Vintages - For the Love of Local

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Feature Story

Explore a stellar new collection of Ontario wines and meet some of the talented, community-minded folks behind them. 

Nothing tastes better than local, and with the abundance of VQA wineries across Ontario, that means a wealth of delicious wine to choose from. Behind every great bottle you’ll find skilled and passionate crafters who not only know the land that grows the grapes, but who are intimately connected to their local communities. Here, we introduce you to some of them as they give us the inside scoop on their favourite spots and pastimes in Niagara, Lake Erie, Prince Edward County and Georgian Bay. Just a few dozen more reasons to love local.

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13th Street Winery

“As a lifelong Niagara resident, my favourite thing about living here is the natural beauty and diversity of the area,” says 13th Street Winery president Doug Whitty, whose family has lived and farmed in Niagara for 113 years. “If a friend visits for the first time, I greet them with a glass of wine and then take them on a leisurely tour of the gardens, sculpture park, tasting bar, farm store, bakery and art gallery, all here at the winery. Afterwards, we might go on a nice drive through the many surrounding vineyards and tender-fruit orchards while enjoying beautiful views of the Niagara Escarpment on our way to Lake Ontario. In Port Dalhousie, we would stroll on the pier and enjoy one of our spectacular sunsets.”

Good Partners:
The Expression Project (13thstreetwinery.com/expressionproject) is part of 13th Street Winery’s ongoing commitment to the arts and to the local community. A portion of the proceeds from all Expression Series wines are donated in support of Canadian artists.


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Closson Chase

“To me, the best thing about making wine in Prince Edward County is the lifestyle,” says winemaker Keith Tyers. “Living close to Closson Chase allows me insight into the vineyard, as whatever is happening outside my window (weather-wise) is also occurring in the vineyard. But life, like wine, is all about balance, and PEC offers things to do all year round: hiking, cross-country skiing, bike riding, snowmobiling, and there’s always wineries, breweries, cider, plus amazing food and fantastic people. For anyone visiting, a day at one of our many beaches is a given! And a trip wouldn’t be complete without a bike ride on the Millennium Trail or a trip to Lake on the Mountain.”

Good Partners:
Knowing the pandemic was tough on international vineyard workers (what with interrupted travel and requisite quarantines), Keith teamed up with Alchemy Artist Residency, Storehouse Foodbank and the local municipal government to provide workers with free, healthy, hearty meals made from ingredients grown on Prince Edward County farms.


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Bella Terra Vineyards

In June, PondView Estate Winery changed their name to Bella Terra, an exciting new chapter for a producer whose legacy dates to 1974. (A small selection of wines remains under the PondView name.) Owner Lou Puglisi grew up on this farm, and the connection to the ancient soils in the vineyard and to the people of Niagara is intensely personal for everyone at Bella Terra. “There are a lot of things that co-exist with the winery. Hospitality has always been important in Niagara,” says Marcel Morgenstern, director of sales, “but now there’s a network of distilleries, breweries and restaurants. Over the decades, the restaurant scene has evolved along with the wineries; we have world-class wine and world-class food. I began working in Niagara as a winery tour guide in 2000, and I can feel a real buzz in the region.” Marcel has plans to launch a website (wheninniagara.com) “to make planning a trip to Niagara even easier; a way to arrange everything you want to do in one place. And it will let visitors connect with the staff and owners of the restaurants they’re going to visit, so when they walk in the door, they’ll already know someone.”

Good Partners:
Throughout the last year and a half, Bella Terra has been involved with fundraisers for Community Care and Habitat for Humanity, and Marcel started the Restaurants of Niagara Facebook group: a vibrant online group that helped support the many small Niagara restaurants during the pandemic. “The community rallied behind these businesses, and we were able to help keep them going,” says Marcel.


