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A look back on the year in Niagara wine (and a holiday note from Sass Jordan)


The year is coming to a close. Another vintage is in tank and barrel. And now it’s time to reflect on the year that was in 2012.

In many ways the most significant event of the past year was the extraordinary harvest, a direct result of an early start, extremely hot and dry middle and more heat through the fall.

The grapes came in early, barely missing the heavy rains late in the fall, with high sugars (Brix) and pretty decent acidity. It was the perfect storm for a well-rounded and excellent vintage that will result in highly extracted reds and fruit-laden whites.

there it goes

If I had to guess, the reds will be long-lived while the white aromatics will be sensational on release but won’t be built for the long haul in the cellar. Look for incredible Bordeaux varietals, Gamay and Syrah and pretty good Pinots. The Chardonnays will express a profound minerality with balanced with ripe fruits. The Rieslings that I have tasted in tank have shown a surprising amount of refreshing acidity to go with lush fruit flavours while the Sauvignon Blancs just might steal the show.

We’ll have to wait for most of the 2012s while more 2011s start hitting the shelves. What of 2011? It wasn’t too bad, but rain during the harvest makes me think that it will be important for consumers to taste before they buy.


My Wine Shop

In my opinion, the most important news of the year is the mywineshop.ca campaign being spearheaded by the Ontario Wine Council.

This has the potential to be a game changer in Ontario provided enough wine lovers get on board and put pressure on their political leaders to allow the partial privatization of the LCBO.

8203005641_0c4b8eceedThe concept only makes sense. Open up the booze business in this province to allow private wine shops to stock their own shelves with what they think will sell — not what the government monopoly LCBO thinks will sell.

The goal of the wine council is, of course, to sell more Ontario VQA wine. I think that will happen under this plan that allows for sales of all wines including international brands, as some stores realize that there is a huge market for the majority of Ontario wines that never make it to LCBO shelves.

So, if you haven’t visited mywineshop.ca, do so soon and make sure you use the template provided to send a note to your MPP. This fight has just begun.



Quite a bit of shuffling occurred in Niagara in the past year.

The historic Marynissen Winery was sold to Chinese interests. Winemaker Jeff Hundertmark is still crafting the wines there and the winery plans to keep everything relatively the same with some of the increased production heading to the Chinese market.


Alvento Winery, also, was sold to a Chinese businessman. Previously, Greg Yemen was the assistant winemaker to former owner Bruno Moos, but was hired back to Alvento as head winemaker. Bruno and Elyane Moos were forced to sell the winery after a messy squabble with their former partner.

Another big winery change was Laura Cain selling Creekside Winery to the Equity Wine Group. Rob Power was retained as the winemaker and the portfolio has remained essentially the same.

Some key winemaker changes include: Ross Wise, formerly winemaker at Flat Rock, moved on to Prince Edward County’s Keint-He; Jay Johnston, formerly of Organized Crime (briefly), Keint-He (briefly) and Hidden Bench moved to Flat Rock as head winemaker; Rosewood promoted assistant winemaker Luke Orwinski, who replaced Natalie Spytkowsky as head winemaker; Lawrence Buhler, former winemaker at Peller Estates, joined the Colio team in Lake Erie North Shore; and Stonechurch Vineyards announced that Thomas Laszlo is the new head winemaker.


Getting Sass-y in Niagara

Niagara has a new friend to add to its impressive roster of supporters from film, TV, music and sports.

Already well established in the Niagara wine industry are Mike Weir, Dan Aykroyd and Wayne Gretzky (which moved from Creekside to Peller Estates, by the way). And, this year, Kevin O’Leary made a grand entrance with his easy-to-like red and white wines made at Vineland Estate.

Niagara needs these celebrities to shine a light on the region.

I have especially enjoyed the budding love affair rocker Sass Jordan has started with Niagara. She is a prolific tweeter (@sassjordan) who expresses a friendly-folksy tone on the social network with positive messages on health, her rock career (which is going strong, check this out) and a liberal dose of sipping and supporting Niagara wines.

Jordan not only talks the talk, she walks the walk and enjoys coming to Niagara, drinking the wines here and dining in the finest Niagara winery restaurants. She gives this region a nice, positive boost.

Jordan, whose chart-topping hits include High Road Easy and You Don’t Have To Remind Me and who was also a judge on Canadian Idol, was asked by me to talk about her love of Niagara wine for a holiday magazine piece I wrote. Her sidebar didn’t make the magazine piece (for space reasons, Sass!!!) but I’m printing her message here where she gives props to one of her favourite wineries in Niagara. Here’s what Sass wrote.

By Sass Jordan


There are two things Canadians are generally not very aware of, and I think it’s time we all became a little better acquainted with two of our huge but “hidden in plain sight” treasures.

One is our military, which I am becoming more and more in awe of now that I am an Honorary Colonel for 417 Squadron in Cold Lake, Alberta, and the other is our Canadian made wines.

Ontario and British Columbia boast the most well known winemakers in our beautiful country, and I just wanted to talk to you about a wine from Niagara that I tasted the other day. Talk about heavenly!

