By Rick VanSickle
The colourful Niagara-on-the-Lake winery and cidery called Small Talk Vineyards and Shiny Apple Cider is closing its doors for good at the end of the month.
Owner and CEO of Small Talk, Hank Hunse (below) told Wines In Niagara that “it’s the end of an era.” His father Lambert Hunse purchased the property, located at 1242 Irvine Road, when he came to Canada from the Netherlands in 1954 along with his wife Grace. They originally had a fruit and poultry farm that the family replanted as vineyards in 1985. The then over 200-acre vineyard released its first vintage under the Stonechurch name in 1990.
Eleven years ago, Lambert’s eldest son, Hank, took over the business and began re-branding it as Small Talk Vineyards and in June 2014 launched Shiny Apple Cider. The property is 27 acres and has 11 grape varieties under vine. Lambert passed away in June, 2020. “It was rebranded into cider because it had higher growth potential than wine,” said Hunse, who is married with four children and eight grandkids.
Hunse said the reason for the closure can be placed squarely at the feet of COVID-19. The rebranding to include cider took off when he first introduced it to the market and did well through the first year of COVID, but started to falter into the second year. The category relied heavily on bars and festivals for its consumer base and “it just evaporated, it just died and it’s not coming back,” he said.
The Shiny Apple brand was sold to Diamond Estates last August. A neighbour has purchased the estate vineyards, Diamond is taking over the retail facility and some bulk wine and bottled wine is still for sale.
Hunse said he needs to be off the property by the end of October and still needs to sell all the winery equipment and contents of the retail store. All the retail staff went to Diamond.
“It’s a crying shame,” Hunse said. “I wish the industry in Niagara lined up together, we need to have our own identity.” He pointed to other regions that focus in on one or two grapes and work as an industry to get recognition for what they do best. He laments the fact that in Niagara the industry is fractured, there is no focus, Hunse said.
The winery/cidery will be missed in Niagara. It “prided itself on being the most fun, colourful, happy place in all of wine country. Offering a series of distinctive ciders and wines that expose the dramatic gap between what you say … and what you think.”
Sadly, it doesn’t look like Small Talk will be the only victim of COVID-19.