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Pelee Island Winery

“There’s a rich winemaking history in this region, on both sides of the border, and for spirits and whisky too,” says Darryl MacMillan, vice-president, business development. “Winemaking on Pelee Island dates back to the 1850s, and the ruins of Canada’s first commercial winery, Vin Villa, which dates to 1866, can still be visited.” Vin Villa won a bronze medal at the 1878 World’s Fair in Paris; an early indication of the quality to come from both the island and Ontario. “Our modern winemaking story begins in the 1970s,” says Darryl. “By the mid-1980s, our wines were being sold in the LCBO. We developed rapidly through the ’90s and into the 2000s. You can’t talk about our region without talking about the influence of Lake Erie. We’re the southernmost region in Canada and the warmest in Ontario, which means we have no trouble ripening our Bordeaux varietals. We have a collaborative relationship with our winemaking neighbours in Niagara and PEC, and we all help each other out, sharing best practices. It’s special – we all want each other to succeed. Over the years, we’ve developed a relationship with the Stratford Festival that we’re very proud of and when the pandemic struck, we stepped in with our #LoveStratford wines packages. We also continue to support the CFCC, Feed Ontario and the Essex County food banks. And we offered up our pavilion to host a vaccination clinic.”

Good Partners:
“We’ve been long-time partners with the Nature Conservancy of Canada and have offered financial support, equipment and other resources to their rehabilitation of the Pelee Island wetlands,” says Darryl. “We’ve been blogging about the project on our website (peleeisland.com) and will continue to post updates.”


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Charles Baker Wines

Partnerships and collaboration are central to Charles Baker, whether through his work with Stratus as their marketing director or with winemaker J-L Groux for Charles’s eponymous virtual winery. He’s been working with the Picone Vineyard since 2005 and credits Mark Picone with allowing him to be “the steward for this very special vineyard.” This single-vineyard Riesling has become one of the purest, finest expressions in Niagara. “Over the years, we’ve really come to understand its place in the Niagara context,” says Charles. “This doesn’t taste like any other Riesling. It’s so pure and structured.” Charles arrived in Ontario in 1984 and began his wine journey pulling corks in restaurants. “I still have many friends and associates in the restaurant business. I think the pandemic showed us how we as a society have taken restaurants for granted in the past. I hope that going forward, there’s a new awareness around how important they are; tens of thousands of people rely on restaurants for their livelihood. We sent out care packages to people in the industry to thank them and let them know that we had their back.” Charles and Stratus have been involved in supporting a number of important initiatives, including the Niagara Conservation Authority, savehospitality.ca, and The Stop’s Farmers’ Market at the historic Artscape Wychwood Barns in Toronto. “Supporting local is a part of our DNA at Stratus; this is where we live. In some cases, it’s about us being able to use our position to be a mouthpiece for someone else who doesn’t have the same reach we do.”

Good Partners: “Many of the things we do to help are driven by what our team wants to do,” says Charles. “Recently, we devoted all the proceeds from a day of tasting flights, including the tips our staff received, to the Niagara Regional Native Centre.”


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Flat Rock Cellars

“When you look at the science behind our soils and our climate, and when you remove our Canadian tendency to be humble, you quickly realize that Niagara is one of the great wine regions in the world,” says Ed Madronich, Flat Rock Cellars president. “Something I witness regularly, both here in the tasting room and internationally when I pour our wines, is a three-step reaction: first, people say they ‘had no idea that we make wine in Canada.’ Then they say they ‘had no idea the wine was so good.’ And then, ‘I had no idea it was so inexpensive.’ For me, what makes this region special is that we’re right next door to Toronto and less than a 90-minute drive for 7.5-million people, and yet we remain such a rich agricultural community. There’s a fruit stand on every corner. And everyone has each other’s back. There’s wonderful collaboration and sharing between all of the wineries. We’re working to raise the profile of all of us. The F’ing Winery Tour, with us, Fielding Estate, The Foreign Affair and Featherstone, is a perfect example of that commitment. The expansion and evolution of wines in Ontario is directly connected to the emergence of the unbelievable restaurants and foods here. El Gastronomo Vagabundo, the gourmet food truck that revolutionized the food truck industry, started here at Flat Rock because we wanted great food to go with our great wines.”

Good Partners:
Sales of Good Kharma Chardonnay have helped provide more than 150,000 meals to people in need. Flat Rock’s four pillars of sustainability (success, people, community and environment) have always been an essential component of every aspect of their business and were front and centre during the challenges brought on by COVID. During the last year, Flat Rock participated in and helped promote the Feed Ontario COVID-19 Emergency Food Box program.


