New Wineries That Turned My Head in 2016

Canadian Wine Report – December 2016
by David Lawrason

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

The excitement around Canadian wine heightens every year, but 2016 will go down as one of the most newsworthy, ground breaking and intriguing in quite some time. Not just because the outside world really began to discover us, but because – from tiny new wineries to mega-projects that will impact the industry for decades – Canada is bursting with new ideas, new wineries, new wines – and even new wine regions.

In 2016 I visited dozens of wineries in Ontario and British Columbia. I tasted Canadian wine across Canada via Gold Medal Plates (see last month’s report). I helped launch the Canadian Wine Scholar course, teaching along with Vancouver-based David Munro of Fine Vintage Ltd. in five Canadian cities. And I judged at the National Wine Awards of Canada held in Penticton in June, taking time after the first round of judging to browse and taste in the backroom. I was struck again and again by the number of intriguing new wineries and wines. The A to Z list below highlights some wineries that may have existed a year or two prior to 2016, but all somehow first turned my head for one reason or another this year.

1. Adamo Estate Winery, Hockley Hills, Ontario

When I read the results of the NWAC 2016, Adamo 2014 Oaked Wismer Foxcroft Chardonnay leapt off the page, capturing a Platinum medal. I had not heard of Adamo, but soon visited to discover one of the most ambitious new projects in Ontario, carving out a new wine region near Orangeville about 30 minutes north of Toronto/Mississauga.  Since 2011 seventeen acres have been planted on the undulating brow of the Niagara Escarpment (that runs from Niagara Falls to the tip of the Bruce Peninsula on Georgian Bay). There is chardonnay, riesling, pinot noir, cabernet franc and vidal, and the first tiny 2015 estate production from the organic vineyard is promising. While the estate vines mature, the Adamo family’s quality ambitions are evident in their sourcing grapes from the best sites in Niagara, and naming those vineyards proudly on the labels. The wines are made by Shauna White, ex Ravine and Le Clos Jordanne in Ontario. The winery is owned by the Adamo family, which has built a thriving business at the Hockley Valley Resort, complete with ski hill, golf course, two excellent restaurants, and hikers access to the Bruce Trail. The whole package!

Adamo Oaked Chardonnay Wismer Foxcroft Vineyard 2014

2. Anarchist Vineyard, Osoyoos, BC

I encountered this gold medal pinot at the National Wine Awards in Penticton, and was taken immediately by a certain elegance that reminded me of Burgundy’s Chambolle-Musigny. It just felt a bit different. A trial block of pinot noir was planted in 1995 on the west-facing slope of Anarchist Mountain that looms over Osoyoos to the east. Normally this area is too hot for pinot.  But the altitude, cool nights and viticultural techniques, that result in low yields under three tons per acre, seem to have eked out very fine balance and depth. Only 75 cases were produced, made under license at Meyer Family, a winery that has a great track record rendering pinot noir. And speaking of Meyer, their winemaker Chris Carson has made a pinot under his own name that was one of the very best Canadian pinots I tasted (twice) in 2016.

Anarchist Mountain Wildfire Pinot Noir 2014

3. Checkmate Artisanal Winery, Golden Mile Bench, BC

Checkmate is the new ultra-premium, chardonnay winery (merlot coming) in the VonMandl Estates portfolio. The wines are rarefied and expensive (between $80 and $125) and will only be offered on line and in restaurants. I tasted them in April when they were presented to Toronto sommeliers and media at Canoe, an iconic restaurant that got behind Canadian wine long before it was popular (or made economic sense). The Checkmate motif is a bit of a head scratcher to this observer. The five different chardonnays from various sites in the Golden Mile (where the winery is located), and elsewhere in the south Okanagan, are named after chess moves. The wines are generally excellent, carefully sculpted by Philip McGahan, who left storied Williams Selyem in Sonoma to come to the Okanagan. “Queen Taken” was my fave of the five, one of the best chardonnays of the year!

