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The 20th anniversary of the Ontario Wine Awards, held Friday night at the Queen’s Landing hotel in Niagara-on-the-Lake, was a celebration of the evolution of Ontario VQA wines through two decades of rapid growth.

And, wow, what a long way they have come.

The judges sifted through 548 different wines from 73 Ontario wineries to come up with gold, silver and bronze winners in myriad categories. The awards were presented at a glitzy awards night conducted Oscar-style (no one knew the results until they were announced) that was full of surprises.

Ontario’s largest wine companies — Peller, which includes Trius, Wayne Gretzky and Thirty Bench (12 medals in total), along with Constellation Brand’s Inniskillin, Jackson-Triggs and Le Clos Jordanne (10 medals in total), and Chateau des Charmes (6 medals in total) — took the bulk of the awards spread across many categories.

Brian Schmidt

The most popular award of the evening went to the ever-humble and much-deserving Brian Schmidt (above and top with awards founder Tony Aspler), Vineland Estates, for winemaker of the year. In true Schmidt style he immediately passed along the praise to his vineyard and winery crews.

EB-RieslingOV-2012The two top wine prizes went to Chateau des Charmes, White Wine of the Year for the Old Vines Riesling 2012, and Angels Gate, Red Wine of the Year for its Mountainview Pinot Noir 2010.

The Gold medal in the Oaked Chardonnay Over $20 category went to Prince Edward County’s Exultet for the fourth year in a row, a feat unheard of in these awards.

The awards’ founder, Tony Aspler, said: “The entires to the Ontario Wine Awards definitely reflect the trends in consumer tastes. Sparkling wine grew exponentially and blended red with Bordeaux varieties keeps surging ahead. All in all, the quality of the wines submitted this year speaks to the health of the Ontario wine industry.”

In the truly bizarre category, Andy Brandt, former iron-fisted CEO of the LCBO, who hosted the gala evening, butchered so many names of people and wine variety pronunciations that everyone at the table I was sitting at thought it was part of his schtick. Sadly, it wasn’t.

Just for the record, Mr. Brandt, and one would think after a career in the wine and booze trade, you might catch on, it’s Pinot Gris (Gree, not Grease), it’s Cabernet Franc (not Frank), Moray Tawse would not be happy with Moray Tawsey, Syrah is not a women’s name so Sara isn’t appropriate, and, just a word of advice when you come to someone’s town like Niagara-on-the-Lake, please learn how to say the Lord Mayor’s name. Geez. It got so bad that he eventually just glossed over the tough words and names (a mercy, really).

Not to be out-done was NPD candidate Wayne Gates’ campaign speech (inappropriate for this event, in my opinion!) which seemed directed at Brandt, who sat listening uncomfortably, that stressed he would do everything in his power to fight for more shelf space at the LCBO for Ontario wines. If that is what Gates plans on fighting for this election, he lost the room in a hurry. Wineries in Ontario want more consumer access for their wines through alternative means — like the opening of private stores. If you can’t fight for them on that front, Mr. Gates, your fiery speech was wasted on this crowd. I don’t know why Brandt was so sullen, though, he’s no longer the CEO of the LCBO.

Brandt and Gates aside, the evening was a fun event and a wonderful celebration of Ontario’s best wines.

Here are the winners.

Winemaker of the Year: Brian Schmidt, Vineland Estates

Red Wine of the Year: Angels Gate Mountainview Pinot Noir 2010

White Wine of the Year: Chateau des Charmes Old Vines Riesling 2012

Best Label Design Awards:

Gold: Niagara College Teaching Winery Balance Sauvignon Blanc 2012

Silver: EastDell Black Label Chardonnay Sur Lie 2012

Bronze: Colio Bricklayer’s Predicament Cab-Merlot 2012

Sparkling Wine Awards:

Gold: Peller Estates NV Ice Cuvee Classic, Peller Estates NV Ice Cuvee Classic (tie)

Silver: Trius NV Brut

Bronze: 13th Street Grand Cuvee 2007, Angels Gate Archangel Chardonnay 2011

Dry Riesling Awards:

Gold: Chateau des Charmes Old Vines Riesling 2012 and Henry of Pelham Speck Family Reserve 2009

Silver: Hinterbrook Estate Riesling 2012

Bronze: Flat Rock Cellars Nadja’s Vineyard 2013

Semi-Dry Riesling Awards:

Gold: Trius Showcase Ghost Creek Riesling 2012

Silver: Mike Weir Riesling 2012

Bronze: Tawse Quarry Road Riesling 2012

Dry White Varietal Awards:

Gold: Chateau Des Charmes Aligote 2012

Silver: Union Wines Gold 2011

Bronze: Hernder Estate Vidal 2011

Gewurztraminer Awards:

Gold: No gold award

Silver: Riverview Cellars Gewurztraminer 2012

Bronze: Calamus Gewurztraminer 2013

Pinot Blanc/Pinot Gris Awards:

