Ontario’s Trending Wineries

These are some wines and wineries which have been in the spot light for doing good things during the past year or so and would be worth while checking out if you have the opportunity.

The wineries presented here are based on my own interpretation of critic reviews and award results over the past year or so.  However, the overview of each winery is based on information provided directly from the winery.

Unfortunately not all of the wines mentioned will be found in your local wine or liquor store.  Many have to be obtained or ordered directly from the winery using their web site. Some can be found in select restaurants. I have included wines that have since been sold out in order to note that future releases of these wines should receive due consideration.

In order to be unbiased, the wineries are being presented in alphabetical order.

Big Head Wines

According to their web site, Big Head is a family of passionate individuals that love all things vinous. They have been making wine in the Niagara area for over a decade, and this is their first project on their own. They source only the best fruit from the Niagara region, working closely with growers that share their attention to detail and pursuit of the highest quality.

The wines of recent notoriety:

  • 2018 Gewurztraminer – Sold out
  • 2017 Chardonnay Stainless – Sold out
  • 2017 RAW Syrah – $48 at the winery
  • 2016 Special Select Late Harvest Riesling – $38 at the winery
  • 2017 RAW Chenin Blanc  – $38 at the winery

Creekside Estate Winery

Creekside Estate Winery opened in 1997 in small-town Jordan, Ontario.  The Winery is run by industry veterans who have decades of experience in their respective fields.

The wines of recent notoriety:

  • 2017 Iconoclast Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon – $23 at the winery, sold out at the LCBO
  • 2016 Broken Press Syrah Reserve – $55 at the winery
  • 2015 Broken Press Syrah Reserve – Sold out

Flat Rock Cellars

Flat Rock Cellars vineyard produces low yields, utilizes progressive viticulture practices and hand picking and sorting of the grapes.

Founded in 1999 on a section of the Niagara Escarpment known as the Jordan Bench, Flat Rock Cellars is located on a gently rolling slope.

Their predominant wine is red.  The rocks that are the geological foundation of the winery and found throughout the property are the roots of the Flat Rock Cellars name.

When Coyote’s Run was sold and closed, Dave Sheppard returned to Flat Rock and is back at the helm of winemaking – and for Flat Rock this is an amazing coup.

The wines of recent notoriety:

  • 2015 Gravity Pinot Noir – $50 at the winery
  • 2017 Chardonnay – $19.95 at Vintages at the LCBO

Hidden Bench Estate Winery

The critically acclaimed estate winery is in the heart of the Beamsville Bench. Premium wines are crafted using only certified organic estate fruit with sustainable, non-interventionist winemaking techniques.

They create only 100% estate grown wines in two series: the Estate Series, which are blends of their three vineyards; and the Terroir Series, which are single vineyard and/or barrel selection, limited production wines.

They produce 100% estate premium Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Riesling.

The wines of recent notoriety:

  • 2017 Pinot Noir Unfiltered – Sold Out
  • 2016 Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard – $42.20 at the winery
  • 2017 Estate Chardonnay – $29.95 at the winery
  • 2016 Chardonnay Tête de Cuvée – $48.20 at the winery
  • 2016 Riesling Felseck Vineyard – $30.20 at the winery

Konzelmann Estate

The winery began in the small German town of Uhlbach near the turn of the 19th century, when a restauranteur named Frederick Konzelmann left the culinary trade to pursue the craft of winemaking. By 1984 the Konzelmann family immigrated to Canada, purchased a lakefront peach orchard and created the vineyard.

The wines of recent notoriety:

  • 2017 Lakefront Series Pinot Blanc – Sold out
  • 2016 Meritage Reserve – Sold out

Leaning Post Wines

Leaning Post began as a virtual winery and is proud to now have the quaint tasting room at 1491 Hwy 8 on their home property in Winona, Ontario.  Ilya and Nadia are the brains and passion behind Leaning Post Wines. It started with a dream to take unique, interesting single vineyard blocks in Niagara and turn them into distinctive, terroir driven wines.

Ilya has been a winemaker in the Niagara Region for the last 17 vintages working at Daniel Lenko Estate Winery, Foreign Affair and now at Leaning Post Wines. Ilya is also a consulting winemaker at the Good Earth Winery.

The wines of recent notoriety:

  • 2017 Chardonnay Senchuk Vineyard – Sold Out
  • 2016 Chardonnay Clone 96 – Sold out

Malivoire Winery

The winery began in 1995 with the purchase of what is now known as the Moira Vineyard, followed by the acquisition of the larger property where the winery now stands. Original plantings of Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, Gamay and Pinot Noir were supplemented in the following years by additional vinifera varieties. Today Malivoire operates at the top of its capacity, producing twenty-four thousand cases of wine per year.

