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Roundup of Niagara wine news: Niagara College lifts ‘spirits’, new grape grower chair, a Hip new wine, VQA wines get a cash boost

artistic rendering of distillery addition to WVEC

A roundup of news from Niagara wine country includes plans for an artisan distillery program being launched at Niagara College, Tragically Hip’s latest wine creation from Stoney Ridge, a new chair elected for the Grape Growers of Ontario and a $2.25 million cash infusion to help boost sales of Ontario’s Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA) wines.

We break down the news:

Niagara College unveils plans for
distilling program, teaching distillery

Niagara College is launching a brand new program sure to lift ‘spirits’ in Canada’s growing craft distillery scene.

The college – already home to Canada’s first commercial teaching winery and teaching brewery at its trailblazing Canadian Food and Wine Institute – is now barrelling out Canada’s first college distilling program, Artisan Distilling (concept pictured above).

Scheduled to begin in the fall of 2017, the one-year graduate certificate program will offer hands-on training and classroom work in practical distilling, distilling science, quantitative spirit analysis, and distillation management. The program will be supported by a new on-campus teaching distillery – also the first of its kind in Canada.

“The program is the next logical step for the College and the CFWI in becoming the key centre of excellence in fermentation sciences throughout Canada,” said dean of the College’s Canadian Food and Wine Institute Craig Youdale.

“We will be the only learning environment to cover all three levels of alcohol production and education, and hope to lead the explosion of distillers the same as we have led the growth of brewing and wineries in our region and across Canada.”

With a growing number of distilleries nationwide, the launch of Niagara College’s distilling program is positive news for the industry. The program has been in development for more than two years, supported by many leading distillers from around the world.


“One of the greatest challenges of craft distilling has been the lack of educational resources for the modern distiller. This emerging industry has been desperately searching for somewhere to turn and I believe the new program from Niagara College will quickly become that place,” said Geoff Dillon (pictured above), founder of the successful Beamsville-based Dillon’s Small Batch Distillery.

“We are at the beginning of a great growth period in craft distilling that doesn’t show any signs of slowing. The industry needs direction, and after seeing what the Niagara College team has accomplished with their wine and beer programs, I am confident the distilling program will be one that will make the distilling world proud.”

Dillons Still Plates_1“The launch of Niagara College’s distilling program is tremendous news for our nascent industry,” said Charles Benoit, president of the Ontario Craft Distillers Association. “With few peers anywhere, I expect the school will contribute mightily to making Ontario a global leader in distilling excellence, as well as a foundation for our local community to collaborate and grow. I look forward to all the wonderful times ahead.”

Artisan distilling is designed to suit anyone with an interest in distillation who has already completed an Ontario diploma or degree – particularly those with a background in sciences, as well as culinary, business, food innovation, wine and beer programs. The program will also be a direct pathway for students from the College’s Brewmaster and Brewery Operations Management, Wine and Viticulture Technician, and Culinary Innovation and Food Technology programs; and prepare Brewmaster students for certificate and diploma programs offered by the England’s Institute of Brewing and Distilling.

The College will accept 20 students into the first term of the program and seats will open for admissions in February 2017.

The new 2,000-square-foot teaching distillery will become part of the existing Wine Visitor + Education Centre at the Niagara-on-the-Lake Campus. Construction is scheduled to begin this summer and is expected to be completed by the end of 2016.

Niagara College offers more than 100, bachelor degree and advanced level programs at campuses in Welland, Niagara-on-the-Lake, and Niagara Falls; as well as more than 600 credit, vocational and general interest Continuing Education courses. Areas of specialization include food and wine sciences, advanced technology, media, applied health and community safety, supported by unique learning enterprises in food, wine, beer, horticulture and esthetics.

There’s a New Vintage of
Tragically Hip Wine

STONEY RIDGE ESTATE WINERY - The Tragically Hip Release Limited

A couple of years ago, the Tragically Hip, who just happen to be huge wine fans, released the Fully Completely Grand Reserve Red made at Stoney Ridge Winery in Niagara. The 7,000-case production quickly sold out.