Checkmate Queen Taken Chardonnay 2013

4. Domaine St. Jacques, Montérégie, Quebec

This winery is not “new” but new to me. I am going to state up-front that as an observer of Canadian wine that I am woefully uninformed on Quebec wines. That will change in 2017. This promise was born in 2016, after two encounters. During the NWACs, outside of the competition tasting, I took over two hours to taste every Quebec wine entered and I was impressed. The other occasion was during the Canadian Wine Scholar courses in Kelowna where students reacted very well to Domaine St. Jacques Classique – a simple blend of seyval blanc and vidal. I subsequently tasted and liked pinot gris and pinot noir from this progressive estate in the Montérégie region south of Montreal. It is owned by the Du Temple-Quirion family, with their 15 acres being a melange of vinifera and hybrids. Here we offer a review by Nadia Fournier of Chacun Son Vin, who is obviously impressed with the pinot gris.

Domaine St Jacques Pinot Gris 2015

5. The Hatch, West Kelowna, BC

Although The Hatch opened in the spring of 2015, it pinged my radar as a serious player after tasting through the portfolio during a visit in February 2016, followed by an incredible 9th place finish in Canada’s Top 25 Performing wineries at the National Wine Awards in June. It was the only “new winery” to make the list. Located on Boucherie Road en route to the iconic Quails’ Gate and Mission Hill wineries, The Hatch is a much less reverent place, an idiosyncratic collective led by winemaker Jason Parkes, and labels (like Screaming Frenzy 3 Pigs Apron Divine). The mission seems largely to be to amuse. But then you taste the quality in the bottle. Black Swift is the premium line, with the Long Road Syrah taking a coveted Platinum medal! Under The Hatch label, a gamay based Octobubble Brut Rosé took a Gold. And there were six silvers!

Black Swift Long Road Syrah 2013

6. ICellars, Four Mile Creek, Ontario

This small, ambitious winery opened quietly in May 2016, too late to participate in the National Wine Awards. It sits on 60 acres (17 planted so far) on the boundary of the Four Mile Creek and St. Davids Bench sub-appellations in Niagara-on-the-Lake. This hot spot, with its unusual red and black soils (like neighbouring Coyote’s Run), attracted the attention of Turkish émigré Adnan Icel who envisioned a small, premium winery focused on “big” reds. This is rarely a stated goal in Niagara! A mechanical engineer, he built the winery himself and enlisted top viticulture and winemaking consultants (most recently Peter Gamble and Ann Sperling). There are a few rows of chardonnay and pinot, but 70% of the site was planted (in 2010) to cabernet franc, cab sauvignon, merlot, malbec and petit verdot. The 2014 Arrina is elegant if a bit underripe in this cool vintage. The 2015s in barrel, to be released next year and beyond, are truly rich and impressive. His wines brand names hark back to the ancient Hittite Empire in what is now central Turkey.

Icellars Arinna 2014

7. Lightfoot & Wolfville, Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia

This is the most ambitious new winery in Nova Scotia by a Maritime Mile. The Lightfoot family began releasing tiny amounts of wine in 2015, including the very impressive chardonnay that made a national debut at the Canadian Culinary Championships in Kelowna in February 2016. A light but refined pinot was released at the same time, and later in the year they added Tidal Bay, riesling and sparkling. This year they continued to unveil label designs that I think are the classiest in the country. Consultant Peter Gamble (who also worked in Nova Scotia with Benjamin Bridge) has guided the project. There are 35 organically certified acres in two sites (one near Wolfville, one in Avonport), both benefiting from the moderating effect of the Minas Basin. The winery itself will not be opening its doors to the public until 2017.

Lightfoot And Wolfville Ancienne Chardonnay 2013

8. Martin’s Lane Winery, East Kelowna, BC

In 2016 there was scant wine available from this impressive new winery, but when I visited for an under construction tour with winemaker Darryl Brooker in February I tasted some mighty fine, linear and elegant tank and barrel sample riesling and pinot noirs. The winery exterior is dramatic enough, but the interior is simply stunning, a voluminous gravity flow edifice crammed with the latest technology honed specifically for pinot and riesling production. It is one of the Von Mandl Estates properties, along with adjacent CedarCreek, and Checkmate (above).  The Martin’s Lane 2013 Pinot Noir that has been released was made at Mission Hill by former winemaker John Simes. Darryl Brooker has made the 2014s at the new winery. Watch for them in 2017. Treve Ring reviews the inaugural riesling made at the new winery.

