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Niagara Wine Wire: Big changes at Westcott, Vintages release highlights, Cuveé tickets on sale, Niagara College’s first orange wine, blanc de blanc

A round up of wine industry news in Niagara includes: Big changes at Westcott Vineyards, Cuveé tickets going fast, three Niagara wines to seek out at the Vintages release Saturday, buried treasure at Niagara College Teaching Winery and the college releases its first blanc de blancs.

Westcott increases vineyard holdings,
welcomes new winemaker

Westcott owners Grant and Carolyn Westcott found themselves in a unique position — they consistently sold out of their wines every vintage. “A great problem — but it’s still a problem,” the owners lamented in a recent newsletter.

They wondered: “Wouldn’t it be nice to double our vineyards and be able to keep up with the demand for our wines?”

So, when Butlers Grant Vineyards, below, was listed for sale, the couple put their house and cottage on the market and bought 28 more acres of old vine Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Riesling and Cabernet Franc.

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The vineyard is right across the road from Stoney Ridge winery on King Street.

“Some of our favourite wines in the region have been made from grapes sourced in these vineyards. As you can imagine, it’s been all hands on deck to get ready for spring with both vineyards,” the Westcotts said.

Once the vineyard purchase was complete, the Westcotts decided it was finally time to hire a full-time winemaker.

Casey Kulcyk, above, joined the winery last July for his first vintage as Westcott’s full-time head winemaker, after working with Jackson Triggs as assistant winemaker the past six years.

The Westcotts have also hired full-time, in house chefs for their Patio. Starting in May, Westcott will have chefs Ricky + Olivia (Ricky Casipe and Olivia Simpson, very top photo).

Which means: extended patio hours (Thursday to Monday 12-9!) and Sunday brunch from 10 a.m. They will also be inviting chefs from throughout Ontario come and prepare special Sunday Suppers (similar to our Fireside Friday series, but outside and on Sunday nights once a month in the high season).

Casipe and Simpson are big advocates for cooking with local ingredients and eating within a 100 km radius by sourcing their meats and produce from around Niagara.

Still tickets for Cuvée 2019 in Niagara Falls

Cuvée weekend is fast approaching and guests this year will have the opportunity to sample the best VQA wine and food Ontario has to offer in a whole new way.

Hosted by Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI), the Cuvée Grand Tasting is the largest celebration of Ontario VQA wine and food of its kind. This year’s event takes place Saturday, March 23 at Scotiabank Convention Centre in Niagara Falls, with the Cuvée en Route passport program once again extending the wine celebration all weekend long at participating wineries.

Nearly 900 people attended last year’s Cuvée Grand Tasting, with proceeds supporting scholarships for Brock’s Oenology and Viticulture students, as well as grape and wine industry-driven research initiatives at CCOVI.

New this year, guests can experience Cuvée using augmented reality. CCOVI has teamed up with HoloEducate, an augmented reality company founded by students from Brock. The mobile application LifeAR will allow guests at the Grand Tasting to view wine selections and even purchase wine online.

Guests can download the free app before and during the Grand Tasting and then use their phones to scan the large wine bottles found in the middle of each wine station. They’ll be able to see a list of the wineries, which wines they’re pouring and even purchase those wines immediately online.

“It will be a unique and fun experience for our guests at this year’s event, allowing them to experience Cuvée like never before,” said Barb Tatarnic, Cuvée manager.

The LifeAR app can also be used before the event to scan the Cuvée logo to view a video of last year’s celebration.

At the Grand Tasting, guests will enjoy culinary delights from celebrated local chefs at live cooking stations and wines from 48 of Ontario’s top winemakers, who will present two of their favourite wines.

The Grand Tasting is followed by the Après Cuvée after party, which features live music from the Associates, Icewine, sparkling wine, cider and local craft beer.

The 2019 lineup of Niagara’s best chefs at Cuvée will include:

  • Backhouse Restaurant
  • Bolete Restaurant
  • Brushfire Smoke BBQ
  • Canadian Food and Wine Institute — Benchmark Restaurant
  • Chili Jiao Authentic Chinese Restaurant
  • Ravine Vineyard Restaurant
  • Righteous Monger
  • Scotiabank Convention Centre
  • The Restaurant at Redstone Winery
  • Tide & Vine Oyster House
  • Criveller Cakes
  • Italian Ice Cream

A complete list of participating wineries can be found here

Tickets that include both the Saturday night Grand Tasting and the weekend-long en Route passport are available online at for $200 per person. Tickets for the en Route passport only can be purchased for $30.