The wines of recent notoriety:

  • 2016 Stouck Merlot – Sold out
  • 2017 Old Vines Foch – $26.95 at the winery
  • 2016 Pinot Noir, Small Lot – Sold out
  • 2016 Courtney Gamay – Sold out

Marynissen Estates

Marynissen Estates has its roots deeply embedded in the soil of Niagara-on-the-Lake. Located in the Four Mile Creek sub appellation, the estate is home to the oldest commercial planting of Cabernet Sauvignon in Canada. The property, an old pig barn, was purchased in 1953 by viticulture pioneer John Marynissen and his wife Adrianna. John and Adrianna began growing their own grapes in 1976, planting the classic European vinifera grape varietals Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Merlot and Gamay Noir.  There focus is on small-lot winemaking. 

The wines of recent notoriety:

  • 2015 Heritage Collection Red – $34.95 at the winery
  • 2015 Platinum Series  Pinot Noir – Sold out

Megalomaniac

The winery first opened its cellar doors to the public in 2009. All operations from harvest to administration and even tastings took place in the underground cellar. Today, guests experience the Megalomaniac portfolio within a newly constructed establishment built above the original cellar.

The wines of recent notoriety:

  • Bubblehead Sparkling Pinot Noir – $34.95 at the winery
  • 2017 Coldhearted Riesling Icewine – $39.95 at the winery
  • 2018 Sparkling Personality – $19.95 at the LCBO
  • 2016 Big Mouth Merlot – Sold out

Peller Estates Niagara-on-the-Lake

At the age of 58, thirty-four years after arriving in Canada, Andrew Peller’s modest Okanagan vineyard inspired a vision for the entire family and he opened wineries in British Columbia, Ontario and Nova Scotia.

The wines of recent notoriety:

  • 2018 Private Reserve Sauvignon Blanc – Sold out
  • 2017 Andrew Peller Signature Series Riesling – Sold out

Rosehall Run Vineyards

Dan and Lynn Sullivan, with support from Cam Reston, founded Rosehall Run in 2000.  The 150-acre farm was selected due to its proximity to Lake Ontario.  One of the earliest Prince Edward County wineries established in the west central region known as Hillier Ward; planting of the vineyard began in 2001 with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  Today there are 25 acres of vinifera including Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewurztraminer, Muscat and Tempranillo.

The wines of recent notoriety:

  • 2017 JCR Pinot Noir – $39.95 at the winery
  • 2016 Cabernet Franc Single Vineyard – $34.95 at the winery

Tawse Winery

Situated on the lower slopes of the Niagara Escarpment, Tawse is a family-owned organic and biodynamic winery, voted Canada’s Winery of the Year in 2010, 2011, 2012 & 2016. Founder Moray Tawse purchased 6 acres on the Cherry Avenue property in 2001. In 2005 he opened his state-of-the-art winery, complete with a six-level, gravity-flow design, geo-thermal system and a wetland bio-filter. The inspiration for his first Niagara property came from his love of Burgundian Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Uniting traditional winemaking techniques with state-of-the-art technology, Tawse is dedicated to producing terroir-driven wines of exceptional elegance, depth and character.

The wines of recent notoriety:

  • 2015 Meritage – Sold out
  • 2016 Riesling Sketches of Niagara – $19.95 at the winery or the LCBO
  • 2015 Chardonnay, Robyn’s Block – Sold out
  • 2013 Lenko Vineyard Chardonnay – Sold out
  • 2015 David’s Block Cabernet Franc – Sold out
  • Tawse 2013 Quarry Road Chardonnay – Sold out

The Foreign Affair

In 2000, taking a leap of faith, Len and Marisa Crispino bought prime farmland in the Vineland area of the Niagara Peninsula starting their journey to becoming one of the pioneers of appassimento in Canada. They then sourced quality vinifera varietals from Europe (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Riesling) and after three years, the first crop was harvested in 2004.

When the grapes have fully ripened, the best bunches are hand harvested and placed gently in single layers on racks to air dry in their drying barns. They are left to dry naturally until their weight is reduced to approximately half, which can take between 2 and 3 months. The grapes are then hand sorted and crushed. This process concentrates the ripe flavours and adds the full-bodied character they are so well known for.

The wines of recent notoriety:

  • 2015 Dream (red) – Sold out
  • 2015 Temptress (red) – Sold out

The Organized Crime Winery

This small boutique winery is located on the Beamsville Bench of the Niagara Peninsula. Their parcel of south-facing land lies over the hillside edges of the Bench, and provides an ideal environment for cool climate winegrowing.

They farm the land themselves and assist in the winemaking throughout all stages of the process. Production volumes are very small. They lean towards the passion side of the business, rather than the commercial.

The wines of recent notoriety:

  • 2017 Cuvée Krystyna Chardonnay – Sold out
  • 2017 Limestone Block Chardonnay – $21 at the winery
  • 2016 Cabernet Franc – $42 at the winery

Thirty Bench Wine Makers

“The Bench” is a narrow plateau that slopes gradually from the cliff of the Niagara Escarpment. Its mineral-rich soils, unique topography and favourable airflow patterns have made it one of Niagara’s most coveted sub appellations for growing grapes. Being tucked beneath the Escarpment offers the vineyards a longer season that allow grapes more time to ripen and cooler nights that help intensify flavours.

