The 2020 Ontario Wine Awards

The 26th edition of the Ontario Wine Awards was scheduled to be held back on June 4th.  However, due to COVID-19 the event was postponed.  For the previous 25 years the entries were assessed blind by panels of accredited wine judges from the wine writing and teaching community. The criteria for judging the entries not only required an appreciation for wine, but also necessitated knowledge and expertise of wines from the Ontario region. Included amongst the winning categories; Ontario Red, White and Sparkling Wines of the Year, Ontario Winemaker of the Year, and the Ontario Journalism Award, which recognizes the best article published on the Ontario wine industry.

The award winners left to right in the order presented below.

The 2020 COVID-19 version of the awards finally took place on August 28th A small group gathered at Kew Vineyard, at Beamsville, Ontario, as the awards were presented in front of a small, socially-distanced gathering.  Unlike previous years there were no judges and no formal tastings for the four main awards.  Instead the Awards Committee reached out to judges who had participated in the last three years of the competition and asked them to nominate their top three white, red and sparkling wines they had tasted during the year. Based on those responses the top scoring wines were tabulated.

In addition, the judges were asked to vote on whom they considered should be honoured with the title “Winemaker of the Year”.

The Ontario Wine Awards results for 2020 are:

The Allen Red Wine of the Year Award was awarded to Prince Edward County’s Rosehall Run for its 2018 ‘JCR Pinot Noir Rosehall Vineyard’. I was lucky to obtain a few bottles on my recent trip to the County and heartily concur.

The Quench Magazine White Wine of the Year Award went to the 2017 ‘Charles Baker Riesling Picone Vineyard’ from Niagara.

The Canadian Food and Wine Institute at Niagara College Sparkling Wine of the Year Award was awarded to the 2014 ‘Henry of Pelham Cuvée Catharine Carte Blanche Blanc de Blanc’ from Niagara.

Finally, the Quench Magazine Winemaker of the Year Award went to Philip Dowell of Niagara’s Angels Gate Estate Winery.

Looking forward to 2021, we can only hope that life will return to a more semblance of normal.  However, at this point it is anyone’s guess.

Sláinte mhaith

Day Trip to The County

On the first anniversary of my hemorrhagic stroke I wanted to get away from the ‘scene of the crime’ so my wife suggested taking a day excursion to Prince Edward County.  The County is often compared to France’s Burgundy region in both climate and the grape varietals grown.

The County was officially designated as a VQA appellation in 2007.  It is separated from the mainland by the Bay of Quinte at Belleville and is completely surrounded by Lake Ontario.  The soils and microclimates of the County, coupled with a limestone base, provide an ideal growing environment for cool-climate grapes such as Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  This island setting is now home to over 40 wineries, a dozen craft breweries, fine restaurants, cheese producers, farmers’ markets and other local food purveyors.

I hadn’t visited the county for a few years and had lost touch with what is going on there.  So to prepare for our journey I checked out the latest reviews of the County wineries, which I combined with some curiosities of my own and developed a list of destinations.  My list consisted of 7 wineries, 6 of which were considered as the County’s movers and shakers of 2020 and the 7th was one that I had an interest in.  The wineries included Closson Chase, Devil’s Wishbone, The Grange, Hinterland, The Old Third, Rosehall Run and Waupoos.

The day didn’t exactly play out as I had planned, at least partially due to COVID-19.  Both Devil’s Wishbone and the Old Third were closed and a number of the others had a very limited wine supply.   For example, at the Grange, in order to purchase the only red they had in stock, I had to buy two 375 ml bottles of their Merrill House 2016 Pinot Noir as they had no 750 ml bottles left.  However, having now drank one of the bottles, my wife and I agree it was a good purchase at the equivalent price of $37 for a 750 ml. bottle.

However, as it happened, our last stop made the day worthwhile.  At the very end of Greer Rd. lies Rosehall Run, one of the original wineries established in the County.   Among our finds there was their 2018 JCR Pinot Noir, which in August was awarded the ‘Red Wine of the Year’ at the Ontario Wine Awards.  This wine has the potential of being one of the greatest and longest-lived Pinot Noir they have produced. Even though the wine may be enjoyed now it can be laid down for the next 5 to 7 years to reveal the purity that will evolve with time.  With a price point of $42, it is good value.

