commentator class who seem to have forgotten the hard lessons about dealing with China that we have slowly, painfully, and collectively learned over the past two-and-a-half years.

Ever since the lawful arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in Canada, and the retaliatory hostage-taking of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor by China, we have experienced firsthand the true nature of the Chinese Communist Party.

While engaging in hostage diplomacy is the most obvious example, we cannot forget the PRC is still using economic coercion against our agriculture sector. Beijing is also involved in routine foreign disinformation, interference and influence operations in Canada, as well as coercing diaspora communities in Canada to serve PRC regime purposes, such as the illegal transfer of sensitive Canadian technologies to China. What’s more, Beijing engages in cyber attacks and espionage against Canada and our democratic friends around the world.

In recent years, the PRC regime has stealthily acquired considerable editorial control of most Chinese language media in Canada.

Last week’s forced closure of Hong Kong’s Apple Daily with the arrest of its founder, Jimmy Lai, and his brave journalist colleagues means the last Chinese language source of informed, unbiased commentary on China’s Communist Party’s policies, hidden agendas and political corruption has been silenced. The Apple Daily was a key rallying point for upholding true Chinese liberal democracy. The tragedy of its demise cannot be overstated. The PRC has crushed a once thriving democracy in Hong Kong.

The kidnapping of Kovrig and Spavor is symptomatic of the kind of regime that we are dealing with. It threatens neighbours with its growing military. It is quite clearly engaging in genocide against its Uyghur population. These horrendous affronts against the liberal world order are all linked as the CCP seeks to establish global dominance at the expense of Canada and our democratic allies.

Despite all this, and despite Canadians’ increasing suspicion of the regime in Beijing, we still see all sorts of painfully bad takes on China in Western media that pretend to ignore these hard lessons. Take for instance the recent Globe and Mail article by University of British Columbia professor Paul Evans and Senator Yuen Pau Woo, who have adopted the Chinese Communist Party’s rhetoric wholesale.

Just like the PRC’s own apologists, Evans and Woo claim that criticism of the domestic and international policies of the PRC regime in China is driving anti-Chinese racism in Canada. Yes, some researchers did find that discrimination against Chinese Canadians has been on the rise since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, but Evans and Woo are wrong to twist the story by using such findings to deflect criticism of Beijing.

Evans and Woo suggest that raising concerns about the CCP’s foreign disinformation and propaganda wing, the United Front Work Department, is not only exaggerated but contributes to “racial profiling and stigmatization.” Yet they offer little detail on how this criticism, often from highly reputable sources like Western intelligence agencies and scholars and experts on national security, is exaggerated as opposed to being fair and well-reasoned.

The authors ignore the fact that many of the regime’s most passionate critics are themselves of Chinese descent.

In their flawed logic, condemning the broad scope of belligerent and deplorable actions of the regime “sensationalizes” China to the detriment of the Chinese people. In so doing, they take a tactic from the CCP’s own playbook, as accusations of “sensationalism” are often used by the Chinese government against their own critics, at home and abroad.

The same can be said about their casual dismissal of concerns about “elite capture” (influence by the regime over Canadian political and business leaders) as a modern-day equivalent of McCarthyism, or their willingness to condemn the FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice for investigating and prosecuting professors and researchers of Chinese descent for espionage. In this view, the “toxic atmosphere” is not caused by China’s sharp power tactics against Canada and the U.S., but by those who point them out.

Chinese, Tibetan, Uyghur and Hong Kong critics of the Chinese regime routinely face bullying and intimidation, including threats of death or sexual violence, right here in Canada. But this does not concern the authors of the Globe article. Rather, they argue that Canada needs to show greater tolerance for views that are indistinguishable from the propaganda of the regime; otherwise, they warn, Chinese Canadians will face discrimination.

The authors ignore the fact that many of the regime’s most passionate critics are themselves of Chinese descent. They neglect to mention that the principal oppressor of the Chinese people is in fact the CCP itself. Calling this out is not racist; it is empowering to those who live in China and risk imprisonment for merely expressing opinions that the regime finds distasteful.

Worse still, this article from Evans and Woo is hardly an isolated statement from the authors; it certainly is not out of character. Most recently, Woo doubled down on repeating the rhetoric used by the wolf warriors in China’s Embassy in Ottawa, arguing that Canada cannot be critical of China’s ongoing genocide in Xinjiang due to Canada’s own deeply problematic history with residential schools.

This classic whataboutism is obviously not concerned about racial inequality or the wellbeing of Indigenous peoples, but again, defending the PRC regime against criticism for its abhorrent human rights abuses. The fact of Canada’s appalling history of gross mistreatment of indigenous peoples makes us Canadians even more sensitized to the evil of crimes against humanity being committed by autocratic racist regimes in China and elsewhere in the world. Woo has it exactly backwards.

Let’s not be fooled by the Chinese regime’s propaganda: President Xi and his Communist Party cronies are not our friends, they have no intention of treating us as equals, and they will go to great lengths to achieve ends that are fundamentally opposed to our interests and values.

Chinese people, and the Chinese diaspora in Canada and around the world, are the ones who will suffer most if we ignore these truths and choose instead the perverse path of appeasement.