Three Niagara wines to consider
at the Vintages release Saturday

Hidden Bench Estate Chardonnay 2016 ($30, 90 points) — The fruit from this wonderful blend of all three estate vineyards undergoes a unique oak/concrete regime that consists of 7% of the fruit aged in a concrete egg with the rest aged in French oak barrels, of which only 17% is new oak, for nine months. The heat of the 2016 vintage provides this voluptuous and ripe example of terroir-driven Chardonnay that is showing beautiful aromas of poached pear, nougat, baked apple and lemony/mineral accents. This is rich, textured and ripe on the palate with integrated stone fruits, lovely spice and toasted almond notes in a bold style that is ready to drink now.

Organized Crime The Mischief 2017 ($19, 88 points) — A highly aromatic blend of Chardonnay, Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Sauvignon Blanc that reveals peach, pear, lychee and spice on the nose. A peachy-apply profile on the palate with citrus accents and a kiss of sweetness on the finish. Porch-sipping wine for the hot, summer months.

Redstone Chardonnay 2016 ($20, 88 points) — A fragrant, floral nose with aromas of peach, lemon blossoms, honey and toasty oak. The palate expresses plenty of fresh peach, candied lemon peel and Mandarin orange. Acidity is vibrant and oak has been judiciously applied and is nicely integrated with the fruit, giving it a creamy texture and lingering buttery, caramel notes. (Review by Michael Lowe)

Also released Saturday, but not reviewed:

• Lakeview Cellars Cabernet Franc Icewine 2017 ($30 for 200 mL)
• Lakeview Cellars Vidal Icewine ($22 for 200 mL, no vintage specified)
• Cave Spring CSV Riesling 2016 ($30)
• Fielding Estate Pinot Gris 2017 ($22)
• Lakeview Cellars Viognier 2017 ($19)
• Vieni Estates Gewurztraminer 2016 ($20)
• Lakeview Cellars Syrah 2015 ($25)
• Thirty Bench Winemaker’s Blend Red 2016 ($25)

Orange is the new white
at the Niagara College Teaching Winery

Steve Gill and Gavin Robertson Underground Series: Steve Gill, general manager of NC’s learning enterprises, and winemaker Gavin Robertson toast to the launch of the NC Teaching Winery’s new Underground Series at the Wine Visitor + Education Centre.

Applied learning got an ancient twist at the Niagara College Teaching Winery, in the making of a natural Orange wine that marks the debut of a new Underground Series.

The newly released 2017 Underground Series Sauvignon Blanc is the College’s first venture into Orange wine – a term that refers to wine made from white grapes fermented on their skins, as is typically done with reds. It uses an ancient practice, which dates back thousands of years, of burying the grapes underground for natural temperature control, with very little intervention.

The result is a natural wine free of sugar, preservatives or additives, boasting flavours unexpected in a Sauvignon Blanc. With complex aromas of ripe apple and jackfruit, dried chamomile, turned earth, honey and juniper, the Underground Series Sauvignon Blanc is dry on the palate with fine tannins, a fresh acidity, and a flavour profile that can stand up to heftier food pairings.

Underground tanks: In September 2017, wine made from Sauvignon Blanc grapes was buried six feet underground in the campus vineyards for seven months to create the Teaching Winery’s first Orange wine.

College winemaker and instructor Gavin Robertson noted that the unique, natural wine would appeal to enthusiasts of the local food movement and naturally fermented foods, as well as oenophiles seeking the atypical. However, its beauty is more than grape-skin-deep at the Teaching Winery; it’s about expanding student exposure to unconventional wines and winemaking methods.

“Creating this natural, experimental wine was an opportunity to open our students up educationally to ancient, low-tech winemaking methods,” said Robertson, who graduated from the College’s Winery and Viticulture Technician program in 2011. “It’s a very labour intensive process and our students were at the heart of it all – from burying the wine underground and digging it up, to bottling it.”

Made from 1.5 tons of 2017 Sauvignon Blanc grapes, the wine was de-stemmed, and bucketed by hand into underground tanks, then sealed and buried ahead six feet underground in the campus vineyards in September 2017. It was underground for seven months through the winter to ferment spontaneously with the wild yeast in the vineyard, monitored by temperature probes installed at various depths, with help of from NC’s Research and Innovation Division. In May 2018, the wine and skins were dug out by hand and drained through a traditional vertical basket press. The highest quality free run wine was racked twice to clarify, then hand bottled, unfiltered, with no preservatives or additives.

Dig out: In May 2018, after seven months underground, the wine and skins were dug out by hand to create the Teaching Winery’s first Orange wine.