This wine would stand up to pretty much anything I have had in the past couple of years.

Silky and supple, with an aura of nobility, this wine belongs with the aristocracy, yet still manages to be infinitely approachable and communicate easily with the rest of us.

I can picture a roaring fire, great friends and wonderful food, coming in from a walk in the bracing autumn air, and cracking open a bottle.

The wine is a 2011 Cabernet Franc, created by one of our fantastic Niagara winemakers, the brilliant Brian Schmidt.

He says it will become part of his Vineland Estates, “Elevation” series.

The only other thing I have to say to say about it is that it would be more aptly named “Life Is Good.”

Note: The Vineland Estates Elevation Cabernet Franc 2010 is the current vintage available.


Most memorable wines (not from Niagara) I had in 2012

I have already published my Top 10 Niagara Red and White wines of the year. That’s not all I drink, of course. I love a diverse selection of wines from around the world. I love them even more when I’m there tasting them. Sometimes a memorable wine is all about where and who you are with when you drink them with.

In no particular order, here are a few of my most memorable wines of the year:


Louis Jadot Batard Montrachet 1982 — I was treated to a tasting of the finest wines of Burgundy at a spectacular display of Grand Crus at the historic Chateau du Clos de Vougeot in Cote de Nuits last March. The castle, built in 1551, is surrounded by the 50.6 hectare Clos de Vougeot vineyard. But the most memorable wine of the evening was the Louis Jadot Batard Montrachet 1982 (yes, 1982!) paired with a regional cheese plate. The Chardonnay oozed minerality and buckwheat honey, lanoline, slate, charred wood, warm apple and candied citrus notes. A truly hedonistic wine and food pairing.


Domaine Barmès-Buecher Hengst Riesling 2008 ($25, if you can find it in Canada) — After three solid days of tasting the best wines of Burgundy during a press trip to that region, a small group of us broke away from our handlers to take in a highly geeky tasting of biodynamic/organic wines in a small space in the centre of Beaune. The Domaine Barmès-Buecher table from Alsace, France, caught my eye and I found myself entranced by this Grand Cru Riesling from a small family producer. The wines were poured by the lovely Sophie Barmès, who spoke so passionately about her family’s farm that has roots back to the 17th century. And it showed in the wines, such personality and flavour and now forever etched in my memory bank.


Kistler Sonoma Mountain Les Noisetiers Chardonnay 2007 ($70, Vintages, 93 points) — Les Noisetiers is the epitome of the buttery style of Chardonnay. This California producer has always been a favourite of mine and I will dig deep to buy it whenever I see it. It shows a cacophony of fruit on the nose from apple, pear and melon to secondary notes of bread dough, minerals, almonds all slathered in buttery goodness. It’s simply gorgeous in the mouth with ripe fruits that work so well with fine oak, spice, nuts and flavours that are layered and sublime. It is made even more memorable with a fresh hunk of wild Pacific Coho salmon grilled on a cedar plank on the BBQ.

bordeauxChateau Beychevelle 1989 and Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande 1989 — I purchased these two top Bordeaux wines from a guy who was just trying to get rid of his cellared wines when an illness meant he had to stop drinking alcohol. It was my lucky day. This is one of the most sought after vintages in Bordeaux and these are two of the most collectible wines from that region. I brought both to a dinner party that was catered by Niagara’s most famous chef, Stephen Treadwell. I can still taste these bold red blends with the braised Cumbrae Farms beef short ribs with truffle potato puree and farmer David Irish’s late summer vegetables.

anthony road

Anthony Road Art Series Riesling 2010 ($24, Finger Lakes, New York) — Sometimes I am in a tasting room in a region I’m not all that familiar with and when the wine crosses my lips it makes me do a double take. This is one of those wines. The Finger Lakes is quickly becoming a region known for exceptionally well-made Rieslings. This is from one of the best producers in the region. It is wild fermented and shows honeysuckle, beeswax, citrus and apple notes on the nose. It’s complex and layered on the palate with a range of citrus and apple fruit to go with white pepper, and rousing minerality in a structured, almost viscous style through a long finish.


Amazing Tawse


I wrote a story for Wine Access in the current issue on the magazine’s top winery of the year as chosen from the Canadian Wine Awards.

I started the piece with these words: Dynasty. Juggernaut. Supernova. Dream Team. Unprecedented. Unstoppable.

And it’s true, how do you describe a winery that for the past three years has topped the charts of all wineries in Canada?

Tawse is on a roll because owner Moray Tawse (above) and his core winemaking team of Paul Pender and René Van Ede (very top photo) are simply producing the finest lineup of wines from top to bottom in the country.

There is bad news for all the other wineries in Canada. Tawse is only getting better and, with a new winery breaking ground soon for Tawse, called Redstone, which will include a restaurant and amphitheatre, I’d say a dynasty is well in the works.


A final note

To all of you who have clicked on this site, commented and shared a link back here (ah, heck, to everyone everywhere), Wines In Niagara wishes you all a Merry Christmas and continued good fortune in the New Year.