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Rosewood Estates Winery

Rosewood released their first wine and mead in 2008, but their story stretches back much further. “Our family have been beekeepers for 90 years,” says general manager William Roman. “My father paid his way through university working 900 hives with my grandfather.” The Legacy Cyser is based on a recipe that R.W. Roman wrote in 1980. “My grandfather put the recipe in his desk, and it was forgotten until it was found in 2015. It’s an authentic expression and a reminder that we’re living his legacy.” Though William no longer lives in Beamsville, there are several places he likes to stop in on. “Any gardening enthusiast would love the Watering Can Flower Market, in Vineland. I often go in just to grab a coffee, and they make great pastries. The Bench Kitchen in Grimbsy basically fuels our team, especially when we’re bottling. They make great sandwiches and they’re good people. For the best doughnuts anywhere, you have to go to the Beamsville Bakery. And be sure to check out the Grand Oak Culinary Market; it has a little bit of everything. I’ve become an avid cyclist over this year, and County Cycle Bike Boutique have been great. It’s a really cool shop, and they can help you with repairs, tune-ups, or if you just want to talk about cycling.”

Good Partners:
William is very proud of the work Rosewood did, early in the pandemic, with Mitch Lamb from the Revalee Brunch Café. “I wanted to have an Instagram contest to support local businesses,” says Mitch. “I had hoped that maybe a dozen or so businesses would participate, but we ended up with over 200. It blew up. It was great. An amazing celebration of community over competition.”


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Henry of Pelham

“My brothers Paul, Matt and I started visiting Niagara’s Short Hills Bench with our dad in 1982,” says co-owner Dan Speck. “We shovel-planted the first vineyards in ’84 and made our first wines in ’88. Living in wine country, we’re very attuned to the seasons and to this place we’ve enjoyed a relationship with for 40 years. There’s a real sense of shared community effort around wine, food, hospitality and now beer and spirits as we collectively celebrate this wonderful and diverse place.” There’s more to enjoy besides vineyards, too. “Beyond the excellent wineries, hotels and dining, for me Niagara has two best-kept secrets: stunning beaches – from broad white sand to pebble, it feels like the Mediterranean – and trails along the Niagara Escarpment, with beautiful forests and spectacular views.”

Good Partners: Henry of Pelham is winery- and vineyard-certified through Sustainable Winemaking Ontario (SWO). Far from a being a buzzword, sustainability has been part of Ontario winemaking for longer than you might think. The SWO initiative goes back to 2003 and became a standard in 2007. Currently, a dozen Ontario wineries are certified through the program.


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Inniskillin

Niagara native Bruce Nicholson spent 20 years making wine in the Okanagan before returning to his birthplace in 2007 to become winemaker for Inniskillin Niagara Estate. “The region really established itself as a world-class wine destination in that time,” he says. “As a true cool-climate region, Niagara has the ability to put out fruit-forward wines with balanced acidity, which are amazing on their own and also fantastic with food.” Returning home also afforded other perks. “One of my favourite activities that I’ve been doing since I was a kid is visiting the beautiful gardens, trails and famous monument in Queenston Heights Park. It’s also the start of the Bruce Trail, so it’s great for walking and hiking. As a kid, I would visit on Sundays and since my return home I have brought my own children to the park. It remains one of my favourite activities in the area.”

Good Partners:
It was Inniskillin who first garnered international attention for Ontario wines when their 1989 Vidal Icewine won the Grand Prix d’Honneur at Vinexpo in France. Since then, they’ve continued to set the benchmark for premium winemaking in Ontario.

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Mastronardi Estate Winery

When Eadie Mastronardi and her family bought a vineyard in Essex County in 2002 and opened a winery there in 2006, that wasn’t their original goal. “We’d been looking to expand our greenhouse business when we purchased the land,” she says, “but some of the other local wineries convinced us to grow wine grapes instead. Now we’re part of a blossoming wine scene, and the comradery is strong.” And it’s not just the wine scene. “There is so much to do and see in Essex County, from the amazing wineries and breweries to some of the greatest ‘everything local’ culinary experiences around. There’s also Point Pelee National Park with its amazing eco trails, Windsor with its beautiful waterfront, and the best festivals in Southwestern Ontario are found right here in our backyard. Living and working on the shores of Lake Erie is absolutely breathtaking!”