Martin's Lane Naramata Ranch Vineyard Riesling 2014

9. Phantom Creek Estates, Black Sage, BC

I tasted the first wines from Phantom Creek at the end of October, as newly minted tank and barrel samples. They were texturally very refined, rich and deep. Canadians will not likely see them until 2018, but the winery announced itself in November. And the ambition is impressive. The owner is Bai Family Estates, with Mr. Bai bent of making great Okanagan wine. The winery was purchased (while under construction) from Harry McWatters, a pioneer of the Black Sage Bench. With that came the 60-acre Sundial Vineyard. Then came the purchase of the neighbouring seven-acre Phantom Creek Vineyard from pioneering viticulturalist Dick Cleave, who was retained as a viticultural consultant. The husband and wife team of Cameron and Annie Vawter from Napa, California, are overseeing production, with the help of New Zealander Ross Wise, who was hired from Ontario where he ran a very successful consultancy. Stayed tuned for further developments.

10. Scheuermann Family Winery, Westport, ON

My first and only encounter with Scheuermann came very late in 2016 when a bottle of 2015 Chardonnay showed up at the WineAlign Christmas party. It arrived via WineAlign’s Bryan McCaw whose family has a property near Westport in the Rideau Lakes region north of Kingston. And here on the banks of Sandy Lake, where Canadian Shield granite meets Great Lakes limestone sits Scheuermann. I should no longer be surprised by the emergence of new wineries in central Ontario! It was a very fine, light, lean and mineral chardonnay made by Norman Hardie of not-too-distant Prince Edward County. Scheuermann also grows riesling, pinot noir and vidal. No review of the wine was available at press time. (I don’t rate wines at Christmas parties but I liked what I tasted)

11. Sea Star Winery, Pender Island, BC

I was a year or two behind others in ‘discovering’ Sea Star, first encountering their bright, vivacious Siegerrebe during a Canadian Wine Scholar course in Kelowna last February. This obscure German aromatic variety seemed an ideal fit for the cool, maritime climate of the Gulf Islands, where mild autumns encourage long hang time. Then at the Gold Medal Plates event in Victoria in November Sea Star’s brilliant 2015 Blanc de Noir, made 100% from pinot noir, won Best Wine of Show and was also paired with gold medal chef Jesse McCleery of Pilgrimme restaurant on nearby Galiano Island. Sea Star made its first vintage in 2013 and quickly rose to its maximum capacity of 3,800 cases in 2015, handily selling out along the way. Proprietor David Goudge purchased the existing winery and vineyard in 2012, and hired winemaker Ian Baker, formerly of Mistaken Identity on Salt Spring Island. A star is born by the sea!

Sea Star Blanc De Noir Rosé 2015

12. Sixteen Mile Cellars, Creek Shores, ON

This start-up caught my attention with a gold medal performance by its 2012 Civility Chardonnay at the National Wine Awards. So I followed up with a September visit, and found winemaker Regan Kapach (she is ex-Southbrook with experience in New Zealand, plus Red Rooster and Le Vieux Pin in BC) presiding over a very new enterprise owned by Toronto lawyer Joseph Groia and Susan Barnacal. The Rebel and Incivility labels reference Groia’s rogue reputation in legal circles. They purchased land in 2010 and planted four clones of pinot in 2011 in Susan’s Block, farming organically. Chardonnay has been planted since and Thomas Bachelder, a leading chardonnay and pinot specialist in Ontario, has been consulting. I was not blown away by every wine, some of which include purchased fruit, but I see serious potential in the approach, and the winemaker as their own vineyards come on stream.

16 Mile Cellar Civility Chardonnay 2012

13. Similkameen Syrahs, Similkameen Valley, BC

Again this year, B.C. syrahs were a critical hit at the National Wine Awards, with three winning Platinum medals. One hailed from new The Similkameen Collective which launched a small portfolio of wines in June. The Collective produces exclusively from the Blind Creek Vineyard, a 100-acre bench site just outside of the town of Cawston. Over the years it has supplied fruit to local wineries like Orofino, Eau Vivre and Little Farm. And also to Road 13 over in the South Okanagan, where winemaker J-M Bouchard was very enthused with the quality. Planted in the mid 90s, the vineyard is owned by local businessmen Larry Lund, Ron Bell and Jim Morrison. They agreed to go into a partnership with J-M Bouchard, Pam and Mick Luckhurst of Road 13, and Brian Berry, a Vancouver wine merchant. And voila, the Collective. They claim the site “has the potential to showcase a new level of excellence for northwest wine”.

