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Stamp of Approval (April 21, 2004)

The postage stamp you see on this page does not exist. But it should – and, thanks to your help, it could.

This is a mock-up of what an Icewine stamp might look like: this striking image of snow-covered Vidal grapes was taken by wine photographer Steven Elphick.

The time is right for Canada Post to recognize the Canadian icon wine that has brought enormous pleasure to thousands of wine lovers around the world and great prestige to our winemakers.

How do you go about getting a new stamp? According to its Customer Service department, "Canada Post invites suggestions for stamp subjects from all Canadians... On the advice of a Stamp Advisory Committee, the Corporation selects from several hundred suggestions each year, about twenty broad subjects or themes under which to issue in each calendar year about fifty individual stamps deemed most appropriate to meet public interest and business-related objectives."

Our flora and fauna and our institutions are endlessly feted on postage stamps; moose and beavers, universities and worthy associations – but, so far, Canada's greatest gift of winter has not been honoured.

Among the stamps put out on a monthly basis by the Post Office last year the following subjects enjoyed the spotlight: Bishops University, NHL All Stars, Canadian astronauts, Granby Zoo, Canadian volunteer firefighters, Audubon's birds... Surely there is room to celebrate Canada's unique product and our favourite export. Because Canada – blessed with a climate that allows for consistent production – is the world's largest source of this honeyed elixir.

Since 1991, when Inniskillin won the Prix d'honneur at Vinexpo for its Vidal Icewine 1989, Canadian Icewines have been bringing home the medals from international competitions by the barrelful. Not a competition goes by without one or another of our wineries walking off with the top prize in the dessert wine category.

British Columbia, not Ontario, was the first region to produce Icewine in Canada. In his book, Icewine: The Complete Story, my colleague John Schreiner recounts how the late Walter Hainle made his first Icewine from Okanagan Riesling in 1973. "It became an annual tradition," writes Schreiner. "In 1988 when the Hainle Vineyards winery opened... the vintages for sale included 256 bottles of 1978 Icewine."

For the 2003 harvest B.C. wineries set aside almost 200 acres of grapes for Icewine; twenty wineries produced them. With the 2003 label Hainle Vineyards is celebrating the release of its 25th anniversary bottling.

Ontario is the world's largest producer of Icewine, with over 60 wineries involved in the miraculous business of turning frozen, desiccated grapes into lusciously sweet wine. Last year Ontario vintners crushed 4,089 tonnes of Icewine grapes, mainly Vidal and Riesling along with Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris and the rare Cabernet Franc. The value of Ontario Icewine exports is close to $7 million, although this figure represents a mere 0.8 per cent of the province's total wine production.

Approximately 75 per cent of Icewine produced in Ontario is exported, particularly to Japan, Taiwan and Hong Kong. So desirable is it in these markets that a flourishing grey market in counterfeit Icewine has developed. When I was in China two years ago I saw dozens of knock-off products on department store shelves. They looked exactly like the real thing, down to the bottle shape and their labels, but they tasted of sweet labrusca juice and alcohol.

These faux wines are causing concern among Canada's wineries, who fear the illegal trade will compromise the image of a unique wine. Scientists at Brock University's Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute are half way through a four-year study to create scientific models that will enable them to distinguish the genuine article from bathtub products made in basement freezers. The federally-funded study is costing $1 million. As I write, four Taiwanese wine journalists are touring the Niagara Peninsula to learn about genuine Canadian Icewines.

But back to the postage stamp concept. Let's honour a product that is as Canadian as maple syrup. To this end, I started a petition on my website urging Canada Post to accept the idea of an Icewine stamp. The petition gathered nearly 900 signatures and has been sent to the Stamp Design Committee of Canada Post. In fact, I hope they produce a series of stamps of different denominations that can be sent within Canada, to the United States, to Europe and the Far East. What more fitting an image to show the world that Canada truly is a wine-growing country? Especially when glued to a Christmas card.




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