Good Partners: Essex County’s bountiful festival season includes Explore the Shore, Festival of Birds, Kingsville Folk Music Festival, LaSalle Strawberry Festival, Ruthven Apple Festival, Tecumseh Corn Festival and more. Over the years, Mastronardi Estate has been involved in such community events as the Grape Escape Festival.


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Colchester Ridge Estate Winery

Location is key in winemaking, and the Lake Erie North Shore region brings sunshine and warmth that encourages grapes to ripen consistently and deliver wines of superb concentration. From their first vintage in 2004, CREW has played no small part in the rising reputation of LENS itself. “Our customers like to brag about the wines,” says owner Bernie Gorski. “Over the last 20 years, LENS has developed into a truly high-quality wine region. There’s a real symbiotic relationship between all the wineries and the local community. Our kitchen here is farm-to-table, and we like to support and promote local growers as much as we can. People often eat here and then go buy from our suppliers.” Shortly before the lockdowns, CREW built a new retail building and event centre. “It will be wonderful to see people here again enjoying themselves. People put off weddings and birthday celebrations, all kinds of things. The pandemic has made us rethink our priorities. We all have a part to play in rebuilding the tourist industry, and we will do our bit by continuing to produce wines of the highest quality.”

Good Partners:
“Every year we participate in drives for the food bank,” says Bernie. “I was delighted and surprised by the outpouring of community participation this year – it was phenomenal. CREW contributed more than we usually do because we wanted to give back and thank the community for what they have given us.”


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Cloudsley Cellars

“Although I started Cloudsley Cellars in 2015,” says proprietor Adam Lowy, “I’ve been connected to wine country here and selling Niagara wines since 1999. One of the things that appealed to me, outside of the vineyards and wineries, was the beauty of the countryside. I continue to be struck by how gorgeous it is here. The other thing has been the people. It’s a really friendly place with a great sense of community.” Cloudsley Cellars focuses on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and the response has been positive. “I’m happy to say that people overwhelmingly take to our wines. I think terroir-driven, cool-climate wines have a very broad appeal because they are complex but not heavy, and they have a refreshing quality to them.”

Good Partners: When it came time to assemble a winemaking team, Adam sought out locally trained protegees from Niagara College with specific knowledge of the region. Winemaker Matt Smith and assistant winemaker Eden Garry are both graduates of the school’s winemaking program.


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Cave Spring

“Sustainability is at the crux of everything we do,” says Gabe Demarco, assistant winemaker. “Our vineyard is in a perfect sweet spot,” adds Thomas Pennachetti, vice-president of marketing and sales. “To my mind, it’s one of the most intrinsically sustainable sites in Niagara, if not Canada. A lot of things come together: slope, distance from the lake, the moderating breezes that reflect off the escarpment. It all means that we can consistently, sustainably ripen our fruit.” “This last year or so has made me appreciate this area even more,” says Gabe. “Walking the Bruce Trail, or the parks in Port Dalhousie (which has a cool brewing and restaurant scene of its own), and the oldest merry-go-round in Canada.” “The Bruce Trail runs past our vineyard. We bring people up there to get a birds-eye view,” says Thomas. “The farm-to-table scene in our area is quite buoyant,” he continues. “I was walking down St. Paul Street with my wife recently and we realized how great it was that so many of the wonderful restaurants on and near the strip had survived. It’s also amazing to think we’ve been dealing with many of the same companies in Niagara for 50 years now – sellers of farm equipment, etc., who are so important to the success of the wine industry. It’s all connected. It’s a special place.” As Gabe puts it, “I came for the vineyard and stayed for the people.”

Good Partners:
During the pandemic, Cave Spring donated wine and offered free tastings to frontline workers in hospitals in St. Catharines, Niagara Falls and Welland. “It was a way for us to let them know how much we appreciated all that they were doing,” says Gabe.