Our second find was a 2016 Merlot which was the result of them being able to secure a couple of tonnes of Merlot planted at Prince Edward County’s Huff Estates which resulted in Rosehall Run creating their first and only County Merlot.  The wine was barreled down in their underground cellar for 18 months. New French oak was utilized in preparing this small lot.  There is only a small quantity left and with its price of $35 a bottle, it will be gone soon.

Overall I have always found the offerings of Prince Edward County to be on the expensive side compared to similar offerings in Niagara and especially at the LCBO.  For a big part it is a factor of demand and supply.  The County VQA region is much smaller than Niagara and thus the quantity of grapes available is less and this is reflected in the prices.  There are some good value wines to be found for sure but you just need to be prepared to make the effort to search them out.   There are a couple of wineries, such as Sandbanks, where you can always count on finding a good selection and good value.

Given the climate of the region it is important to keep in mind that the mainstay varietals are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Baco Noir.  To expect to find a lot of other locally grown varietals, such as Cabernet, is not realistic. 

Given that the County has so much more to offer besides wine, a trip there is well worth the time.         

Sláinte mhaith

BC’s Movers and Shakers

I previously examined a number of the trending wines from Ontario.  This week I will identify a similar group of wines that are on top of the wine scene in British Columbia.  The wineries presented here are based on my own interpretation of critic reviews and award results over the past year.  The information presented about each winery has been gathered from the winery web site.

Unfortunately, none of this particular group of wines is available in liquor or wine stores outside of B.C., but a number of them are accessible from the winery web sites.

The wineries are presented in alphabetical order.  Though the critically acclaimed wines are presented, I doubt you would be disappointed in any of the wines offered from these establishments.

Blasted Church Vineyards

The winery is on a former church site so they focus their story on local folklore; the blasting of a local church with dynamite in order to move it from one location to another. The owners have played out the church theme well, in everything from the wine names and labels to the organization of their web site.

Notable wines:

  • 2016 Merlot – $27
  • 2017 Pinot Noir – Sold out
  • 2012 OMFG (white) – $40

Cedar Creek Estate Winery

Cedar Creek has been Canada’s “Winery of the Year” twice.  Winemaker Taylor Whelan is building upon three decades of winemaking history and defining a new chapter with estate-grown, organic wines.  Both the Home Block and Cedar Creek estate vineyards have been officially certified organic following a three-year conversion of the estate’s viticulture and winemaking practices. For the Kelowna winery, it was a three-year conversion process, accredited by Ecocert Canada, which began in August of 2016.

Because of planting decisions made in the early 1990’s, they now have 30-year-old vines at the heart of everything they do.

Notable wines:

  • 2018 Chardonnay – $19
  • 2018 Platinum Block 7 Pinot Gris  – $30
  • 2018 Platinum Block 3 Riesling  – $30
  • 2017 Platinum Riesling Icewine  – $58
  • 2017 Platinum Haynes Creek Vineyard Syrah  – $50
  • 2017 Pinot Noir 2017 – $27

Deep Roots Winery

Deep Roots is a family owned and operated winery perched on the clay cliffs above Okanagan Lake on the Naramata Bench.

The family has been farming the land around the winery for 100 years, spanning four generations. After many years of selling grapes to other wineries they produced their first vintage in 2012.

They have two vineyards at two sites on the Naramata Bench: the Hardman Vineyard and Rayner’s Vineyard.

The Hardman Vineyard is home to nine acres where they grow Muscat, Gamay, Merlot, and Malbec. The Rayner property is home to eleven acres of vines including Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Malbec, and Syrah.

Both of these farms were planted with fruit orchards for much of the previous century, which has contributed to the unique and rich terroir of the area. All of the vineyard work is done by hand.

Notable wines:

  • 2017 Syrah – Sold out
  • 2016 Parentage Red – Sold out
  • 2017 Malbec – Sold out

Fort Berens Estate Winery

Fort Berens Estate Winery is a culmination of the dreams, vision and pioneering spirit of several entrepreneurs. The winery is owned by a team of eight individuals who share a common belief in the incredible winemaking potential of British Columbia’s Fraser Canyon and a shared vision to make Fort Berens into one of Canada’s leading producers of fine wine.

Notable wines:

  • 2017 Cabernet Franc – $28
  • 2017 Cabernet Franc Reserve  – $32
  • 2017 Pinot Noir Reserve – $30
  • 2017 Meritage  – $26
  • 2017 Meritage Reserve  – $32
  • 2017 Red Gold  – $45
  • 2018 Pinot Gris – Sold out
  • 2018 Chardonnay – $20
  • 2017 White Gold Chardonnay  – $26
  • 2018 Riesling Reserve  – $24

Gold Hill Winery

Gold Hill opened in 2009.  The founders, brothers Sant and Gurbachan Gill, are farmers from the Indus Valley region.

