New Ontario Wineries 2012 – By David Lawrason

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

The opening of new wineries in Ontario has slowed compared to the deluge in the late, pre-recession 2000s, but there are new ventures in all three established regions – Niagara, Lake Erie North Shore and Prince Edward County.

The number of wineries in the province always seems to be a moving target, depending on who is offering the stats. VQA Ontario, for example, will only include wineries that subscribe to VQA, which is most, but not all – excluding all fruit wineries and new wineries using grapes in regions that don’t make enough wine to qualify for VQA status.  Wine Country Ontario (formerly the Wine Council of Ontario) will only count its members – which exclude a group of large producers that also make wine from offshore fruit. Both organizations also have membership fees and regulations that make some folks pause to assess whether they want to belong.

So I have always deferred to the non-partisan Canadian Wine Annual, published by Wine Access magazine. Until this year I authored the Ontario section and did my best to include wineries of every stripe. In 2011 there were 147 listings, including every fruit winery and virtual winery I could find. This year, I estimate the addition of another half dozen.

Here is a quick survey of four new wineries. Of course, they are all too new to have earned a spot at the LCBO, but that should not hinder those who know how the system works. Most Ontario wine is not at the LCBO anyway, so thank goodness that Ontario’s wine country is within a few hours proximity to most Ontarians. Years ago I remember envying Europeans who could drive to Burgundy for the weekend and load up on great pinot and chardonnay. Well that is now available here in Ontario too; or you can order on line and they will drive the wine to you.

I have only personally visited the first winery on the list, and I look forward to seeing the others on my rounds this spring.

Rennie Estate Winery – Beamsville Bench

Rennie Estate Winery is a new label born in a joint venture between Angel’s Gate Winery and grower Graham Rennie, who owns Heron Pond Benchland Vineyard east of Beamsville.  Planted in 1998 this maturing fifty acre site is focused on classic bench varieties like chardonnay, pinot noir, cabernet franc, with some merlot and cabernet sauvignon as well.

“I knew the vineyard could produce classic chardonnay and pinot” says Rennie, “but I also wanted to do something different. I was actually visiting Masi in Verona, Italy, in October 2009 when I decided to try to make ‘appassimento’ reds from dried grapes in Niagara”. This is a growing practice in Ontario, which has conditions not dissimilar to northeast Italy. Rennie joins A Foreign Affair, Cave Spring, Colaneri, Burning Kiln, Organized Crime and Reif in this pursuit. Indeed, a VQA technical committee is discussing how to “regulate” the process.

Essentially, the drying or raisining of the grapes after harvest concentrates the sugar, colour and flavour compounds; with the potential of creating wines with higher alcohol and richer texture. Grapes can be fully dried as in Italy’s amarones, or partially dried, creating “ripasso” styled wines. The drying is done indoors where temperature and humidity can be controlled. The latter is crucial in preventing mould that would spoil the berries. So far different techniques are being studied in Ontario, and there is controversy whether rushed drying in tobacco drying kilns is as good for wine quality as longer drying at lower temperature.

Rennie’s joint venture with Angel’s Gate brought aboard winemaker Phillip Dowell, an Australian-trained winemaker with plenty of experience with big reds, as well as pinot noir (at Yarra Valley’s Coldstream Hills). Dowell has worked over a decade in Niagara as well, first at Inniskillin from 1998 to 2004, then at Angel’s Gate since 2006. He says he was initially against the idea of making appassimento style reds in Ontario, but he has changed his mind given the results he has encountered, and the option it provides to winemakers who are dealing with late ripening red varieties in Niagara’s short and variable growing season.

The first two appassimento reds from Rennie Estate are an intriguing, spicy, partially dried 2010 Cabernet Franc called Scarpa that will sell for $50, and a fully dried, very rich, creamy 2010 Merlot called Gaia that will fetch $75. I tasted them as barrel samples and will not review them until release. Futures orders are being taken for these wines (cases of six) now.

The sleek, elegant $30 2010 Chardonnay called Cristine (named after Rennie’s wife) is my personal favourite in the portfolio, while the taut, tannic and savoury 2010 Pinot Noir called Paradox, is a wine needing a year or two in the cellar. The Chardonnay and Pinot Noir go on sale at Angel’s Gate on April 1st.

Art Reimer

Art Reimer

Reimer Vineyards – Niagara on the Lake

Opening Reimer Vineyards has been a 25 year evolution for engineer and agriculturalist Art Reimer and his wife Sue (a local history buff). Beginning as hobbyist, then a commercial grape grower, then joining the ranks of Niagara amateur winemakers, Art began converting the vineyard to organic production in 2000 (certifying in 2008). The Reimers opened their small winery near Niagara-on-the-Lake in 2010. I have only tasted the powerful (if oxidative) 2010 Riesling. They also make a Chardonnay, with red varieties being used in blends called Galahad (pinot noir, gamay) and Peace and Harmony (cab franc, cabernet sauvignon and hybrid chambourin).

Cooper’s Hawk Vineyards – Lake Erie North Shore
Situated on 67 acres between Kingsville and Harrow, Cooper’s Hawk is named for a species of hawk that thrives in a region teeming with insect, bird and animal wildlife. Katy and Tom O’Brien have created an experience that is part vineyard and part nature preserve, where with glass in hand visitors can stroll the ponds, wetlands and park areas. Winemaking is focused on a tight range of well-known varietal wines led quality wise by a full flavoured, ripe 2010 Unoaked Chardonnay. The Riesling 2010 is similarly big, petrol-driven but coarse. An age-worthy 2008 Cabernet-Merlot shows some promise for future vintages; the 2010 rosé made from estate cabernet franc is, frankly speaking, a mistake.

Devil’s Wishbone – Prince Edward County

Paul Gallagher has been scratching grapes from his gravel strewn, high density, low yield vineyard. The century old farm is nicely positioned on the tourism circuit east of the mysterious Lake on the Mountain above the Glenora Ferry. Last summer he took the leap and opened his winery. Some of his wines – chardonnay, pinot gris and pinot noir – are made from estate grapes, but his merlot and cabernet (like others in the County) are from Niagara fruit. I would say why bother, although the 2009 merlot is his best wine to date. The current PEC wines show impressive flavour depth, tension and density but the winemaking/flavours needs to improve as does the balance to handle the intensity the vineyards seem to possess. Early days, and I will be following.