NewsTop Stories

The tragic death of Tawse winemaker Paul Pender: ‘We will all miss him’

By Rick VanSickle

Tawse Estate winemaker Paul Pender died today under tragic circumstances, the owner of Tawse winery, Moray Tawse, said in a news release.

“It is with deep sadness and heavy hearts that we inform you of the death of our colleague and friend Paul Pender, who passed away on February 4, 2022. Paul died unexpectedly under tragic circumstances. We will all miss him more than words can express. He was not just our manager but our good friend as well.”

Pender joined the Tawse team in 2005 and became head winemaker in 2006. Under his leadership, Tawse achieved Ecocert organic and Demeter biodynamic certification and was named Canadian Winery of the year in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2016. He earned the title of Winemaker of the Year at the Ontario Wine Awards in 2011.

A former carpenter, Paul was in the second graduating class of Niagara College’s Winery and Viticulture program. He adopted a “non-interventionist as far as possible” philosophy and was a firm believer that the start of every great wine begins in the vineyard.

A celebrated winemaker in Niagara, Pender guided both the Tawse and Redstone wineries, owned by Moray Tawse, into two of the most well-rounded, awarded and extensive portfolios in the country.

I have known Pender since he began his incredible journey at Tawse and have tasted his wines every vintage. He was soft-spoken and passionate about making the very best wines he could from organic and biodynamic grapes and tackled new ventures such as spirits and cider with equal enthusiasm. He was a brilliant winemaker and crafted some of Niagara’s most profound Chardonnays, Pinot Noirs and Rieslings as well as more fuller bodied red and finessed sparkling wines. He was largely responsible for building of the most awarded and widely respected wineries in the country.

Said Vineland Estates winemaker Brian Schmidt: “As all others I am in disbelief. Such a loss. I would often call Paul at random times throughout the year, he would call me. Our farms were adjoining, we looked out for each other. Paul was always up for a chat and as friends do, he shared with me and challenged me. He made me a better winemaker. It was Paul that sent me in the direction of no longer using herbicide under our vines. He bluntly said, ‘Brian, why would you think a strip of death under your vines is a good thing? Over the coming weeks, the loss for Ontario wine is what will be spoken of but more, the loss for his family is incalculable.

More reactions:

Lee Thomas Baker: “Unbelievable. A huge inspiration to me as a winemaker. Six years ago, Paul came to Keint-he to taste the first wines I producing as a head winemaker. I was so incredibly nervous. He was absolutely amazing and encouraging. He as and always will be one of the best this industry has ever had.”

From Ryan Crawford, owner of Ruffino’s Pasta Bar and Grill: “Same vintage I met Paul Pender (above photo). He was one of my best friends! We met over duck confit & Pinot. He was a trail blazer in our industry. I remember barrel tasting with him as Pascal jumped like Spider-Man from barrel to barrel. The young wine maker and the young chef started a friendship that would last decades. People might not know, but I’m ordained and married Paul and Ali in a “secret” ceremony! It breaks my heart that he was going to do the same for me and my fiancé Martha Brett. And now cannot. I’m sorry Moray, but I’ll miss skinny dipping in your pool with Paul after wine makers’ dinners at Tawse. I’ll miss our crazy shenanigans!!! Such a great human. This is such a tragic loss to our community. My heart is broken. But I know he will always be with us in our hearts! So if you have a bottle of Tawse. Crack it open. Take off your cloths. And run around naked! It’s what Paul be would want you to do! Sorry we’ll never be able to use my sauna together. But I’ll have a toast to you every time I do! I miss you. I’ll never forget you. And I’ll look out for everyone who loved you!

“Cheers Buddy, I love you!”

Chef and co-owner of Dispatch Restaurant, Adam Hynam-Smith, said: “Our hearts, thoughts and wishes, love and support go out the entire extended family and work family of Paul Pender. We are at a loss of words. RIP Paul.”

Treadwell Restaurant, said: “Shocked and saddened by the tragic news . Our condolences to his family and the team at Tawse.”

Eugene Mlynczyk, MW Arterra Wines Canada, said: “I am so deeply saddened to hear this news. Paul was an amazing winemaker and super generous with our Independent Wine Education Guild WSET diploma students, hosting us for several years every fall as a key part of our practical, in the field, viticulture and winemaking segment. We always endeavoured to bring important guests outside the region to visit at Tawse or Redstone with Paul, and they were invariably impressed. Amazing Cabernet Franc, Gamay and Sparking wines, so said my fellow Masters of Wine. Again, a great loss and I’m so sorry for the family and the community.”

Barbara Honsberger Condotta: “So very sad to hear this. Thoughts and prayers go out to his family, friends and colleagues.”

More to come …