Sant moved to B.C. as a 20-year-old. He headed straight for the Golden Mile fruit belt and began growing. His younger brother, Gurbachan, soon followed. The brothers grew grapes for a number of wineries from their home vineyards, in their natural element. They understood the area’s microclimate and its dry, rocky soil to perfection.

In time, they bought land and planted vines. Soon they had a healthy business selling grapes to a growing number of notable B.C. wineries–but they had bigger plans for their land.

In 2009, Sant and Gurbachan decided to open a winery with the support of their family. For the location, they chose their prime vineyard on the slopes of a hill along the Golden Mile, between Oliver and Osoyoos.

They partnered with winemaker Philip Soo, a well-respected wine consultant with a terroir-driven approach and scores of great wines to his credit.

Gold Hill’s inaugural 2009 Cabernet Franc was honoured with the prestigious Lieutenant Governor’s Award of Excellence in 2012.

Notable wines:

  • 2013 Syrah – Sold out
  • 2014 Syrah – $35
  • 2013 Merlot – Sold out
  • 2014 Cabernet Franc – $35

Hillside Winery

Grow the best quality fruit possible, pick at optimum physiological ripeness, ferment cool, and intervene with nature only when necessary are the objectives of Hillside. The temptation to constantly “fiddle” and “improve upon” Mother Nature is really more about manufacturing. Natural, beautiful wine is not manufactured—rather, it is carefully guided through natural phases to become the glorious essence of the effects of sun and soil on specific grape varieties.

It is their belief that great wines start in the vineyard, and to this end, they use only the best quality fruit available from their twenty acres of grapes densely planted on hillside terraces surrounding the winery. They also have partnerships with select vineyards along the Naramata Bench.

They are committed to producing hand-crafted, naturally fruit-forward, well-balanced wines that represent the true character of the grapes. The wine is fermented and aged in many small batches to maintain the varietal character and integrity of each grape type and vineyard.

Cool temperature fermentations for the whites using state of the art steel fermenters allow them to produce intensely aromatic and flavourful wines that captivate the senses. More traditional techniques are applied to the reds involving open top fermenters, French and American oak barrels, and a very hands-on winemaking team, resulting in rich, classic style wines that have consistently won accolades from wine judges.

Notable wines:

  • 2016 Cabernet Franc – Available to their wine club members only
  • 2016 Merlot Malbec – $26

Kitsch Wines

The Kitsch family’s Okanagan roots stretch back to 1910, when Kelowna was still a small, lakefront pioneer settlement. Four generations later, this entrepreneurial family takes great pride in helping to shape the past and the future of the Okanagan Valley.

Founders Ria and Trent Kitsch have blended their passion for wine and creative entrepreneurship to produce premium, sustainably-grown wines. With a little help from some friends, the young family transformed overgrown fields into lush vineyards, set on historic apple orchards that originally served as the Kelowna Land and Orchards (KLO) headquarters.

Notable wines:

  • 2017 5 Barrel Pinot Noir – $69
  • 2018 Maria’s Block Riesling – $25

Lake Breeze Vineyards

The wines of Lake Breeze are known to be clean, crisp and fruit driven in style.  They endeavour to take the natural expression of the grape and transfer it to the bottle with as little intervention as possible. 

The newly introduced Lake Breeze Cellar Series is a luxurious collection. Each varietal pays tribute to the regional wind that embodies its unique winemaking style.

In 2016 they introduced an additional premium wine made by Garron Elmes under the MacIntyre Heritage Reserve label. These wines are a bold and prideful celebration.

Notable wines

  • 2017 Aura – Pinot Noir – Sold out
  • 2016 Mistral – Syrah – Sold out

Lakeside Cellars

Lakeside Cellars is situated on the eastern shores of Lake Osoyoos.  The estate is comprised of a 14-acre parcel of land that was originally a vast cattle and agriculture enterprise dating back to 1882. In 2015, Harbans and Harkesh Dhaliwal purchased the historical landmark and resting place of the old Haynes Homestead.