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Trius Winery

Craig McDonald’s career has included tenures in Australia, New Zealand, Spain, Oregon and California, but the majority of his 34 harvests have been spent in Niagara, where he’s VP of winemaking at Trius. “What impresses me most about Ontario is the potential. We have a huge opportunity to build a sustainable wine industry, all the while supporting local and building community. Given our geography and density, we winemakers are a highly social bunch and work (and play) intimately together. We also have strong ties to our local winemaking institute at Brock University, CCOVI (Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute), which provides valuable technical outreach and support. I personally enjoy giving back and supporting our future winemakers in training.”

Good Partners:
Trius helped establish Ontario’s place in the wine world when the 1991 vintage of Trius Red took home the prize for best red wine in the world at the International Wine & Spirit Competition in London, UK, thus proving our cool climate could produce red wines of exceptional quality.


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Leaning Post

Winemaker Ilya Senchuk worked in Niagara for more than a decade before he and his wife, Nadia, co-founded their own winery in the region, by which time he’d fallen in love with the place and its explorative spirit. “Freedom and experimentation are our strength,” he says. “We in Niagara are now making some of the best cool-climate wines in the world in a very classic style, but there is still room for us to experiment with different techniques. The community is also amazing. Nadia and I have been so fortunate to be able to start a business and raise three young children in such a beautiful and welcoming place. When you visit one great Niagara winery, you find that they gladly recommend other amazing local wineries. I always tell people: Check out a winery that maybe is a little off your normal path. You will be infinitely rewarded.”

Good Partners: While helping forge the future of winemaking in Niagara, Ilya and Nadia are also doing their part to preserve local history. Their small-scale, artisanal winery is housed in a restored 1850s barn that’s a tourist destination unto itself.


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Jackson-Triggs

Australian-born winemaker Levi de Loryn has spent the last 10 years living and working in Niagara. “The Niagara region really is a gem that the rest of the world needs to know more about,” he says. “There’s a passion that flows through everyone in the industry here – whether it be our viticultural staff, front of house staff or cellar crew, everybody is so passionate about what they’re doing. It’s energizing to be a part of. Plus, I no longer have to watch out for poisonous spiders and snakes in the vineyard!” Creepy-crawlies aside, Niagara is a great place for a wine-loving foodie. “One of my favourite activities is riding my bicycle around Niagara-on-the-Lake and tasting all the incredible food and drink that the area has to offer.”

Good Partners: As one of their community commitment initiatives (jacksontriggswinery.com/our-commitments), Jackson-Triggs has partnered with Vinequity to help ensure that people who identify as Black, Indigenous or People of Colour are given equitable treatment and access to opportunity to grow and thrive in the Canadian wine industry.


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Georgian Hills Vineyards

Founder Robert Ketchin was drawn to the South Georgian Bay area in the 1990s by a belief that it represented an ideal microclimate for cool-climate winemaking. Experimentation and careful site and grape selection have resulted in a focus on winter-hardy hybrids such as L’Acadie Blanc and Marquette. “Our region is cooler than Niagara; we have only 18 weeks from bud break to harvest. Pinot, Cab Franc, Chardonnay and Riesling just won’t survive here. We make unique wines that are elegant and delicate with bright, refreshing acidity. With these hybrids, we’ve found our mojo and hit our stride. The area has a youthful energy to it, with ski hills, great golf courses, and for mountain bikers, like me, there’s the Kolapore Wilderness Trails and the 3-Stages. There’s an abundance of art galleries and artists, restaurants, cideries, breweries and distilleries. I’m proud of Vinestock: a fundraising event that predates COVID. It’s a fun day of great music, local food, beer, and wine of course, that supports the South Georgian Bay Music Foundation. To help support local restaurants during the pandemic, we had the Pop-Up Patio Takeover. We let restaurants – Bruce Wine Bar, The Pine, Cabin Bistro, and the 6 Ft. Apart food truck – use our patio free of charge. Four great chefs, four great Thursday nights. South Georgian Bay is an amazing destination for great cultural and culinary experiences.”

Good Partners: “Through the pandemic, we raised money for the Georgian Triangle Humane Society with our A Case for a Cause,” says Robert. “We donated 20% of all case sales and asked that the money be used specifically for the pet support services fund.”

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