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CanadaWINE150: The endless potential of Canadian wine excites winemaker Nicholson

Canadian wine

By Bruce Nicholson

Over the past 30 plus years of my winemaking career, it is incredible to see where the Canadian wine industry has gone.

Born and raised in Niagara, I was intrigued by winemaking at an early age. In the early 80s I actually approached Karl Kaiser and offered to work for him for free just so I could learn under his leadership. Although the job never materialized, I did apprentice in Niagara just before heading to Western Canada to make wines in the Okanagan.

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I really attribute the Canadian wine industry to visionaries like Karl Kaiser, Donald Ziraldo, Allan Jackson and Don Triggs; especially for their relentless belief in the potential of Canada as a winemaking region and taking the risks to get us there. They put a focus on premium vinifera varieties — they had a clear vision not only how the Canadian wine industry could survive but also thrive on the world market

I remember being in the Okanagan and experiencing the shift from hybrids and starting to look at individual varietals, starting with some of the greatest varietals in the world, Chardonnay, Riesling, Merlot and Cabernet.

It was an exciting time for me personally, as the wines we were making in the Okanagan, were gaining international acclaim. The Okanagan started to put itself on the map as a recognizable wine making region.

In 2007 when I came back to Niagara to become winemaker at Inniskillin, I felt my career was starting to come full circle. It’s been an incredible honour to represent Inniskillin Wines around the world and to see our wines and Icewines compete and be recognized on the world stage.

What I most look forward to in the years to come is continuing to see what the next generation of winemakers are bringing to the region. Their challenge is to keep us strong and sustainable while building on all the many efforts that have created our wine industry to this point. I believe the potential is endless.

About Bruce Nicholson

Bruce Nicholson joined Inniskillin Wines as Winemaker on January 1, 2007 after an outstanding career in the Okanagan where he was Senior Winemaker for Jackson-Triggs Okanagan Estate in British Columbia.

Born and raised in Ontario’s leading wine region, the Niagara Peninsula, Nicholson was intrigued by the winemaking industry from an early age. After studying Sciences at Ontario’s Ryerson University and University of Windsor, Nicholson apprenticed in winemaking in Niagara before heading to Western Canada. Ironically, he approached Inniskillin Co-Founder Karl Kaiser in his first attempt for a job in the Niagara wine industry.

As fate would have it, that job did not materialize, and now Nicholson has come full circle to lead Inniskillin’s winemaking team following Kaiser’s retirement in 2006.

Recognized for his broad skills and talent, Nicholson was selected to lead Jackson-Triggs Okanagan Winery in 1993, and was credited for creating its award-winning Okanagan VQA wines. He gained major recognition in the international arena as well as leaving an indelible mark on the history and growth of the British Columbia wine industry.

Nicholson’s Okanagan accomplishments were noted in a very fitting tribute in the dedication of John Schreiner’s book (2006 Edition, Wines of British Columbia) — “For winemaker Bruce Nicholson, who returned to his home town of Niagara Falls this year as the Senior Winemaker of Inniskillin Wines after twenty years of making wine in the Okanagan. As the Senior Winemaker for Jackson-Triggs, he made superb wines that gained acclaim internationally and across Canada, helping to establish the Okanagan as a gem among the world’s wine regions.”

When the opportunity presented itself, Nicholson was eager to apply his experience and skills in Niagara leading the Inniskillin Winemaking Team, which includes thirty-six year veteran Cellar Master J.R. Patterson. Nicholson’s wines are both distinctive and defined. He is dedicated to his career goal of staying true to the individual characteristics of the varietals while ensuring that it reaches its maximum potential. He pays attention to both the science and the art of winemaking, commenting, “I enjoy working with the good acidities here in Niagara and I believe the potential is endless.”

Driven by his love of wine, Nicholson works to achieve
 the perfect balance with the natural components that begin in the vineyards. He can be seen out in the vineyards, closely checking quality and optimum harvest times while consulting with Eastern Viticulture Director, Gerald Klose along with the many growers. Nicholson’s standards are very high, which results in the wine being the best that it can be. Nicholson quickly achieved international recognition once at Inniskillin. At Vinitaly 2009, he captured the top prize at the 17th Annual International Wine Competition: “The Premio Speciale Gran”.

Nicholson oversees all winemaking activity, which includes both table wines and Icewines, after taking over respectively from James Manners, who returned to his native Australia in 2006. Nicholson currently sits on the Technical Committee of the VQA and previously on the committee for Sustainable Winemaking in Ontario of the Wine Council of Ontario.

Bruce continues to win international and national awards. In 2012 and 2013 over 50% of his awards were for 
his Icewines. He proudly accepted the Top Canadian Producer Award at the 2012 International Wine and Spirits Competition in London, U.K. His innovativeness has added interesting wines to the Inniskillin portfolio. In 2013 he launched his Sparkling Cabernet Franc Icewine as well as adding to his Discovery Series — Susse Reserve Riesling, Botrytis Affected Viognier and an intriguing blend called P3 (Pinot Blanc, Pinot Grigio and Pinot Noir).