Lakeside now also sits on the site of the first commercial orchard owned and planted by Leslie Hill. The Hill Ranch stretched 1,100 acres on the eastern slop around Lake Osoyoos. Orchards of cherries, apricots, nectarines, plums, prunes, peaches, pears and apples were the first planted in the Okanagan north of the U.S. border.

Upon purchasing the lakeshore property in 2015, the Dhaliwals inherited old-vine plantings of Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc planted in 1998. Their mission was to continue the tradition of agriculture on the property and guide its rich history towards the current Okanagan lifestyle.

Notable wines:

  • 2016 Portage Red, Okanagan Valley- $24
  • 2016 Syrah, Okanagan Valley – $26
  • 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon, Okanagan Valley – $26
  • 2016 Cabernet Franc, Okanagan Valley – $28

Martin’s Lane Winery

The winery consists of three tiny estate vineyards.  They take a micro view of the vineyard and think about wines right down to the single block or vine. They consider their winemaking approach gentle and guiding.  The wines are tended, harvested and crafted by hand.  They don’t use a single pump as they believe this brings out elegant and complex expressions of Pinot Noir and Riesling.

Notable wines:

  • 2016 Simes Vineyard Riesling – Sold out
  • 2016 Naramata Ranch Vineyard Riesling – Sold out
  • 2016 Frtizi’s Vineyard Riesling – Sold out
  • 2014 Simes Vineyard Pinot Noir – $100
  • 2015 Simes Vineyard Pinot Noir – $100
  • 2015 DeHart Vineyard Pinot Noir – $100
  • 2015 Fritzi’s Vineyard Pinot Noir – $150
  • 2015 Naramata Ranch Vineyard Pinot Noir – Sold out

Mission Hill Family Estate

Making great wines and providing a special place where people can enjoy them is the aim of Mission Hill. They want their winery to be a refuge from the hurried pace of daily life.

Notable wines:

  • 2018 Terroir Collection No. 19 Brigadier’s Bluff Rosé – Sold out
  • 2017 Terroir Collection Border Vista Cabernet Sauvignon – Available only to wine club members
  • 2017 Reserve Shiraz – $27
  • 2017 Reserve Pinot Noir – $28
  • 2018 Reserve Rosé – Sold out

Moon Curser Vineyards

Moon Curser Vineyards is a small, family owned winery on the East Bench of Osoyoos, BC.  It has been in operation since 2004, when Chris and Beata Tolley purchased an old orchard in need of replanting and set about converting it into what is now the Moon Curser home vineyard block, winery and tasting room.

The winery is known for growing unusual varieties such as Tannat, Dolcetto, Touriga Nacional, and Arneis to name a few. These varieties have not historically been a part of the South Okanagan viticulture but thrive in the unique terroir on the Osoyoos East Bench.

The vines have thrived in Osoyoos and continue to deliver unique, world-class interpretations of these traditional wines. Moon Curser has brought home many a gold medal from Canadian and international wine competitions.

Notable wines:

  • 2017 Touriga Nacional (red) – $40
  • 2017 Dead of Night (red) – $40
  • 2017 Syrah – $26

Nk’Mip Cellars Winery

Nk’Mip Cellars is the dedicated guardian of a proud legacy. They claim to be the first Indigenous-owned winery in North America and they express their culture in everything they do. The winery itself is a bold celebration and a strong reflection of their commitment to authenticity and deep respect for their colourful past. They have had international award-winning wines.

Notable wines:

  • 2018Qwam Qwmt Riesling – Price not provided
  • 2018 Winemakers Dreamcatcher – Sold out
  • 2016 Red Merriym Meritage – Price not provided

Red Rooster Winery

Red Rooster Winery was founded in 1990 by a European couple who settled in the area. The first vintage was released in 1997. It was not long before the winery became known for producing award-winning wines that express the very best of BC and the Okanagan. 

Notable wines:

  • 2018 Riesling – Sold out
  • 2017 Rare Bird Series Pinot Noir – $35

Sandhill

Each bottle of Sandhill wine is made from grapes that come from one of six unique BC vineyards – Sandhill Estate, King Family, Phantom Creek , Osprey Ridge, Hidden Terrace and Vanessa Vineyard. Each vineyard possesses a unique combination of soil composition, slope, sun exposure and drainage.

Each vineyard manager employs techniques that bring subtle influences into the growing environment. These one-of-a-kind conditions inevitably produce grapes with unique characteristics.

This, in turn, provides the opportunity to create a wine that’s truly distinct. In the winery, a non-interventionist approach allows the character of the fruit to shine through in the wine. This allows the complex, subtle, unique character of each vineyard to reveal itself.

