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Spring can only mean one thing — lots of winemaker changes in Ontario

By Rick VanSickle

Ahhh, spring in Ontario Wine Country. The birds are chirping, the days are longer, warm air is replacing the cold, and, of course, the annual winemaker shuffle is unfolding.

Several winemaker changes have been announced recently, including at Hidden Bench, Arterra and RedTail and Rosehall Run in Prince Edward County.

Here’s the rundown:

Hidden Bench

Ontario wine

Alex Baines . above, has been appointed head winemaker at the Beamsville Bench estate winery, replacing Jay Johnston who has decided to move on to Tawse Estate Winery on the Twenty Mile Bench.

Baines joined the Hidden Bench team in January 2017 and has progressively taken on more responsibility at the winery over the past five years, said owner and vigneron Harald Thiel. Originally from England, Baines graduated from the Niagara College Viticulture and Winemaking program in 2015. In addition to his five years of making wine at Hidden Bench, Baines has interned at premium Pinot Noir producers Flowers Winery in California and Burn Cottage in New Zealand, as well as several other international producers.

“We cannot be more pleased and thankful to have Alex take the reins of our winemaking operations,” said Thiel, “as his contributions and experience over the last five years exemplifies the attention to detail from vineyard to bottle that has distinguished Hidden Bench since our founding in 2003.”

Said Baines: “Being the winemaker of an award-winning estate winery like Hidden Bench is an awesome opportunity and responsibility which I

am very excited about. The quality of estate grown organic fruit that our vineyards and winegrowing team deliver year after year makes crafting our terroir imbued wines a great privilege and pleasure, a legacy of quality that I look forward to continuing.’

Thiel said the entire Hidden Bench family extends its sincere gratitude to Johnston for his significant contributions to the success of our winery over the last five years and wish him the very best in his future winemaking endeavors.

Johnston is moving over to Tawse Estate Winery to work for winemaker Jess Otting and help with some maternity leave coverage.

Rosehall Run

Lee Baker, above, has been appointed associate winemaker at the Prince Edward County winery Rosehall Run, head winemaker and co-founder Dan Sullivan announced.

Baker is a graduate of Brock University’s CCOVI Honours program with 16 years of Canadian winery experience including Niagara, the Okanagan Valley and most recently as the head winemaker and vineyard nanager at two acclaimed Prince Edward County wineries, including Redtail Vineyards.

Baker has developed a significant following for his wines that show both elegance and depth, including experimental small-lot wines made with as few interventions as possible, said Sullivan. He believes that ‘natural’-style wine can be clean, well-balanced, and still show exceptional character.

“Lee will be an invaluable asset to our team, and we are looking forward to his forward-thinking vision and enthusiasm for continuing the tradition of growing superb Prince Edward County fruit and producing innovative wines,” said Sullivan.

Owner/winemaker of 2027 Cellars in Niagara, Kevin Panagapka, is taking over the winemaking role at Redtail Vineyards while still making his own wines at 2027 Cellars.

Arterra moves

Levi de Loryn, above with Marco Piccoli, has been appointed director of winemaking for Arterra Wines Canada. He replaces Marco Piccoli, who was with Arterra for nearly 18 years. There is no word on where Piccoli is going next.

Levi got his start in winemaking at Château Yaldara in the Barossa Valley. Yaldara is the Aboriginal word for sparkling, which coincidentally is his true passion. In his eyes they are “complex and challenging, but done right can be magnificent, and so rewarding.” Since then, he has worked in the cellar, the lab and the vineyard at numerous wineries from Australia’s Barossa Valley to California’s Sonoma Valley. After completing his Masters of Oenology at Adelaide University, he worked at Wither Hills Winery in Marlborough. Since moving to Canada in 2011 he’s worked at Flat Rock Cellars, Angels Gate Winery and others, before joining Arterra Wines Canada in 2018.

Arterra Wines Canada also named John Boynton as its new president and chief executive officer, effective March 28, 2022.

He succeeds Jay Wright, who is retiring after leading operations for the wine producer and marketer over the last 20 years. Wright was with Constellation Brands and Vincor Canada before that. Boynton was most recently vice-chair and president of digital with Torstar parent company NordStar. Prior to that he was the president and CEO of Torstar and publisher of The Toronto Star.

“Arterra has significant opportunities to grow from its current leading position in the wine category to become one of Canada’s great companies,” said Dave Perkins, board chair, in a news release. “We are confident that John’s strong leadership will build on our current success and take our organization to the next level.”