Gold: No Gold award

Silver: Peller Estates Private Reserve Pinot Gris 2012, Pelee Island Singing Moon Pinot Blanc 2012

Bronze: PondView Pinot Grigio 2013

Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon Awards:

Gold: Trius Showcase Clean Slate Wild Ferment Sauvignon Blanc 2012

Silver: Jackson-Triggs Delaine Fume Blanc 2012, Jackson-Triggs Grand Reserve White Meritage 2012

Bronze: No bronze awarded

Oaked Chardonnay under $20 Awards:

Gold: Angels Gate Mountainview Chardonnay 2010

Silver: Niagara College Teaching Winery Balance Barrel Fermented Chardonnay 2011

Bronze: Magnotta Kittling Ridge Chardonnay Barrel Fermented Limited Edition 2012

Oaked Chardonnay over $20 Awards:

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Gold: Exultet Estates Chardonnay 2012

Silver: Tawse Estate Chardonnay 2010

Bronze: Palatine Hills Estate Neufeld Vineyard Chardonnay 2010

Unoaked Chardonnay Awards:

Gold: Malivoire Musque Spritz 2013

Silver: Mike Weir Unoaked Chardonnay 2012

Bronze: Vineland Estates Chardonnay Musque 2011, Chateau des Charmes Chardonnay Musque 2012

Rose/Blanc de Noir Awards:

Gold: Sue-Ann Staff Estate Rose 2012

Silver: Ridgepoint White Cabernet 2012

Bronze: Coopers Hawk Rose 2013

Gamay Awards:

Gold: Chateau des Charmes Gamay Noir 2012

Silver: Malivoire Courtney Gamay 2012

Bronze: Peller Estates Private Reserve Gamay Noir

Pinot Noir Awards:

Gold: Angels Gate Mountainview Pinot Noir 2010, Rosewood Estates Origin Pinot Noir 2012

Silver: Kew Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012

Bronze: Le Clos Jordanne Claystone Terrace Pinot Noir 2011

Red Hybrid Awards:

Gold: Malivoire Wine Company Old Vines Foch 2012

Silver: Henry of Pelham Baco Noir Reserve 2011

Bronze: Sandbanks Estate Dunes Red 2012

Cabernet Sauvignon Awards:

Gold: Ravine Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2010

Silver: Riverview Salvatore’s Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2011

Bronze: Peller Estates Signature Series Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Colio Estate Bricklayer’s Reward Cabernet Sauvignon

Cabernet Franc Awards:

Gold: No Gold awarded

Silver: Thirty Bench Small Lot Cabernet Franc 2011, Peller Estates Signature Series Cabernet Franc

Bronze: Stoney Ridge Cabernet Franc 2010

Merlot Awards:

Gold: Angels Gate Merlot 2012

Silver: Rosewood Estates Origin Merlot 2012

Bronze: Tawse Member Select Merlot 2010

Syrah Awards:

Gold: Jackson-Triggs Delaine Syrah 2011

Silver: Tawse Member Select Syrah 2010

Bronze: Lailey Vineyards Syrah 2012

Meritage and Cab/Merlot Blends Awards:

Gold: The Foreign Affair 2010 Temptress

Silver: Trius Red 2012

Bronze: Redstone Meritage 2010

Late Harvest Awards:

Gold: Peller Estates Private Reserve Late Harvest Vidal 2012

Silver: Pillitteri Estates Select Late Harvest Riesling 2012

Bronze: Inniskillin Discovery Series Botrytis Affected Viognier 2013

Vidal Icewine Awards:

Gold: Inniskillin Sparkling Vidal Icewine 2011

Silver: Inniskillin Vidal Icewine 2012

Bronze: Chateau des Charmes 2012 Vidal Icewine 2012

Vinifera Icewine Awards:

Gold: Inniskillin Sparkling Cabernet Franc Icewine 2012

Silver: Chateau des Charmes Cabernet Franc Icewine 2012

Bronze: Jackson-Triggs Reserve Cabernet Franc Icewine 2012

Appassimento Red Awards:

Gold: Rennie Estate “G” 2011

Silver: The Foreign Affair Gran Q 2010

Bronze: Burning Kiln Kiln Hanger — The Sequel 2010

Blended White Awards:

Gold: Vineland Estates Chenin Blanc 2012

Silver: Redstone Viognier 2013

Bronze: Burning Kiln Chenin Blanc 2010, Rockway Glen White Assemblage 2012, Flat Rock Twisted 2012, Inniskillin Reserve Viognier 2013

Blended Red Awards:

Gold: Inniskillin Winemaker’s Series Shiraz-Cabernet 2010

Silver: Wayne Gretzky No. 99 Shiraz-Cabernet 2011

Bronze: Tawse T-Blend 2010, Vineland Estates Pinot Meunier 2012