Notable wines:

  • 2018 Riesling Icewine – Sold out
  • 2017 Single Vineyard Syrah Sandhill Estate Vineyard – $40
  • 2016 Single Vineyard ONE Vanessa Vineyard – Sold out

Township 7 Vineyards and Winery

Township 7 focuses on the production of small lot wines made from carefully chosen grape suppliers from the Okanagan Valley and from estate vineyards in Langley and on the Naramata Bench.

Notable wines:

  • 2018 Pinot Gris  – $19
  • 2018 Raju Vineyard Viognier – $25
  • 2017 Merlot – $25 at the winery
  • 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon – $28

Van Westen Vineyards

Situated in one of the most scenic wine regions in all of North America, Van Westen Vineyards has evolved from over 50 years of family tradition cultivating the soils of The Naramata Bench and producing some of the best wines in British Columbia.

With their expertise and emphasis on sustainable, cool climate viticultural practices, they continue to grow quality vinifera grapes and make premium wine.

Notable wines:

  • 2016 Vulture (red) – $40
  • 2018 Viscous Riesling – $25

Wayne Gretzky Okanagan

The Wayne Gretzky Okanagan winery doesn’t appear to have a web site and www.gretzkyestateswines.com only provides information on the Niagara winery.

Notable wines:

  • 2016 Signature Series Shiraz – No price
  • 2016 Signature Series Riesling – No price

The majority of these wineries are smaller family run operations built on pride and personal commitment to the creation of high quality wines.  Prices can range dramatically on the wines within and between the various wineries.  Some of the wineries have been producing great wine for many years while others are newer operations who are quickly making an impressive name for themselves.

Sláinte mhaith

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.

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The Shifting of Sandbanks

I recently read an article announcing that the Sandbanks Winery, one of the first in Prince Edward County, has been sold to Arterra.  Catherine Langlois had operated the winery since its inception in 2001.  Over the years Sandbanks has become most famous for its Baco Noir, Marechal Foch, and Riesling. Over the years there have been some other wonderful creations, such as the one time offering of a bold red that was a personal favourite, which I believe was called Bin 41.

Since inception Sandbanks Winery has proven to be a great place to visit and sample their award-winning wines. I have always found their staff to be knowledgeable and friendly.  The uniqueness of their wine even included the labels, which were designed by a family friend.

It is not surprising that Sandbanks had received such attention by Arterra, given Sandbank’s dominance in Prince Edward Country.

According to the press release, by joining Arterra, Sandbanks will now have the resources and expertise to further enhance the winery’s capabilities.

So Who is Arterra?

Arterra Wines Canada has grown and evolved to owning and distributing 100+ wine brands, including seven of the top 20 brands in Canada. Its Canadian headquarters is in Mississauga, Ontario.   Arterra Wines Canada operates eight wineries and over 1,700 acres of premium vineyards in Canada’s wine regions.

It also owns and operates Wine Rack retail wine stores in Ontario and sells wine kits and products for winemaking through its RJS Craft Winemaking brand. It employs approximately 2,000 full-time and part-time staff across the country.

Arterra has been making wines in Niagara and the Okanagan for the past 150 years.  According to their web site, Arterra Wines Canada has been a pioneer in the Canadian wine industry with their origins dating back to 1874 when the Niagara Falls Wine Company was founded. One hundred twenty years later, they became known as Vincor International. Throughout the 20th century, wineries like Jackson-Triggs and NK’Mip were founded and acquired.  Also purchased were New Zealand’s Kim Crawford.

In 2006, they were acquired by Constellation Brands, a U.S.-based company that is a leading international producer and marketer of beer, wine and spirits. In 2016, the Canadian branch of Constellation Brands was acquired by the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, and Arterra Wines Canada was born.

In addition to the most recent acquisition of Sandbanks, and the wineries mentioned above, Arterra controls Inniskillen, and Le Clos Jordanne.  Internationally, they have Sawmill Creek, Bodacious, Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi, Ruffino, Naked Grape, BÙ By Jessica Harno, and Wallaroo Trail.

According to Arterra, Catherine will continue to drive the Sandbanks brand for years to come.  Hopefully that will be the case.  Even if Catherine remains at the helm it will be interesting to see what direction the winery heads in now.