Now there’s a new vintage.

TH-Ahead-by-a-Century-bottle_523It’s a 2014 VQA Chardonnay issued in celebration of the 20th anniversary of the release of the Trouble at the Henhouse album and called Ahead By A Century.

The band worked directly with Stoney Ridge Winery and head winemaker Jeff Hundertmark, to create the wine, which is made from 100% Chardonnay grapes that were hand harvested from the Wiens Farm in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

The wine is available at Stoney Ridge’s wine boutique in Vineland and will also get distribution in the U.S., the band announced. You can also Order here.

 Ontario VQA wines get a $2.25 million boost


Ontario is investing $2.25 million to help boost sales of Ontario’s Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA) wines and expand tourism opportunities for the province’s wine regions.

The province is launching the annual 2016 Wine Country Ontario Travel Guide to encourage tourists from across Ontario to experience and enjoy the great wines and wine regions Ontario has to offer. The guide will be available at wineries and was included in the summer issue of LCBO’s Food & Drink magazine.

The 2016 Wine Country Ontario Travel Guide provides information about 200 wineries in Prince Edward County, Lake Erie’s North Shore, the Niagara Peninsula, and emerging wine producing regions. It also highlights new trends in Ontario wine, offers touring and tasting tips and showcases Ontario’s four signature wine varieties, for which the province has become renowned on the international wine scene: Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Franc.

Additionally, the province will be undertaking a re-design of the VQA Support Program to ensure it continues to provide targeted support that encourages wineries to scale-up, create jobs and grow Ontario’s wine sector.

Since 2009, VQA wine sales in Ontario have increased by $103 million, from $170 million to $273 million, the number of wineries has increased from 133 to 200 and 2,000 direct jobs have been created in the industry.

Investing in Ontario’s wine and grape sector is part of the government’s economic plan to build Ontario up and deliver on its number-one priority to grow the economy and create jobs. The four-part plan includes investing in talent and skills, including helping more people get and create the jobs of the future by expanding access to high-quality college and university education. The plan is making the largest investment in public infrastructure in Ontario’s history and investing in a low-carbon economy driven by innovative, high-growth, export-oriented businesses. The plan is also helping working Ontarians achieve a more secure retirement.

Oppenlaender elected chair of
Grape Growers of Ontario


Matthias OppenlaenderDebbie Zimmerman, CEO of the Grape Growers of Ontario, announced that Matthias Oppenlaender was elected chair of the board of directors.

“It is a privilege to be elected chair of the Grape Growers of Ontario’s board of directors, and I look forward to continuing to serve and represent my fellow growers in this new role. The board is focused on working with our industry partners and government to continue strengthening Ontario’s grape and wine industry,” said Oppenlaender.

Matthias was born in Germany where he studied agriculture and viticulture before emigrating to Canada in 1984. Matthias, his wife Monica and their five children live in Niagara-on-the-Lake where they farm over 400 acres of vineyards, and own Country Tyme Vineyards and Huebel Grape Estates. Matthias was elected Grape King by his fellow grape growers in 2006, and the following year was elected to the Grape Growers of Ontario’s growers’ committee and to the board of directors.

In 2009 Matthias was elected vice chair of the board, a position he held until being elected Chair on April 11.

Bill Schenck, a fourth generation grape grower in St. Catharines, has been elected vice chair of the board of directors. Bill has served on the GGO Growers’ Committee and Board since 2009, the same year he was Grape King, and represents the Grape Growers of Ontario on a number of industry committees including the Niagara Grape and Wine Festival, Niagara Region’s Agricultural Policy and Action Committee, and Brock University’s CCOVI Advisory Committee.

The Board of Directors includes representation from across Ontario including Steve Pohorly and Erwin Wiens of Niagara-on-the-Lake, Jim Morrison of Lincoln, Brock Puddicombe of Winona, Debra Marshall of Prince Edward County and Scott Wilkins of Amherstburg, who are all part way through their terms as Directors. Kevin Watson of Niagara-on-the-Lake has been re-elected and Doug Funk Jr. is newly elected to represent growers from the Town of Lincoln.