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An EPIC project to celebrate 150 years of Canadian wine

Story and photos by Gary Killops

Long before it ever became known as the designated wine region “Lake Erie North Shore,” there was an interesting history of winemaking in Windsor — Essex.

Dr. Maria Cioppa, Associate Professor, Department of Earth and Environmental Services at the University of Windsor, in photo below, had been exploring this history. While doing some research for a geophysics/history/archeology project based on Assumption Park she kept running across an ad for Girardot Wines in a location across from Assumption Church. Through Cioppa’s research she realized that there is a long record of winemaking in the area.

Melissa Muscedere (Muscedere Vineyards) wanted to do a label project for Canada’s 150th anniversary. Her family winery was not part of the 2013 Stowaway 1812 project when six EPIC (Essex Pelee Island Coast) wineries collaborated with similar collectible labels to celebrate the bicentennial of the tall ships. “The collection of wine bottles told a story and people really like that,” said Melissa. She wanted to do something similar to celebrate Canada’s sesquicentennial.

Maria Cioppa suggested that a label project covering the 150+ years of winemaking in Windsor — Essex would be an excellent way to present the history of the region. It was the concept that Melissa was looking for. She contacted Ann Neydon Wilson who along with her husband own Oxley Estate Winery.  Ann had helped organize the Stowaway project.

Melissa and Ann, pictured above, presented the idea to the EPIC wineries. Ten wineries jumped on board and the project to commemorate a historical wine event or place in Windsor — Essex began.

The 10 EPIC wineries are:

  • Aleksander Estate Winery
  • Colio Estate Wines
  • Cooper’s Hawk Vineyards
  • CREW (Colchester Ridge Estate Winery)
  • Mastronardi Estate Winery
  • Muscedere Vineyards
  • North 42 Degrees Estate Winery
  • Oxley Estate Winery
  • Pelee Island Winery
  • Sprucewood Shores Estate Winery

Dubbed the #EPIC1867 project the historical information for the labels was researched by Jason Lavin. Jason works for TWEPI (Tourism Windsor Essex Pelee Island) and is also a graduate student in history at the University of Windsor.

By the late 1800s there was approximately 35 wineries in Windsor — Essex. The ten EPIC 1867 labels venerate some of these locations such as Vin Villa (Canada’s first commercial winery which was situated on Pelee Island), Ernest Girardot, the mayor of Sandwich (now west Windsor) and the Giradot Wine Company and Calcat Vineyards located on Campbell Avenue in Windsor. Other labels celebrate the farmers and machinery they used and the Great Lakes as the transportation highway to export wine to the United States and beyond.

Muscedere Vineyard’s EPIC 1867 label features the Giradot Wine Company. “Melissa Muscedere had the idea for the labeling project and I find it entirely appropriate that Muscedere Vineyards has the Girardot sketch on their label — bringing it all around full circle,” said Dr. Maria Cioppa.

The label drawings were created by Talysha Bujold-Abu, a Master of Arts student at the University of Windsor. The original drawings will be auctioned off at the 23rd Annual EPIC Vintage Tasting that will be held this year on Sunday, Aug. 13 at Pelee Island Winery. Visit here for more details.

The EPIC 1867 limited edition wines are only available for purchase at each participating winery and cost $18.67. Not all of the wines were available for tasting however here is some of the information on each wine in the collection.

Pelee Island 2016 Cabernet
(VQA Ontario) 12% alc/vol.

When the Pelee Island Wine and Vineyard Company was incorporated in 1888 it was the beginning of the winemaking industry in Windsor-Essex. Pelee Island was the first to sell wine across Canada, parts of the United States and as far as Europe and the West Indies! The art of winemaking has changed, but you’ll still find the same dedication, care and refinement in each bottle of Pelee Island wine.

Muscedere Vineyards 2016 Vidal Blanc
(VQA Ontario) 13% alc/vol.

Mistaken for the Shah of Persia while visiting Paris in 1909, Ernest Girardot was one of Sandwich Town’s most vibrant residents and mayors. However it was the Girardot Wine Co. that saw Ernest travelling the globe and making his family name and town world famous. We hope this wine has as much character and personality as Monsieur Girardot.

Oxley Estate Winery 21st Century Red
12.5% alc/vol.

Harrow-grafted grape varietals HG-1, HG-3 and HG-4.

The winery planted HG grapes, and produced a rosé in 2011 with these grapes.

