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Tasting in the barrel cellar with PondView winemaker Fred Di Profio

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By Rick VanSickle

PondView Estate Winery winemaker Fred Di Profio has taken the long route to his chosen line of work in Niagara wine country.

In the late 1990s, Di Profio abandoned his quest for a career in economics, which had been his area of education, and set his sights for the Niagara. Within hours of arriving, he snagged a harvest job as a “cellar rat” at Pillitteri Estates Winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

“I like to think that this quick success was due to my wit and charm,” he said. “In reality though, it’s mostly attributed to my having a full set of teeth, and being skinny enough to fit through the side door of a tank, as noted by my first boss in the industry, celebrated winemaker Sue-Ann Staff.”

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Truth be told, Di Profio was on his way to a successful career in winemaking in Niagara. He enrolled in the Oenology and Viticulture program at Brock University all the while working at Pillitteri. And that’s where he met grape grower Lou Puglisi, above, who was supplying grapes to Pillitteri at the time.

After years of working with Puglisi and his grapes, he asked Di Profio in the summer of 2009 if he wanted to help him build a winery, process and make wine from his grapes.

Di Profio has never looked back. “I have found in Lou a kindred spirit in his unyielding desire to learn more, and I consider my collaboration with him to be not just an opportunity to grow and make great wine, but to learn how to do it better and better each year.”

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There is truth in that. I have watched PondView grow from a fairly small family winery into a much bigger player in Niagara with excellent representation at the LCBO/Vintages through various tiers and brands in a growing portfolio from entry level to the top tier Bella Terra wines.

It’s a family success story, from a grape-growing tradition that’s been handed down from one generation to the next, from Italy to Niagara.

Di Profio, though not part of the family, is certainly rooted in the wines of PondView and the success from Day One.

The winemaker also makes the wines at Di Profio Wines in Jordan. His father Joe Di Profio Sr., founded and built his namesake winery in Jordan, but sold the business nearly a year ago. Fred Di Profio continues to make those wines while working at PondView.

I sat down in the barrel cellar with Di Profio and marketing manager Marcel Morgernstern to taste the new releases from the Niagara-on-the-Lake estate. Here’s what I can recommend.

PondView Lot 74 Sparkling 2016 ($25, 88 points) — This first sparkling wine from the estate is made with 100% Vidal and made in the charmat method. A wider sparkling program has been initiated with a traditional method wine now sitting on the lees. This one is all about fresh and lively aromas of apple, citrus and lime. Good vibrancy and pop on the palate that keeps the lemon, lime and bright apple flavours lively through the finish.

PondView Sauvignon Blanc 2016 ($18, 88 points) — Everywhere I go in Niagara, Sauvignon Blanc is discussed in hushed tones. Mainly because no one seems to have any (a couple of back-to-back winterkill vintages took care of that) and those who do want it all to themselves. The simple fact is this: Consumers love Sauvignon Blanc and they expect to get it when they come calling. This is the first Sauvignon Blanc from PondView off a new vineyard planted by the estate in Niagara-in-the-Lake. The nose shows tropical fruits, subtle touches of grass and herbs and a riot of grapefruit and citrus. It’s made in a fresh, open-knit style that combines herbs, citrus, guava and zesty lime on the finish. As winemaker Fred Di Profio says: “A good prelude of what’s to come.”

PondView Riesling 2016 ($18, 87 points) — This semi-dry Riesling shows a bright nose of lime, peach, tropical fruits and honey. The flavours are broad on the palate and highlight peach, lime, grapefruit with a touch of flint all propped up by decent acidity.

PondView Cabernet Franc Rosé 2016 ($17, 89 points) — A lovely summer rosé made from 100% Cabernet Franc. The nose is all about summer strawberries and cream with touches of raspberries and cherries. It’s fresh and flavourful on the palate with a range of red berries, subtle herbaceous notes and presented in a dry and refreshing style.

PondView Merlot Reserve 2015 ($23, 90 points) — A gorgeous looking merlot with a deep red glow in the glass and a highly concentrated nose of cassis, black cherry, cocoa, raspberry jam, vanilla, toast and elegant spices. It’s thick and rich on the palate with high acids, concentrated red fruits, barrel spices, cedar and tar that’s well on its way to full integration … but there’s room to grow 5+ years.

PondView Bella Terra Cabernet Franc 2013 ($40, 91 points) — Bella Terra is the top tier at PondView. This CF is hand harvested from vines at least 28 years old and cropped to two tonnes per acre. It’s aged in mostly French oak for 20+ months and bottled unfiltered. As Di Profio says, “it’s still a baby.” Indeed. Such a bold nose of concentrated field raspberry, bramble, mulled herbs, violets, currants and toasted vanilla and oak spices. It’s a classically styled Niagara CF on the palate with bold cherry, graphite, a range of red berries, herbs, black currants and spice notes all well travelled through a long finish. Buy, hold, enjoy in 3-5 years (maybe more).

PondView Bella Terra Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 ($40, 90 points) — This is made similarly to the wine above and is bottled unfiltered. The nose shows blackberries, currants and integrated spice notes. The ripe, dark fruits are concentrated on the palate, but balanced out by fairly decent acidity. It’s well-balanced and delicious with a range of sweet oak spices. Really nice job in a weaker red vintage such as 2013.

PondView Bella Terra Meritage 2013 ($45, 92 points) — The blend for this estate’s top wine is 40% each of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc with the rest Merlot. It, too, is bottled unfiltered. The nose is thick and juicy with blackberries, cherries, intense spice notes, currants, earth, bramble and sweet tobacco. It has wonderful mouth-feel and energy on the palate with lavish dark fruits, cocoa bean, cigar leaf, baking spices, ripe tannins, structure and tangy acidity on the finish. One to cellar 5+ years.