Canadians may consume beer and maple syrup by the gallon, but it appears we've also got a hearty appetite for wine.
According to research conducted on behalf of VinExpo, France's huge international wine fair, Canadian consumption of wine increased by almost 15 per cent between 2007 and 2011.
During that time, we polished off more than 518 million bottles. And we're apparently unstoppable. The report predicts we'll have guzzled another 610 million bottles by 2016.
In fact, the Canadian wine market is growing at a rate three times the world-wide average and is poised to become the fifth fastest-growing wine market in the next five years
Canadians' per capita wine consumption now sits at about
15 litres a year, far surpassing our neighbours to the south, who empty about 12 litres. But because of its sheer mass, the U.S. remains at the top in terms of overall consumption.
The true big drinkers of the product are France, Italy and Spain, which have an average per person of about 50 litres a year. Argentina has a hearty per capita rate of 45 litres, while England is at 25.
Perhaps Canadians have been draining the barrels and tanks to see us through the harsh winters. Or maybe it's an indication of a looming social problem. Whatever it is, our humble native land is now to be reckoned with when it comes to global wine-buying power.
It's a bright spot in an otherwise stagnant economy - at least for the world's wine producers, including those at home. They've no doubt been sweating the consumer-wide belt-tightening, particularly given that wine - while it might help get you through a tough day - isn't exactly a necessity.
Vinexpo chairman Xavier de Eizaguirre told Canadian media that the rise in wine consumption can be attributed in part to population growth.
"And you guys have been in pretty good shape in this terrible economic crisis, so I think it is a combination of factors, but it is indeed a market that is growing in all categories."
The study, titled Current Trends in the International Wine and Spirits Market and Outlook to 2016, contained some interesting observations. For example, foreign wine sales in Canada appear to levelled off, accounting for about 31.27 million cases in sold in 2011. That's actually slightly less than in 2007, despite the fact there were predictions we'd have reached the 37 million mark by now, according to the Current Trends in the International Wine and Spirits Market and Outlook to 2012. Now that bar has been set for 2016.
Perhaps the biggest surprise is that Italy has finally knocked France off its pedestal and is now Canada's leading wine supplier. De Eizaguirre thinks it's because Canadians crave Italian food.
"The Italian cuisine has almost become a cuisine of the world and obviously the Italian wines are following. There is a demand here in Canada which is growing bigger and bigger and bigger, which is partially due to that phenomenon."
We are also apparently partial to American, Chilean and Spanish wines, which grew at 42.75 per cent, 25.12 per cent and 26.82 per cent respectively in terms of sales value. And little old New Zealand has become the eighth-largest supplier of wines to Canada, almost doubling in sales between 2007 and 2011.
While these figures might be discouraging to local enthusiasts, domestic wines are no slouches either. Sales of home-grown products shot up almost 17 per cent and in B.C., our locally made wines have a pretty strong hold on buyers.
That's excellent news for regional producers. And though an official from VinExpo admitted the organization doesn't have a crystal ball given the volatility of the current economy, the forecast is bright.
The report also touches on price issues and emerging consumption trends, based on wine styles or varietals.
For example, the study found that wine enthusiasts are now typically spending $10 US or more per bottle - in Canada, that translates to 69.5 per cent of wines purchased. That's no big surprise to me, but what I do find puzzling is where the other 30 per cent is finding wines retailing for under 10 bucks.
As for buying trends, rose wines sales are booming in our country, leaping almost 40 per cent between 2007 and 2011. They still account for a tiny percentage of the overall wine market, but it's encouraging that Canadians are recognizing the quality and value of this often overlooked wine style.
And it appears sparkling wines aren't only being reserved for special occasions - Canadians are embracing the bubble. And this trend is expected to grow by almost 10 per by 2016.
Incidentally, VinExpo runs June 16-20 this year in Bordeaux, France. Check out vinexpo.com for details.
Julianna Hayes' Grape Expectations runs weekly in The Okanagan Sunday. Reach her at