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The long and winding road for Niagara’s 2027 Cellars leads to this: Retail sales

By Rick VanSickle

It’s been a long and winding road for 2027 Cellar’s Kevin Panagapka, but this spring he’s hoping you take on a journey that leads to his door (or at least his new website).

Not familiar with the reference? Click the video …

Panagapka made his first 2027 wine, 100 cases of Featherstone Vineyard Riesling, in 2007 as a “virtual” winery, a winery inside a winery, if you will. It wasn’t ideal but it gave birth to his dream of making great wine from key terroirs in Niagara. Under that licence, which was tied to the winery where he made the wine, he didn’t technically own the wine; 2027 was a sub-brand of the host winery and at the mercy of those owners (Panagapka had a great relationship with the wineries he worked with and it worked out well for him). But he wanted more.

Niagara wine
Kevin Panagapka stands in front of what will eventually be the 2027 Cellars tasting and retail facility, right beside Calamus winery in Jordan.

One of the perks of selling through another winery was having a small space at the home retail store where consumers could purchase his wines. Panagapka ramped up production and developed a following for his wines, which quickly became much sought after.

Then in 2009, he switched gears. Panagapka acquired a series of licences (manufacturing, processing, excise, etc.), which meant his licence was portable and he could make his wines at a willing partner winery under his own licence but he could only sell to the LCBO and directly to restaurants. That worked well for a while, his wines were getting good traction at the LCBO and Vintages and he had a great relationship with restaurants. The only problem was the loss of retail sales.

Enter 2020. Panagapka partnered up with Peter Van-Helsdingen, the new owner of Jordan’s Calamus Estate Winery, where he was hired as the winemaker and also began making his 2027 wines there. He acquired a retail licence to go with all the other licences he had, and he can finally sell his own wines under his own licence to the public and still maintain his close ties to the LCBO and restaurants.

“I just want to sell my wine to people,” Panagapka tells me. “So here we are.”

Coming this spring, you will be able to walk into the 2027 Cellars retail and tasting store that adjoins the Calamus retail store (this is pending the COVID-19 pandemic, of course). He shows me the space; it’s cosy, but essentially crowded with boxes and stripped down walls at the moment. He starts pointing here and there as he lays out his dream scenario that he hopes will be realized when the store throws opens the doors maybe, and that’s a big maybe right now, as early as May. You can also buy his wines now through email and once his website is built, you will be order directly online.

“My life has been licensee and LCBO,” he says. “Now I have to think about the public.”

Panagapka and Van-Helsdingen see each other as a good fit. The two portfolios don’t have much overlap and can complement each other. They see potential for combining their portfolios for winemaker dinners and events at the winery that will benefit both parties.

One of the biggest benefits for Panagapka is having his winemaking equipment, barrels and tanks used exclusively for 2027 Cellars wines in a separate area of the large winemaking cellar at Calamus.

Kevin Panagapka shows off what will eventually be the space used by 2027 Cellars to sell retail wines to the public.

“I’m ecstatic to sell the public wine directly,” he says. “I’m over the moon. Now I have the wine, the store and licence to do just that.”

Panagapka is busy finishing up the retail and tasting store and is building his website in advance of a spring grand opening. Of course, with the COVID-19 epidemic, any kind of tasting room opening will likely be on hold pending on the status of the virus. But you will be order direct from the website. It’s best to check for updates.

He’s already offering some wines directly via email here:

• 2027 Cellars 2018 King Street Pinot Noir — $29.95/bottle
• 2027 Cellars 2018 StoneBridge Chardonnay — $26.95/bottle
• 2027 Cellars 2018 Wismer Vineyard Fox Croft Block Chardonnay — $26.95/bottle
• 2027 Cellars 2019 Wismer Vineyard Fox Croft Block Riesling — $22.95/bottle
• 2027 Cellars 2019 Wismer Vineyard Fox Croft Block Gamay Rose — $18.95/bottle
• 2027 Cellars — 2019 ‘Contrary’ White Blend $16.95/bottle

I tasted a trio of Wismer Vineyard — Fox Croft Block wines, his favourite terroir on the Twenty Mile Bench for his single vineyard collection, in advance of the grand opening (two already available above via email). Here’s what I liked.

2027 Cellars Blanc de Blancs Wismer Vineyard — Fox Croft Block 2016 ($40, retail store this spring, 93 points) — The Chardonnay for this traditionally made sparkler is sourced from the Wismer Vineyard — Fox Croft Block. It spent three years on the lees, and, as per nearly every sparkling wine Panagapka has made, there is zero dosage (no sugar added). The nose is expressive with toasty brioche notes, salinity, pear, sharp apple and rousing lemony/citrus notes that pours an elegant mousse in the glass. It explodes on the palate with stony/saline minerality, green apple and quince, lovely toasty/brioche, lemon zest, length through the finish and pure finesse and energy. This is gorgeous right now but still has room to gain fat with some bottle age and round out the searing acidity.

2027 Cellars Gamay Rosé Wismer Vineyard — Fox Croft Block 2019 ($18, retail store in spring, available via email now, 90 points) — “This has a saltiness that I love, but I don’t know where it comes from,” says Panagapka. It shows a lighter colour, pale salmon in the glass and comes in an attractive package with a black label on clear glass. It shows pretty red berries, plums, light herbs and bramble on the nose. Seems redundant to say this, but it’s bone dry on the palate with crushed red berries and flinty salinity in a fresh, vibrant, vivacious style. Lip-smacking good.

2027 Cellars Chardonnay Wismer Vineyard — Fox Croft Block 2018 ($28, retail store in the spring or website, now via email, 94 points) — I don’t what more I can say about this bottling that I haven’t said before. The 2027 version of this same wine was Wines In Niagara’s Most Thrilling White Wine of 2018 and has never strayed far from the top of that list in the 10 years that Panagapka has made it from the same vintage. He blew this wine through Vintages stores, at $23 a bottle, so quickly that consumers had trouble getting some. Don’t be that person now that it will hit the shelves this spring. This follows closely to all the other vintages of this wine and is made similar to all the others — 100% whole cluster pressed, wild fermented, wild malo with 100% French oak aging (20%, new oak). It’s a beautiful wine with a nose fresh pear, quince, nougat/toasted almond, gunflint, lemon and elegant oak spice that only builds in intensity as you come back to it. It’s certainly fresh and lively on the palate, but showing more concentration of layered pear/apple fruit and zesty citrus to go with light, toasted spices, flinty minerality, salinity and finesse through a long, long finish. So youthful right now and a definite candidate for the cellar, say 5+ years. Another superstar from 2027.

To continue with the Beatles thread we began with at the beginning of this story …

It always leads me here
Lead me to you door

A pair from Calamus

I was also able to taste a couple of new signature red wines from Calamus that Panagapka finished as the winemaker (but didn’t start). Here’s what I liked:

Calamus Cabernet Franc 2017 ($22, retail store, but online now, 88 points) — The wine spends 18 months in oak and has a lovely nose of ripe red berries, sweet herbs, anise and integrated spice notes. It shows darker fruits on the palate with peppery spices, cloves, bramble/earth and good vibrancy on the finish.

Calamus Ball’s Falls Red 2017 ($17, winery and online, 89 points) — In many ways, this is the flagship red at Calamus and smartly priced. It’s mostly a blend of Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon with a fruit-laden nose of rich raspberries, cherries, herbs and integrated spice. It’s smooth and delicious on the palate with a basket of red fruits, earth, balancing spice notes, light herbs and a vibrant finish.