And while many might think of The Great White North, or anything above the 49th parallel, as a frozen wasteland unsuitable for viticulture—they’d be sadly mistaken.
“The areas of British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia that are suitable are exceptional. People are usually surprised to learn that the Okanagan Valley [in BC] is a desert and reaches over 40ºC in the summer, and even parts of Niagara have longer growing seasons than the Bordeaux average.” For such a vast country, wine regions are very small however, and produce limited quantities. They do so well locally that they have little need to export —something Paquin and Heavenly Vines would like to change.
“Tokyo is the right place for these wines given the city’s appreciation of high-quality, hand-crafted food and drink from around the world,” he says. “The time is right, as well, since major international wine writers are taking serious interest in Canadian wines. Matt Kramer of US magazine Wine Spectator recently described Ontario as ‘the least-known, great wine region in the world.’”
Heavenly Vines’ offerings won’t break the bank—not all of them, anyway—but this isn’t your local bottle shop. On the night I stopped by, Paquin had graciously opened a 2008 Desert Hills Malbec from the Okanagan Valley for customers to taste. “We have no interest in flogging wines for their own sake—our passion lies in wines of distinction,” he notes, purposefully swirling the Malbec around in an unobtrusive glass. “We want the wines we import to Japan to grab people’s attention rather than merely serving as a token of Canadiana.” I take a big hit of the dark ruby colored red. A slap of oak is followed by a velvety cascade of dark summer fruits trailing over my tongue, the famous cherries and brambleberries of the region. Attention sufficiently grabbed.
Currently in his portfolio is two-time Canadian Winery of the Year Tawse Winery from Niagara, as well as some of Norman Hardie’s Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, the latter of which was named by Wine Spectator as a “top 3 world wine” in 2011.
And word is spreading. Heavenly Vines now supplies hotels such as the Four Seasons Marunouchi, Mandarin Oriental, Grand Hyatt Roppongi Hills, Kimono Wine Bar and Grill, and exclusive wine bars like Petit Paris in Kagurazaka and Bar Olivino in Meguro. “More recently we’ve partnered with Café Celi in Ebisu to showcase Canadian wines by the glass and bottle,” concludes Paquin. “Owners Desmond Soon, also Canadian, and Kazue Shu now have Tokyo’s most diverse Canadian wine list at very reasonable prices.”
2-29-5 Ebisu-minami, Shibuya-ku. Tel: 03-5773-5033. Nearest st: Ebisu. www.facebook.com/heavenlyvines