Whether there will be an impact on the smaller privately run wineries in the region remains to be seen.  My guess however, is that impact, if any, will be minimal as most of these wineries are not marketing their products nationally or internationally.  In fact, the sale may prove good for their businesses as people touring wineries often want to visit the grassroots operations, not the perceived big conglomerates where there is at least a perception of being impersonal.

We will have to wait and see what is now in store for Sandbanks for 2020 and beyond.  I, for one, truly enjoy their wines and hope they remain top notch for years to come.

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A Star is Born

There is increasing evidence of celebrities being associated with wine brands.  However, it is not a recent phenomenon, though it has certainly garnered more attention in today’s Information Age. Usually celebrities have a large amount of wealth accumulated, which makes the significant investment in opening a winery or vineyard negligible.

There are many reasons that celebrities gravitate to the world of wine. Starting a winery or vineyard can offer some tax benefits. Some celebrities, such as the Italian-American director Francis Ford Coppola, come from a family with a long history of winemaking. Others such as the British singer Cliff Richard, have been lifelong wine enthusiasts and enter the wine industry in order to do something that they enjoy. Still others like the challenge of a new enterprise. Some celebrities enter the wine industry simply because they can.

Celebrities, such as the American actors Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Johnny Depp, and British football star David Beckham and his wife Victoria, own vineyards and wine estates solely for personal use. Some other celebrities leverage their name recognition as a selling tool in the wine industry.

Celebrities have different degrees of involvement in their wineries and vineyards. Nearly all of them partner, in some form of collaboration, with a winery or winemaker who is already established in the industry.

Sarah Jessica Parker, the former Sex and the City star, has debuted her Sauvignon Blanc and Rosé collection. She has a partnership with New Zealand-based winery Invivo.  The self-proclaimed wine lover is said to have her hand in every step of the winemaking process, including naming and design of the bottles.

The Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, owns two vineyards that sell grapes to California wine producers.

Sometimes the celebrity may own their own “wine brand” which is produced with the collaborating winery instead of owning a physical winery or wine estate itself. An example of this is Wayne Gretzky Estates, which is one of the brands owned by Andrew Peller Limited, who also owns Peller Estates Winery, Sandhill, Trius Winery, Red Rooster, Calona Vineyards and Thirty Bench Wine Makers.  Each is a unique winery operating with its own vintner, wines and labels.  I am sure that Mr. Gretzky is involved to at least some degree in the winery’s operation.

Some celebrities lend their names to a winery for a special wine production.  Examples of this include Niagara’s Stoney Ridge, who produces The Tragically Hip Fully Completely Reserve Red and The Tragically Hip Ahead by a Century Chardonnay.

Tawse winery has created Cuddy, a sparkling wine that has been developed in partnership with Blue Rodeo lead singer, Jim Cuddy.

For the art lovers out there, Niagara’s Diamond Estates winery produces McMichael Collection Tom Thomson Cabernet Franc and McMichael Collection Tom Thomson Barrel-Aged Chardonnay, paying for the rights to have Thompson’s paintings displayed on the bottle.

Does celebrity ownership impact the price of the wine? If the celebrity is involved in the ownership or operation of the winery, I would say no. However, where endorsements or royalties are being paid by the winery to the celebrity, I would speculate that such costs do impact the price.  As a result, in this situation the consumer pays marginally more for a wine bearing the name of a celebrity than another wine of a similar quality. 

However, if you are a fan of a particular celebrity or a particular label design, then the novelty may be worth the slight increase in cost.  After all, the beauty (and taste) lies with the consumer.

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Wine Tours

Whether you conduct a self-guided wine region tour or partake in a guided tour offered by a local tour guide company depends on your personal preference. A tour company they will offer travel to a predetermined list of wineries by one of a various means of transportation, limo, bus or even bicycle.

If you elect the self-guided option, be sure to get a good map before striking out on your adventure.   

The advantage of the second option is that, if you are not familiar with the area and/or the wineries themselves, this method can be easy and non-stressful.  However, if you are familiar or prefer a more individualized experience with less likelihood of a crowd, then the first option is probably better for you.

A number of the larger wineries offer tours of their facility where a staff member will guide you through the winery and explain the process of making the various types of wine they produce.  It is beneficial to go on a tour as it will provide information that will help with your understanding of different varietals and wine making processes.  This information may be beneficial when making wine selections.

I suggest taking a tour at one of the larger facilities as they will most likely make both reds and whites, as well as use more than one fermentation process.