It was a memorable learning experience for second-year Winery and Viticulture Technician student Robbie Day, who experienced the challenges of working with wine in an underground vessel and helped to hoist the wine from the underground tanks using a bucket on a string. “I have strong respect for how difficult winemaking was before the introduction of modern equipment,” said Day. “By the end of the day, I was covered in Orange wine, rain and mud but it was totally rewarding.”

The Underground Series is an example what sets the NC Teaching Winery apart, according to Learning Enterprises general manager Steve Gill. “There’s no other Teaching Winery in the world where students are exposed to such a variety of winemaking experiences,” said Gill. “Our students have an opportunity to pick their own grapes for Icewine, to create Sparkling, table reds and table whites, to experiment with the ancient practices of Orange wine, and more, without leaving our campus grounds.”

Local winemaker Ann Sperling, director of winemaking and viticulture at Southbrook Vineyards (Niagara-on-the-Lake), who has also ventured into Orange wine, believes that it is a viable way to make natural wines, and that the style that could fit in Ontario both technically and for consumers. She feels it is important for students to be exposed to this revived style that has a history of thousands of years.

“Most wine schools, even today, do not dig into the use of skin fermentation or stem inclusion in white winemaking. It’s useful for students to see how these important components of wine grapes interact in the fermentation process to provide complexity and structure to white wines,” said Sperling. “It’s exciting to see that the leadership at NC encourage exploration in various wine styles including growing grape varieties such as Rkatsiteli to fully explore the tradition of Orange wine.”

The 2017 Underground Series Sauvignon Blanc is available for purchase at the Wine Visitor + Education Centre (135 Taylor Rd, Niagara-on-the-Lake), for $21. Proceeds from sales support student learning.

First Blanc de Blanc Sparkling
from Niagara College

Steve Gill, general manager of NC’s learning enterprises, and winemaker Gavin Robertson are proud of the latest Sparkling addition to the shelves at the Wine Visitor + Education Centre: Balance Blanc de Blanc Brut 2014.

After more than four years in the making, the Niagara College Teaching Winery has released its first Blanc de Blanc Sparkling – and it’s proving to be worth the wait.

The 2014 vintage, labelled as Balance Blanc de Blanc Brut, marks the Teaching Winery’s first venture into the style of Sparkling made exclusively from Chardonnay grapes. It also marks the first product made 100 per cent from grapes grown on the College’s Niagara-on-the-Lake Campus vineyards.

Students from the College’s Winery and Viticulture Technician program were involved every step of the way – from hand-tending to rows of Chardonnay grapes all the way to harvest, to picking and pressing, to bottling.

The result: a delicious, high-end Sparkling with a fresh citrus and mineral character.

Steve Gill, general manager of NC’s learning enterprises, believes the Blanc de Blanc Brut is among the finest wines the Teaching Winery has produced.

“Niagara is a great Sparkling region, and Sparkling wine in Ontario is world class,” said Gill. “To showcase what our students are learning and to showcase world class wine at Niagara College’s Teaching Winery makes us all proud.”

NC winemaker and instructor Gavin Robertson – who is also a graduate of the College’s Winery and Viticulture Technician program (2011) – noted that 2014 was a good year for Sparkling at the College. Rows in the campus vineyard were allocated specifically for Sparkling. Made from high quality, bunch sorted Chardonnay grapes, it was fermented in stainless steel tanks and neutral oak barrels. The bottle-fermented Sparkling spent more than three years aging – 36 months on yeast lees – far exceeding the VQA standard.

Sparkling was introduced to the College’s wine programs in 2012, when there was an uptick in Niagara’s Sparkling wine production. While there were only a few Sparkling producers in Niagara then, Robertson noted that there are now far more producers in the region.

“The industry needs winemakers trained in the concepts and nuances of Sparkling – and Sparkling, in particular needs to be taught. There are a lot of steps, it involves a lot of equipment, and it’s very a challenging and labour-intensive process,” he said. “Here at Niagara College, we’re making any style of wine that you can buy in Niagara – from table wines to Icewine to Sparkling – to support what the industry needs.”

Balance Blanc de Blanc Brut uses the same student-designed label as its first Sparkling, a 2012 Balance Brut released in 2015. It was designed by a team of students from the College’s Winery and Viticulture Technician, Wine Business Management and Graphic Design programs, handpicked as the winner of a student competition in 2015. While the original Balance Brut label is black and gold with a gold bottle wrap, its colour has been modified slightly to black and white, with a white bottle wrap, for the new Balance Blanc de Blanc Brut.

Balance Blanc de Blanc Brut 2014 is available for purchase at the Wine Visitor + Education Centre (135 Taylor Rd, Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON), priced at $27.15 per bottle. Proceeds from sales support student learning.

Note: Some Information for this report was provided by the source and in some cases edited for style and content by Wines In Niagara