Before the late ‘80s, the wine shelves in Canadian liquor stores looked drastically different than they do today. Selection was much more limited. You could choose between table blends (including both jugs such as Carlo Rossi and riesling imitators Schloss Leiderhame and Black Tower), expensive French varieties, and “pop wines.”
Those belonging to this last variety were syrupy sweet, sparkling whites with alcohol content around seven percent. Designed for easy drinking at ice cold temperatures, they were extremely popular. And Baby Duck is responsible for starting the trend.
Hungarian immigrant Andrew Peller founded Andres Wines in 1962 in the BC community of Port Moody. Later, his family would become known for Peller Estates. But early on, Peller was the force behind the Duck.
In 1967, Andres began selling a wine called Chante. It sold in red, white and rose varieties, and boasted a low alcohol content. It would be the rough sketch for Baby Duck. Andres had more success in 1971 with the creation of Cold Duck.
Cold Duck was a twelve per cent blend of cheap sparkling white and burgundy wines that was hugely popular in the USA. Andres couldn’t secure a patent for the name in Canada, however, and soon imitators popped up. What’s more, because of its relatively high alcohol content, Cold Duck was taxed at $2.50 per gallon, which seriously cut into profits.
The solution? Cannibalize the unsuccessful Chante and make something new. By blending Chante’s red and white varieties, Andres created a russet-hued, seven per cent sparkling wine for which they were taxed only twenty five cents per gallon. They took care to immediately patent the name Baby Duck.
It was hugely popular. By 1980, it had sold more than 60 million bottles in Canada. Imitators appeared: Fuddle Duck, Luv-a-Duck, Baby Bear, Baby Deer and Pink Flamingo were just a few of the more colourfully-named off-brand varieties. Often Baby Duck is referred to as Baby Duck Champagne - but in fact, it's not truly Champagne.
By 1983, though, the Duck had peaked. Sales began going downhill. Maybe consumers were regretting the saccharine hangovers of their youths; maybe tastes were just changing. Either way, the budget wine market began moving toward dry table blends. And by the beginning of the ‘90s, in order to compete with Californian imports, the Canadian government was pushing growers to switch from labrusca and French hybrids to vinis vinifera grapes. The Canadian wine renaissance was under way, and Baby Duck was left in the lurch.
However, Baby Duck is still available. Despite its sinking sales, the product has survived unchanged into the modern day. Whether you’re looking to revisit your youth, or dip into the Canadian wine’s sugary history, it’s still possible to hunt down a bottle of the Duck. Our Baby Duck review? Don’t come quacking to us the morning after.
Here are some alternative bubbles to consider: