There’s a sense of renewal at Peninsula Ridge Estates, the stunning Beamsville winery that stands as the unofficial gateway to Niagara wine country.
With a new winemaker more focused on the approachable style of Peninsula Ridge wines, a new $200,000 bottling line, and a well-priced second label called Top Bench to join the VQA competition in the $15 category at the LCBO, the winery has started a new chapter in Niagara.
Most exciting is the state of the art bottling line that will allow Pen Ridge to enclose their wines in either cork or screwcap at a pace of 30 bottles a minute.
With the Top Bench wines — a red and white blend — set to hit LCBO shelves this June, the winery is expecting to eventually double its production to 30,000 cases. The first vintage of Top will include 1,500 cases of both the red and white.
On a recent tour through the spotlessly clean winery and barrel cellar, with newly appointed general manager of Pen Ridge, Jonathon Kuhling, and assistant winemaker Sean Palmer, the pair were excited not only about the prospects for Top Bench but also for the wines currently in tank and barrel.
Peninsula Ridge has always had a well-rounded portfolio of wines across all price points. You get the feeling the portfolio will be trimmed down and more focused on reds that “show more fruit and are made for earlier drinking.”
Kuhling said the switch from winemaker Jean-Pierre Colas, now at 13th Street, to Jamie Evans will result in “some change” to the portfolio but “we’re trying to preserve the style.”
Kuhling and Palmer offer up a sample of the new Top Bench White 2009 — a blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Gewurztraminer. The wine is fresh and fruity with peach, apple and a touch of lychee and spice.
The Top Bench Red 2009 — a blend of Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir — is a mélange of dark fruits and soft tannins that’s quite tasty and easy on the palate.
“We definitely want to work on the price-value relationship,” Kuhling said. “We can line them up against other wines around the world and we’d fit right in.”
Kuhling, along with Pen Ridge owner Norm Beal, said the new concept wines, with their striking labels and screwcap tops, are aimed at younger consumers who are buying up local wines in the $15 category at an alarming rate and it’s starting to show in sales at the LCBO with an 18% increase in VQA wines year over year.
After the June LCBO launch, Kuhling said he’d like to roll out the Top Bench wines to other provinces.
Here are reviews of the some of the wines we tried and liked at Pen Ridge:
Peninsula Ridge AJ Lepp Vineyard Pinot Gris 2010 ($18, spring release, 4 stars) — An expressive nose of sweet and ripe tropical fruits, mango and melon. It’s round and fleshy on the palate and loaded with fruit flavours.
Peninsula Ridge Dubois Vineyard Gewurztraminer 2009 ($25, winery only, 4.5 stars) — A well made Gewurz that balances this big juicy grapefruit, mandarin orange and lychee flavours with a decent measure of fresh acidity. A hint of must to go with exotic spice on the finish. Very fine.
Peninsula Ridge Vintner’s Private Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2009 ($25, winery only, 4 stars) — Pen Ridge excels with this grape at all price points. This top drawer example, with just a touch of oak influence, combines powerful topical notes with citrus and melon on the nose. It has gorgeous mouthfeel, almost elegant, with rich layers of fruit and a touch of spice.
Peninsula Ridge Reserve Syrah 2007 ($25, winery, 4.5 stars) — Surprisingly, this Syrah from the hot 2007 vintage shows mid-weight on the palate a balanced approach on the nose and in the mouth. Lovely dark fruits, pepper spice, oak and earthy notes through the long finish.
Peninsula Ridge Vintner’s Private Reserve Merlot 2006 ($42, winery, 4.5 stars) — A big, meaty, smoky, spicy nose with red and dark fruits. It’s a muscular wine in the mouth with firm tannins, layered fruits and spice. Can still be cellared for a few more years.
And one to watch for down the road:
Peninsula Ridge Norm Beal Vineyard Syrah 2010 — We tried this astonishing Syrah in barrel and were blown away by the developing flavours. It’s pure Rhone style with meaty fruits, pepper and lavish spice. Watch for it.