At the conclusion of the tour I also suggest partaking in a wine tasting if offered.  During the tasting the staff will review each wine and you will be able to relate back to the process used to create that wine.  This will help give a better understanding of how the various flavours are created.  Ultimately this may serve useful when you are staring at the shelves at your local wine merchant trying to decide which wine to purchase.

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Wineries: Up Close & Personal

Not all wineries have their products distributed for sale at your local wine merchant.  This may be because the winery does not produce the minimum prescribed quantity to enable distribution.  In other cases it may be a conscious decision by the vintner where they prefer to sell a certain wine or vintage at their own facility.  Thus without actually visiting the winery you may be missing out on some of the wine world’s best kept secrets.

There are other reasons for visiting a winery.  No one knows their wines better than those who make them.  Well informed staff can explain the process used to make each of their wines, as well as the varietal composition, cellaring capability, and food pairing suggestions.

You will usually have the opportunity to taste the various wines on offer.  I can’t think of a better way to determine whether a particular wine is to your personal liking.

I have had some very enjoyable experiences, as well as some not so pleasant ones.  The common denominator of a rewarding winery experience is having good interaction with knowledgeable and pleasant staff that are willing to spend the time to answer questions and listen to what you are looking for.   As a result, on several occasions I have gone to a specific winery in search of one wine but after some discussion I have happily left with a different one.

When I am planning a visit to either Niagara or Prince Edward County, I do my research and plan ahead as to which wineries I want to visit and in many cases, which wines I am interested in purchasing.  Otherwise, with about 100 wineries on offer in Niagara and another 40 in the County, I would be wandering aimlessly in my search. 

A winery may make it onto my list for several different reasons.  I may have heard about a specific wine that intrigues me; I may be simply looking to restock my cellar with a certain wine that I have previously enjoyed; I may research wine reviews and make some decisions based on what the experts have to say; or as in the case of a recent trip, I may be in search of a wine that my wife and I enjoyed in an area restaurant. 

In situations where I have visited based on reviewer opinions, sometime I have gone in search of a specific wine but in others I may have been intrigued by the winery itself.  In the case of the latter, the staff’s knowledge and expertise is most important to ensure a successful experience.

If nothing else, it is a good idea to search out which wineries have a restaurant so you can plan to be somewhere food is served when hunger pangs hit.  Many of these restaurants offer a unique experience in themselves as they will often pair their wines with the various menu items.

I often travel to the wine regions during the off-season, avoiding the period from Victoria Day to Labour Day.  This way there are less likely to be crowds and winery staff will have more time to answer questions and make suggestions, making the experience more rewarding and enjoyable.

When touring the various wineries you will see that the wineries themselves are unique from one another in appearance, ranging from very modest and plain, to rustic, to extremely elaborate.   Keep in mind that appearances can be deceiving.  I have purchased great wines from barns and cinderblock shacks located along obscure lanes and paths.  Remember it is the vintner behind the scene who puts the quality in the bottle.

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The Passing of an Old Friend

On a recent trip to the Niagara region I overheard a wine enthusiast ask a staff member at a winery I was visiting as to what happened to Coyote’s Run?  The reflection in inquirer’s voice was that of a mourner after learning the news of a friend’s death. 

The winery had been sold and is now closed and being repurposed for another type of agriculture.  The fact is it was sold back in the late summer of 2017.  I, like the person making the inquiry, was saddened when it was sold.  Coyote’s Run provided a unique experience in that they had 2 separate vineyards, each with its own uniqueness that was easily detected when you tasted their 2 pinot noirs, Black Paw and Red Paw, and the staff was always enthusiastic to tell you about their products and how they painstakingly created their art in a bottle.

I learned of the winery’s fate when I visited in September of 2017, shortly after it sold.  I had made a point of taking friends to the winery so they could experience both the wines and the atmosphere firsthand.  However, when we arrived, we found the tasting room open but no one there to greet us and the shelves with little stock and even less varieties.  Eventually a worker noticed we were there and came in from the vineyard to assist us.  Wiping the sweat from his brow and apologizing for being nervous because he rarely speaks with customers and couldn’t tell us much about the wines, he said the winery had been sold.

I left that day disappointed, much the way the individual I overheard making the inquiry. The glory was gone and now in 2019, so is the winery.  However, in my mind the winery was really gone the day it was sold.  I have several older vintages and varietals of Coyote’s Run.  I will savour each and reflect on the good ole days with each sip.

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