By Rick VanSickle
Andrea Kaiser wears a lot of hats in the world of Niagara wine, but the one hat that has nothing to do with wine has her full attention right now. She’s is running in the federal election as the Liberal candidate for Niagara Falls, Fort Erie and Niagara-on-the-Lake.
Kaiser is a mother, businesswoman, community leader and former municipal councillor, and lifelong Liberal who was born and raised in Niagara and has spent her adult life working to grow the local economy, and give back to her community, according to her campaign literature. But that’s enough about politics!
Kaiser, above, is also the daughter of one of Niagara’s most important winemakers, the co-founder of Inniskillin Wines, Karl Kaiser, below, credited with the birth of the modern Canadian wine industry along with partner Donald Ziraldo.
Her first job was at Inniskillin as a tour guide, welcoming tourists from around the world and educating them about grape growing in Canada and the production of world-famous icewines. After graduating from Guelph University with a bachelor’s degree in history and politics, she returned to Niagara to manage a new family business and start a family. For more than 10 years, Kaiser was a successful hotelier and restaurateur in Niagara-on-the-Lake, while she raised her two children. After growing the family business, she returned to the wine industry at Reif Estate Winery as marketing director — a position she has held for 19 years.
Along with all of that, Kaiser currently serves as the chairperson of Wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake, is a board member of the Ontario Craft Wineries Association, chairperson of the Ontario Craft Wineries Sustainable Winemaking Committee and also a former instructor at the wine business management program at Niagara College.
But having her own Niagara wine label and following in her late father’s footsteps was a calling that was in her blood. So, in 2019, Kaiser founded Drea’s Wine Company — a premium small-batch wine company in memory of her father Karl.
She says the founding of Drea’s “fulfils my aspiration to carry on my father’s legacy in some small way. It is also of great significance to me as it has been made possible by my family, friends and colleagues.”
Kaiser’s first release was Drea’s Sauvignon Blanc, which she dedicated to her father, “who, along with my family, affectionately called me Drea.” Sauvignon Blanc was a favourite of Karl Kaiser and he made it in his “home cellar” long after retiring from Inniskillin.
Another staple in the Drea portfolio is Dornfelder. Karl “had planned many moons ago to put Dornfelder on the map for winemaking in Ontario but was told by marketing it would be a difficult sell as it was an unknown grape and also difficult to pronounce,” Kaiser says. “He liked the varietal for Canada as it is winter hardy, fairly easy to grow and ripen but more importantly has juicy fruit flavours not always found in cool climate reds. While he loved layered complex oaked red wines, he always appreciated the natural fruit flavours of the grape shining through in the wine, especially over time in the bottle.”
There are two interesting Dornfelders in the Drea portfolio — a rosé style and table wine style that I find fascinating.
I tasted the new releases from Drea’s Wines along with a selection of Reif Estate Wines for this report. But first …
A trio of Drea’s wines
It should be noted all these wines are made with 3 g/l or less, so very dry.
Drea’s Sauvignon Blanc 2019 ($26, released this fall, 90 points) — This was the first wine Andrea Kaiser made and remains at the top her modest, but eclectic, collection of wines that reflect her famous father’s own tastes. It’s a fitting tribute to Karl Kaiser as he absolutely loved Sauvignon Blanc and kept making it long after he retired from Inniskillin, the winery he founded with Donald Ziraldo, in his “home” cellar. His style was dry, fresh and no oak, and that is carried on by his daughter. Karl Kaiser’s final vintage before he passed away was in 2017. This rendition from Andrea and her winemaking team is just a lovely and pure expression of this wonderful grape with a nose of gooseberries, grapefruit, lime peel, herbs and subtle grassy notes. It has lovely texture on the palate with elevated flavours of gooseberries, grapefruit/citrus, touch of tropical fruits, herbaceous/savoury notes, bright acidity and a lip-smacking fresh finish.
Drea’s Rose 2020 ($26, fall release, 92 points) — “While my first love was Sauvignon Blanc, I am excited about rosés that are dry, crisp and downright delicious, says Kaiser. “In designing this wine I wanted to select a red varietal that had ample berry flavours, good skin coloration and a bright acidity. I had to look no further than one of my father’s favourite grape varieties, Dornfelder, that he knew from his homeland Austria. In contemplating using it for my rosé it was apparent that the juice could only spend a moment or two on the skins for colour extraction.” Even with the limited time on the skins it shows a brilliant pink colour in the glass, much darker than last year’s version. The nose shows bold black raspberries, earthy undertones, bramble, herbs and candy popcorn. It’s perfectly dry on the palate with ripe raspberries, some black cherries, herbs and a floral note that is bright and perky through the finish. Really nice expression of rosé here.
Drea’s Dornfelder 2020 ($30, available now, 90 points) — This esoteric red wine grape was developed in Southern Germany in 1956, a vinifera cross, now the second most planted grape in the country. Its parent grapes are of noble descent and include, Pinot Noir Précoce, an early ripening natural mutation of the grape, Schiava a variety that dates back to the Romans and Lemberger with evidence of cultivation tracing back to the middle ages. Dornfelder grapes are highly pigmented, with thick black skins that bring an intense and deep colour to the glass, an attractive feature for cool climate winemakers. After the juice was pulled off for the rosé (saignee method), Kaiser fermented the balance of the juice and made a red wine for summer drinking. No oak aging just bright fresh fruit flavours. I would recommend chilling this just a bit for maximum satisfaction. It has a big, bold and fruity nose of blackberries, cassis and ripe cherries. Such a treat on the palate with a bevy of tart red berries, blackberries, black currants, anise and lovely earthiness all leading to a lifted, bright finish. Summer sipping red.
A selection of new
releases from Rief
Reif Chenin Blanc 2020 (price not available, fall release, 91 points) — A really nice expressive nose of perfumed pear, melon, nectarine, apple skin and grapefruit. Such depth of flavour on the palate with sun ripened peach, pear and nectarine with a kiss of honey and mouth-watering acidity. Note: photo taken before the label was printed.
Reif Fortune Rosé 2020 ($19, released later this month, 88 points) — Showing a bright candy-apple red colour in the glass, this Gamay based rosé has a nose of bright cherries, raspberries, plums, watermelon and sweet herbs. It’s loaded with ripe red berries, herbs and a touch of citrus on the palate with a zippy, fresh finish. Note: photo taken before the label was printed.
Reif Kerner Reserve 2019 ($20, winery now, 91 points) — This rare Kerner, at least in Niagara, was fermented on the skins for 15 days then the must was pressed and malolactic fermentation was done in stainless steel tanks. Kerner is a unique variety and is one of the first white grapes harvested at the estate. It has a fruity and floral nose of grapefruit, lemon, pear, honeysuckle and nectarine. It’s off-dry on the palate with a mélange of orchard fruits, underlying minerality, citrus and nicely balanced with the racy acidity. A lovely sip.
Reif Pinot Grigio 2020 ($17, spring release, 88 points) – A fruit driven Grigio with notes of juicy pear, peach, yellow apple and citrus. It’s slightly off-dry on the palate with ripe peach, pear, nectarine and a bright finish.
Reif Sauvignon Blanc 2020 (price not available, fall release, 89 points) — A forward, fragrant nose of gooseberries, grapefruit, lime and fresh herbs. It’s vibrant on the palate and bursting with passion fruit, grapefruit, citrus zest and just a hint of garden herbs with a lifted finish.