65 acres. Three men. One Island. In 1866 DJ and Thomas Williams, along with Thaddues Smith, purchased a parcel of land on Pelee Island and called it the Vin Villa Winery. These entrepreneurs from Kentucky had no idea they would be the founders of one of Canada’s first estate wineries. On our 150th anniversary, taste a part of winemaking heritage that is older than Canada itself.

CREW 2016 Sauvignon Blanc
(VQA Ontario) 13.5% alc./vol

Whether by modern freighter or the wooden barges of yesteryear, the bounty of Windsor-Essex has always relied on the Great Lakes in order to bring our region to the world. The wine in this bottle shares in this heritage giving you a small taste of a region with big flavour.

Aleksander Estate Winery 2013 Cabernet Franc
(VQA Ontario) 12.6% alc./vol.

Take away today’s modern farming machinery and what you’d be left with are the farmers. From the vine to the glass, these are the people and families of southwestern Ontario who toil through extreme heat and cold, day and night, to bring the best of their vines to your table.

North 42 Degrees Estate Winery 2015 Summer Chill
(VQA Ontario) 12.1% alc/vol.

(Riesling / Sauvignon Blanc blend)

To fully experience everything the County offers, a few essential items are needed: binoculars to spot Monarch Butterflies flying throughout Point Pelee National Park, a towel to enjoy the beaches along the coast, and a bike to take you everywhere in between. From the shores to the city, there is a story to be told with every path you choose.

Mastronardi Estate Winery 2016 Pinot Grigio
(VQA Lake Erie North Shore) 12.7% alc/vol.

Before Henry Ford opened his first Canadian factory in Walkerville, Ont. in 1904, it was the farmer and his horse that made the area famous. Whether ploughing through rugged terrain or transporting grapes ready to be made into wine, horses helped turn the wheels of Windsor-Essex wine industry since 1866, transforming the County into a world-renowned wine region.

Colio Estate Wines 2015 Chardonnay / Pinot Grigio
(VQA Ontario) 13% alc/vol.

Lost to residential development, the Calcat Vineyards were located in the heart of Windsor on Campbell Avenue and sat on more than 10 acres of Catawba and Concord grapes. The head of the family-run vineyard, Ernest Calcat sold wine by the gallon in ceramic jugs, creating healthy competition with Ernest Girardot’s winery in Sandwich.

Sprucewood Shores Sacré Blanc
12.5% alc/vol.

(Sauvignon, Riesling, Chardonnay blend)

After tasting Pelee Island Winery’s St. Augustine sacramental wine in 1929, the Anglican Bishop of Montreal, John Farthing, declared, “I know of no other wine equal to it for sacramental purposes.” 88 years later, the vineyards of Windsor-Essex produce wine for every occasion, but the same care that made John Farthing an avid fan can still be found in every bottle today.

Cooper Hawk Vineyards 2016 Cabernet / Merlot
(VQA Lake Erie North Shore) 12% alc/vol.

In a poem by John Keats contemplating joy and sadness, there is the line, “Burst Joy’s grape against his palate fine.” Exceptional wine means crushing exceptional grapes vintners have spent months caring for and tending to, but’s it’s a small price to pay to bring great wine to even greater friends.

The first 150 people to visit all of the wineries and purchase the 10 commemorative bottles will receive a free EPIC 1867 poster featuring the Robinet Winery. In 1939, Sandwich resident Jules Robinet had 3,000 gallons of wine confiscated by the federal government due to new laws that required wine to be sold in designated stores. The building which housed the Robinet Winery still stands today at the corner of Sandwich and Mill in Windsor. Additional posters are available for $10.

“This project would not have been possible without the help of many,” said Ann Neydon Wilson. “The University of Windsor helped in researching our history, TWEPI’s support in marketing and always being there for us, and the EPIC wineries with their kind words of encouragement.”

The celebration of 150 years of winemaking in Windsor-Essex will be supplemented by a speaker series and an exhibition at the Chimczuk Museum in Windsor from Aug. 4 until Dec. 31. More information can be found at here.

About Gary Killops

Married to Wanda for 26 years, they have a son and a daughter who do not like wine. After 30 years of service with the Windsor Police Service Gary retired in 2015. He received the EPIC Wine Ambassador Award in 2013 for his promotion of the local wine industry via his wine blog EssexWineReview. He has been a board member and advisor to several wine festivals in Essex County. In 2015 Gary enrolled in the Canadian Association of Processional Sommelier program at Niagara College, completed his staging at Langdon Hall in Cambridge, Ont., and received his sommelier certification. He is currently part of a sommelier team at Loblaws with wine locations offering wine and food pairing ideas. Gary is also the wine writer for Eat Drink London.