The Similkameen Collective Syrah Viognier 2013

I was also very impressed by another new Similkameen Syrah, from Vanessa Vineyard, a rock strewn, southwest exposed bench site at the south end of the Valley. Purchased and planted in 2006 by Vancouver businessmen Suki Sekhon and John Welson, the red wine potential of the site was first noticed by Howard Soon of Andrew Peller. In 2012 the partners decided to develop Vanessa as a red-only brand, with Soon as consulting winemaker.

Vanessa Vineyard Syrah 2012

14. SOAHC, West Kootenays, BC

I am still trying to figure out this name (always spelled upper case), but this is one of the most intriguing new vineyards in the country. It is located on benches above the Columbia River Valley near Creston (in what may become a VQA appellation called West Kootenays) just as the river flows into the US. It is a biodynamic site, founded by ex-Ontarian, Guelph U grad Jamie Fochuk who has assembled top consulting talent like Alain Sutre and Philippe Armenier from France. The wine is made at Poplar Grove in the Okanagan Valley. The varieties include the usual suspects for Canada – chardonnay, riesling, gamay and pinot noir. The critical results are in the “very good” range, but this taut riesling took a silver at the National Wine Awards and hit 90 points in my books when poured at a Canadian Wine Scholar course in Kelowna in February 2016.

Soahc Estate Wines Riesling 2015

15. Two Sisters Winery, Niagara Lakeshore, ON

The large neo-classical edifice and bustling family-style Italian restaurant (Kitchen 76) on the southern perimeter of the town of Niagara-on-the-Lake was opened in 2014 by Benny Marotta and his daughters Melissa and Angela. The impressive arrival of Two Sisters at the National Wine Awards in 2016, with a new winemaker Adam Pearce (formerly at Pentage in BC) at the helm, signals a set direction. The wines are ambitious, well crafted and expensive, and they are strongly focused on “Bordeaux reds”, a natural given the 70-acre site on Niagara Lakeshore where the growing season is extended by the summer-warmed waters of Lake Ontario. In 2015 they were able to purchase coveted Lenko fruit from the oldest chardonnay vines in Canada and have made outstanding oaked and non-oaked versions. The Bench for whites, and the Lakeshore for reds makes all kinds of sense. Pricing is ambitious overall, but I see the wines growing into the bracket.

Two Sisters Eleventh Post 2012

16. Vieni Winery, Vinemount Ridge, ON

Vieni showed up in the Gold Medal ranks at the NWAC 2016 with a very solid, nervy gamay – catching a wave that is seeing gamay make big gains in quality, plantings and critical popularity in Niagara. When I made a trip to the source atop Vinemount Ridge in September I expected a humble, little farm-gate winery. What I found was very large vineyard of 135 wind-machine protected acres with 18 varieties planted. Plus, a still expanding, technologically advanced winery and distillery, with everything from concrete fermenters, wooden basket presses and designer bottling line and charmat sparkling tanks from Italy. Grape grower Pasquale Raviele opened the winery in 2013 with two partners. Wine production, which is now approaching 12,000 cases, includes Ontario’s only aglianico, the legendary, nervy grape of Campania in southern Italy. There are also a series of grappas, all overseen by winemaker Mauro Salvador. Italy reincarnate in Niagara.

Vieni Gamay Noir 2015

And that’s my 16 of 16!  Stay tuned in 2017 for on-going coverage of the evolution of Canadian wine. In February I will be reporting on the Canadian Culinary Championships in Kelowna which will include the naming of Gold Medal Plates Wine of the Year, and the revealing of this year’s Mystery wine. With regret I will not be able to attend the Vancouver International Wine Festival in mid-February, where Canada will be featured as the theme country, but I will arrange coverage. And in March I will be reporting on Canada’s adventures at ProWein, the world’s largest wine trade show, in Germany.

Happy Holidays to all.

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

The Canadian Wine Report brings you News and commentary on Canadian wine from a national perspective. Which means that the subject matter, events and tastings have elements or implications beyond provincial and appellation boundaries.

Past issues:

Trends and Winners from Gold Medal Plates 2016

Speaking up for Canadian Wines

Judgments on Canadian Wine

Canadian Wine: One Grape at a Time

Niagara Icewine Festival