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Here they come! Ravine’s first 2020 white wines ready to rock the world

By Rick VanSickle

During another lull in the endless COVID lockdowns we have all faced for over a year, I was able to sit down with the passionate and zero-BS Ravine winemaker Lydia Tomek.

We’re sitting in the spacious new tasting/retail venue at Ravine, part of the latest pivot that includes an expansion of the outdoor dining patio and relocating of the restaurant to the new events centre building. It is a spectacular view looking out into the organic vineyard with its gentle slopes.

Niagara wine
Ravine winemaker Lydia Tomek.

With the changes to the restaurant, Ravine has brought back executive chef John Vetere, fresh off a stint at Oast House. Vetere is a Canadian-born chef and author (Cooks Book) who has been working in Southern Ontario’s best kitchens for the past 15 years.

Vetere, below, had been busy designing the new menu and getting ready to welcome diners when the new lockdown was issued, and now extended into May. When I visited, Vetere and Tomek were both looking forward to a spring that would entice guests to the new spaces and an exciting menu. But here we are, once again in limbo.

You just have to feel for the countless businesses that depend on tourism for their survival. For wineries, restaurants, breweries, cideries and distilleries it’s been one pivot after another. Open, closed, open, closed, takeout, curbside, hire, furlough … it’s a never ending dystopian nightmare and a fight to stay afloat long enough to see the other side of the pandemic.

For Tomek, she puts on a brave face when talking about the past year and all the challenges. As the mother of young son Dragan and wife to Michael Nazareth, owner of Dragan Brewing, the impact of COVID touches everything they do.

On this warm, sunny spring day, with renewal in the air, a relaxing of restrictions and a brief ray of light shining through an all-encompassing pandemic cloud, Tomek settles in to share her newest babies — the 2020 white wines, now safely bottled and ready to rock the world, and a preview of the unfinished upcoming reds from 2020. She, if only briefly, is in her happy place as she pours glasses of wines for us to taste and enjoys a wonderful plate of charcuterie from Vetere.

Here is what we tasted.

The white wines

Ravine Unoaked Chardonnay 2020 ($32, released this month, 90 points) — All stainless steel fermented with weekly lees stirring. The nose shows vivid peach, green apple, perfumed pear and citrus zest. It’s a lovely fruited wine on the palate with mineral salinity, Niagara orchard fruits, lemon and a zippy, fresh finish.

Ravine Chardonnay 2019 ($35, released in May, 91 points) — This Chard is barrel fermented and aged for 14 months in French oak. The nose explodes with pear, yellow apple, creamy/spicy notes, citrus zest, toasted vanilla and a nice vein of salinity. It’s caressing on the palate with a rich and creamy texture and loaded with ripe orchard fruits, toasted oak spices and plenty of acidity keeping lively on the finish.

Ravine Gewurztraminer 2020 ($25, released this summer, 89 points) — This is made in a traditional Alsatian style with a nose of ripe grapefruit, lychee, rose petals, pear, cloves and ginger. It has lovely texture and flesh on the palate and is made in an off-dry style with wild honey notes, Asian pear, grapefruit, jasmine and juicy acidity on the finish.

Ravine Small Batch Riesling 2020 ($25, July release, 91 points) — This has an overt nose of lime, flinty minerality, grapefruit and green apple. It’s perfectly dry on the palate, despite 12 g/l of RS, with saline/stony minerality, fresh apple slices, lime zest and a tangy, bright finish. Should age well for 5+ years.

Ravine Patricia’s Block Riesling 2020 ($35, summer release, 92 points) — Patricia’s Block is sourced from 8 rows of the estate vineyard where it dips just below the view from the back patio. It’s a portion of the vineyard that is prone to botrytis, but Tomek picked this fruit with zero noble rot, and left 33 g/l of RS and 9.1% abv. It has a nose of fresh-cut citrus, peach fuzz, Granny Smith apple and slate minerality. It’s fresh on the palate with a playful yin-yang between sweet-tart fruit then peach, honey, minerals, wild honey and a juicy, well-balanced finish. Would love to see this with a bit of age.

Note: Tomek is also making a totally botrytised affected (TBA) version from the same vineyard that is just now being barrelled down for aging. I had a sneak peek of the raw wine that will be bottled in 375 mL bottles. Just wow! It’s dripping in honey and has lovely texture even before the oak kicks in with layers of apricot, honeysuckle, sweet citrus, peach compote and tropical notes. Can’t wait to see the finished wine.

The ‘rebel rosé’

Ravine Rosé 2020 ($28, released on Mother’s Day, 91 points) — Don’t get Tomek going on rosé and all the pale pink versions that is de rigueur right now. “Let’s just let this place dictate it,” she says. I just to want it to be Canadian. I just want it to be this place. We’re not Provence!” She calls her meritage blend “rebel rosé.” It does buck the trend with its candy apple red colour and a bold nose of dark cherries, watermelon, a floral note with wild raspberries, bramble and cranberries. It’s bone dry on the palate with ripe red berries, cranberries, red currants, watermelon and mouth-watering acidity on the finish. “Because there’s more to it, there’s a little more play,” Tomek says, adding: “Sunshine and barbecue fare, I see it working.” Always the rebel.

A word on 2020 red wines

Tomek poured a range of samples from her estate red wine program that are unfinished and happily aging in various oak treatments. She is giddy with excitement at the potential the 2020 vintage for red wines, especially the Bordeaux varieties.

“What the hell have I been missing all these years,” she says. “I’ve been yearning for this. I usually say ‘patience is a virtue, but, nope, hot with these wines.’ ”

Like many winemakers in Ontario, Tomek believes 2020 is the best year she has seen in Ontario to date. The reds in barrel she poured to taste certainly point to some sensational big reds from the vintage. The Merlot is fruit laden with ripe tannins, structure and power, while the Cabernet Franc shows a softer, riper profile at this early stage. The wines will come together once the aging process is complete in 12 months or so.

And now for cider …

Lowrey Brothers Peach Cider ($3.90 for 437 mL can, 5.6% abv, available now, 90 points) — This is the first cider Tomek has made. The peaches are sourced from the Lepp Farm and the cider follows the same pattern as all three ciders (apple, peach and pear) made at Ravine. Nothing is added, just fresh ingredients and always made in a perfectly dry and refreshing style. The peach cider is super dry, refreshing, peach laden and lively with gentle effervescence. Sometimes it’s the simple things in life that bring such great pleasure.