Canadian Wine Insider – May 2023

New and Nearly New Wineries in Ontario
A Post-Pandemic Roundup

By David Lawrason

The past three years of isolation blurred my focus on the opening of new wineries in Ontario. But, in April, I was able to taste bottles from 62 wineries at the Taste Ontario event at the Park Hyatt Toronto — this was a huge help for me in figuring out what’s what and who’s who, where, when and why.

For this report, I’ll touch on wineries that might have opened as far back as 2016 to 2018, but that I have not visited. I have not done extensive tastings for all, but I do provide links to favourites reviewed on the WineAlign database. One overarching observation is that a new generation is upon us, full of chutzpah and norm-altering ambition, as youth should be. Another observation: Some new wineries are fearlessly eyeing triple digit pricing — always a controversial move with start-ups.

Delivery in May 2023

Lailey/Stonebridge, Niagara-on-the-Lake

I have extensively tasted wines from one of the most exciting Niagara Covid-era projects. Faik Turkmen, who I met when he was a WSET student in the mid-2010s, is clearly wine-smitten. A frequent visitor to Niagara-on-the-Lake with his family, he purchased the 42-acre Stonebridge Vineyard on the inland Four Mile Creek flats just below St. Davids Bench in 2016. He wisely hired veteran Niagara consultants Peter Gamble — Stratus, Icellars, On Seven, and projects in Nova Scotia — and his partner winemaker Ann Sperling — Malivoire, Southbrook and Sperling in B.C. to guide his viticultural and winemaking decisions. His first vintage of Stonebridge was 2017, with small amounts of a superb 2017 Reserve Chardonnay still available.

But building a winery on the site was cost prohibitive. In 2020, the Lailey winery and 20-acre vineyard came up for sale from interim owners who had been producing icewine for export to China. He closed the deal just before harvest, consulting with original owner Donna Lailey. He began to re-invigorate the disheveled site. Revitalizing the winery has been an arduous process, with the debut Lailey Rose, Orange and a dandy old vine Zweigelt coming from the 2021 vintage. The first estate Stonebridge reds to be released will be 2021s. In 2018, 2019 and 2020, he purchased cabernet franc from sites in Creek Shores and Twenty Mile Bench.

The focus is on chardonnays and cabernet franc, but not exclusively. The wines undergo long, wild ferments in French oak barrels, and rest almost two years with minimal lees stirring, resulting in very finely textured, detailed and complex wines. WineAlign has published notes on much of the portfolio, with impressive ratings. Which is a good thing, because the pricing is aggressive, with some single-block chardonnays and cab francs between $60 and $110. It’s a price the winery feels is justified by the quality, and although I might disagree on a wine-by-wine basis, the overall quality is within the realm of low- to mid-90s scores. The wines are just now moving out into the world, with the Chardonnay 2019 Reserve taking gold at the Chardonnay du Monde competition.

Lailey Zweigelt 2021

Lailey Zweigelt 2021, Niagara River, Ontario

Lailey Stonebridge Reserve West Chardonnay 2019

Lailey Stonebridge Reserve West Chardonnay 2019, Four Mile Creek, Ontario

Lailey Stonebridge Reserve Cabernet Franc 2019

Lailey Stonebridge Reserve Cabernet Franc 2019, Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario

Ferox by Fabian Ries, Niagara-on-the-Lake

Fabian Ries and sommelier partner Stephanie Ries bottled their first vintage in 2016 but ramped up after purchasing the Rancourt Winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake, and its 25 acres, in 2018. Fabian was born into a six-generation winemaking family near Stuttgart, Germany, but has chosen Niagara as the place to ply his craft, at first in association with Reif Estate Winery. I had my first small tasting of the wines at WineAlign last year, with others to be tasted imminently. Out of the gate, the marketing aims are ambitiously high in terms quality and price. There are more than a dozen varieties planted in 60 sustainably farmed acres, including some gruner veltliner and dornfelder. The whites I have tasted have scintillating acidity, complexity and excellent depth, and the Black Lion 2016 I encountered at Taste Ontario is close to outstanding. Its eye-popping price tag of $195 certainly grabs attention, which may be the whole point, but I have given a one-star value rating. Ferox still needs to prove its self-stated worth — and I will be paying attention.

Ferox Black Lion Cuvée 2016

Ferox Black Lion Cuvée 2016, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario

180 Estate, Creek Shores (Jordan)

This enterprise is a direct result of the pandemic, when a parent’s Covid death triggered Bob and Marzia Murdoch, with daughters Taylor and Sara, to do a one-eighty, leaving their Mississauga-based corporate lives in 2020 and buying the ten-acre di Profio vineyard and winery in Jordan. They had little wine experience but all kinds of determination — and work ethic. They hired winemaker Ramsey Khairallah, a graduate of winemaking programs at Niagara College and an Honors BSc in Oenology at Brock University. He gained experience in New Zealand, France and the United States. The sustainably farmed and maturing vineyard is overseen by viticulturalist Phil Clarke. There are 11 varieties with a focus on gamay, which I remember from my visit to Di Profio several years ago. There are no less than five gamay-based bottlings including sparkling, two rosés and two reds. The portfolio is quite large, with pinot grigio, sauvignon blanc, riesling, viognier and white blends in the mix. Other reds are merlot and cabernet-sauvignon based, with the latter made in an appassimento style that sells ambitiously, in a marketing sense, for $100. However, prices overall are moderate, with single-varietal wines in the $20-to-$30 range.