Thirty Bench wines are made exclusively with grapes from their own vineyards. The vines are hand cropped and thinned to produce very low yields that offer exceptional quality and an intensity of fruit.

They are committed to “Small Lot” winemaking which means many of the wines are made in extremely limited numbers.

The wines of recent notoriety:

  • 2017 Small Lot Riesling Triangle Vineyard – $29.95 at the winery
  • 2017 Small Lot Riesling Steel Post Vineyard – Sold out at winery
  • 2017 Small Lot Gewurztraminer – $29.95 at the winery

Trius Winery

It’s been over 27 years since Trius Red, a Bordeaux blend-inspired wine produced by Hillebrand Winery entered the international wine scene when it became the first-ever Canadian vintage to be recognized as the Best Red Wine in the World. In addition to positioning Trius Red as the little big red that could, the win marked an important step for the Canadian wine industry, sending a signal that Canada’s wine could stand on their own against old world wines.

While Trius Red was originally the only Trius wine in the Hillebrand Winery portfolio, over time the portfolio grew to include sparkling wines and other offerings including Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Riesling. In 2012, Trius Winery was born.

The wines of recent notoriety:

  • 2017 Showcase Clean Slate Sauvignon Blanc Wild Ferment – Sold out
  • 2016 Red Shale Cabernet Franc Clark Farm Vineyard- $65 at the winery

Two Sisters Vineyards

Two Sisters is located at the northern tip of the Niagara River sub-appellation bordered by the Niagara River to the East and Lake Ontario to the North.  The river’s flow creates air convection currents which create moderate temperatures and draw cold air away from vineyards and into the river gorge. To the north, breezes from Lake Ontario provide a reliable and widely distributed moderating effect on temperatures throughout the seasons. These air currents ward off early spring and late fall frosts and most notably support an extended growing season giving us an advantage on their later-ripening varieties.

Two Sisters is committed to produce ultra-premium reds which require superior viticultural practices. They emphasize the varieties the estate grows best with their terroir; Cabernet Franc with its earthy structure, Cabernet Sauvignon for its rich, muscular presence and Merlot for its perfumed, elegant harmony between red and dark fruit aroma and taste. Their objective is to let the grapes hang well into the autumn.

The wines of recent notoriety:

  • 2016 Unoaked Chardonnay – Sold out at winery
  • 2013 Stone Eagle Special Selection (red)- $77.80 at the winery, Sold out at LCBO

Jackson-Triggs Niagara Estate

Nestled into 11.5 acres of the Niagara Peninsula, the Niagara Estate vineyard makes the most of this cool climate viticulture region.

Premium quality grapes flourish around Niagara-on-the-Lake because of the warming and cooling influences of Lake Ontario and its proximity to the Niagara Escarpment. The Niagara Estate produces the same high quality wines that you would associate with similar world-class regions such as Burgundy, Oregon and New Zealand, but with its own distinctive characteristics resulting from the unique terroir of the area.

The vineyard features 3 classic varietals: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Riesling grown from the finest vinifera clones and rootstocks, custom grafted in France. The winemakers also work very closely with a number of carefully selected grape growers in the Niagara region to augment their supply of premium vinifera grapes such as Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Gewürztraminer and Sauvignon Blanc.

The wines of recent notoriety:

  • 2016 Jackson-Triggs Niagara Estate Grand Reserve Merlot – $25.95 at the winery, Sold out at LCBO

Personal Taste

Prices can range dramatically on the wines within and between the various wineries.  Some of the wineries are mainstays that have been producing great wine for many years.  Others are newer to the industry and are making an impressive name for themselves.

On numerous occasions I have enjoyed the wines of Flat Rock Cellars, Jackson-Triggs, Konzelmann Estate, Malivoire Winery, Marynissen Estates, Peller Estates, Rosehall Run, Tawse, and Trius.  More recently I have discovered Two Sisters (a winner in my opinion).

I have yet to have the opportunity to try any wines from Big Head Wines, Creekside, Hidden Bench Estate Winery, Leaning Post,  Thirty Bench, Organized Crime or The Foreign Affair.

I must admit that I have tried both Trius and Megalomaniac wines but did not find either to my liking.  That is not to say that their wines are not good, they just don’t strike a chord for me.  Trius is, in fact, one of the most critically acclaimed wineries in Canada and has been for many years so the quality of their wines is top notch.

If you get the chance to visit any of these wineries or see their wines in your local wine or liquor store, any of their wines would be well worth a try.  Don’t limit yourself specifically to the particular wines I have highlighted here.

Sláinte mhaith

2 thoughts on “Ontario’s Trending Wineries

  1. Good morning Dave,
    What a lovely distraction! A lot of wineries I have never heard of but makes one look forward to touring wine country in the summer!
    Cheers,
    Vicky

    Like

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