180 Estate Winery Gamay Rose Mia Cara Vineyard 2021

180 Estate Winery Gamay Rose Mia Cara Vineyard 2021, Creek Shores, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario

AMO Wines, St Davids Bench

Amo (love in Italian) swoons into Niagara on a magic carpet ride that could have launched from Milan or Verona. It is very much a romance-driven designer winery — from the wine selection and styling to the packaging to the marketing on the website. The “Our Story” drop down on the website says nothing about the people involved or history or grapes or vines. Instead, it says. “AMO is love, and love is the root of life. Ignite your sense and live life with intensity and affection. Our wine collection will awaken your dreams and passions — it will fuel your soul.” The portfolio has six wines, each in glittery, glossy bottles. Together they are called “The Senses Collection.” Or remove the sparklers and you have “The Collection.” Or you can purchase individual varietal-driven sparklers and still wines that include pinot gris, riesling, cabernet franc and rosé. I quickly tasted through with engaging general manager Tony Milana at Taste Ontario and the wines were very good: clean, correct and racy, banking on classic Niagara acidity. They are also priced in the $35 to $50 range, which is more than I expected at first glance. I will report further after I visit the winery that is now under construction on York Road near St. David’s. I sense a wedding venue.

Amo Wines Pinot Gris 2020

Amo Wines Pinot Gris 2020, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario

Drea’s Wine Company, Niagara-on-the-Lake

Andrea Kaiser launched her virtual winery brand before Covid, but her volumes and quality grew during the pandemic, at least in my opinion, having quickly tasted most of her portfolio at Taste Ontario. She makes her wines at Reif Estate, where she has worked for 20 years as vice president of marketing. Reif is in the Niagara River neighbourhood, where the Kaiser family lived. Andrea grew up here with her sister Magdalena, of Wine Country Ontario, and brother, Maximilian, a graphic artist and wine label designer. Her father was Karl Kaiser, co-founder of Inniskillin in 1974, the first winery to open in Niagara’s modern era. Drea was the nickname given to her by her family, and indeed references her father’s influence. Even in the wine choices she has made with sauvignon blanc being a family favourite and dornfelder a specialty of their Austrian heritage. It is the basis of her deeply hued, dry rosé and a red varietal Dornfelder. She also makes a very good cabernet franc. The wines are priced in around $30 and are available on the Reif website.

Drea Wine Co. Drea's Sauvignon Blanc 2022

Drea Wine Co. Drea’s Sauvignon Blanc 2022, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario

Divergence, Niagara-on-the-Lake

Divergence is another virtual winery brand. In fact, it is just one brand within a larger virtual beverage matrix called Collab that produces other Ontario wines (Fogolar), fruit wines (Maenad), ciders (EV’s Eclectics) and wine spritzers (KAJ). But Divergence is of most interest to this traditional, ageing wine myopic. The wines are made by a very thoughtful and detailed young man named Jeff Moote, who was a chemical engineer before graduating from oenology studies at Brock University. Divergence is all about sourcing small hand pick lots from top Niagara vineyards, like Wismer in Twenty Mile Bench and Grimsby Hillside in Lincoln Lakeshore. During a very brief tasting encounter I was struck by the solid structure and texture of his wines, and will delve further. The varietals are priced from $25 to $35, the traditional method Brut Nature is $40. Very promising!

Divergence Gamay Noir Wismer Wingfield Vineyard 2021

Divergence Gamay Noir Wismer Wingfield Vineyard 2021, Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario

Locust Lane, Beamsville Bench

Locust Lane, which opened in 2020, is the latest iteration on a fabulous Beamsville Bench site, remarkable for its view overlooking the vineyards with Lake Ontario and the Toronto skyline in the background. It has historically inspired tourism and dining experiences that have eclipsed its wines, in my view. It was most recently the Mike Weir winery, and prior to that was known as Eastdell. And before that it was home to Walter’s Estate. The new owners are real-estate developers Frank Mondelli and Michael Sannella, and Douglas Wheler, an events/catering professional. They hired Jeff Innes, a 20-plus-year veteran of making wine in Prince Edward County and Niagara. The portfolio has some whites and reds in the modest $15-to-$20 range, with more expensive reserves running $25 to $35. I have yet to taste in depth, but I encountered a decent $20 Fumé Blanc at Taste Ontario.

Locust Lane Fumé Blanc 2021

Locust Lane Fumé Blanc 2021, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore

VIVACE, Lake Erie North Shore

Vivace opened in 2017 — and Taste Ontario was my first encounter with the wines, and not a detailed encounter. Vivace is near Amherstburg on the Detroit River south of Windsor, making it either the first or last stop on the Lake Erie North Shore wine route, depending on your direction. Owner Jean Qian runs an all-women operation out of a rustic barn that now hosts a popular, modern tasting room. Reviews praise the liveliness of the visiting experience. The vineyard was planted in the 1980s and includes some old marechal foch that delivers a memorable $15 red called Etude. Other hybrid varieties like vidal, baco noir, marquette dominate the site — but are named via musical references, like Vivace itself — while self-named pinot gris, chardonnay and merlot vinifera fill out the portfolio. Time to stop being embarrassed by hybrids? Other new/newish wineries in Lake Erie North Shore include Dancing Swallows Vineyard planted in 2012 with the winery opening in 2020; and Vin Winery that opened in 2021. I look forward to investigating further.

Vivace Etude Marechal Foch 2021

Vivace Etude Marechal Foch 2021, Ontario

And that is a wrap for this CWI report, with apologies for omitting any other new wineries. Please send me a note. I look forward, in particular, to reporting on the almost open King + Victoria Winery on Twenty Mile Bench. And I encourage all new wineries to enter the National Wine Awards of Canada in June.