NewsTop Stories

Breaking news: Mission Hill owner buys coveted vineyards in Niagara-on-the-Lake

By Rick VanSickle

There’s a new major player coming to Niagara-on-the-Lake, and he’s dropping anchor in one of the most coveted postal codes in the region.

Founder and CEO of the Mark Anthony Group, Anthony von Mandl, has staked new ground with a significant purchase of prized vineyards nestled between Stratus Vineyards and the Jackson-Triggs Winery with frontage on Niagara Stone Road. Von Mandl bought over 70 acres of key vineyards from Ray Duc, the owner of Forrer Farms Inc., a family-run business that has been growing grapes and tender fruit in Niagara-on- the-Lake since 1960.

Niagara wine

Duc, above, and a Mark Anthony spokesperson, communications director Andrea Harrison, confirmed the sale to Wines in Niagara today (Monday). And while Mark Anthony and Dillon’s Small Batch Distillers founder and now general manager of the Beamsville distillery, Geoff Dillon, declined to tell us what the plans are for the new vineyard purchase, it’s a fairly safe bet that the boutique craft distillery, which was founded in 2012 by Dillon and subsequently sold to Mark Anthony last year, will be moving at some point to the new, prime location that boasts a small stretch of some of Niagara’s most exciting properties.

Here’s the statement from Mark Anthony given to Wines in Niagara: “For more than 40 years we have been on the forefront of pushing boundaries of innovation. Recently, we have made an investment in a key parcel of land in the Niagara region to help increase our knowledge and understanding of the unique climate and soils. We see this as an amazing opportunity and we look forward to learning more about this iconic wine region.”

With Stratus and Jackson-Triggs currently anchoring the tiny enclave on one of Niagara-on-the-Lakes’ most travelled stretch of wineries, there are also some enticing properties within easy walking distance. Oast House Brewers is a huge draw for beer lovers, the new high-end $40-million Stone Eagle winery (owned by Two Sisters) and restaurant that will house the estate’s top-end Stone Eagle wines, is well underway across the street, plus The Village Square, a commercial centre on the border of the Garrison Village residential neighbourhood, has been in the works for a few years directly across the road form JT.

An early drawing of the Garrison project. Plans may have changed from this first proposal.

Garrison Village will include a four-storey hotel at the corner of Niven Road and Niagara Stone Road, as well as an assembly hall, a grocery store, and small shops. A spokesman for the Traditional Neighbourhood Development project confirmed to Wines in Niagara that site plan for the village was recently given the green light by the town of Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Founded in 1972, the Mark Anthony Group has grown organically from a one-person import wine business into an international drinks company whose hallmarks include a portfolio of luxury wineries and iconic beverage brands.

Von Mandl pioneered high-end winemaking in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley. His family-owned wineries and estate vineyards have surprised the wine world, winning the ‘world’s best Chardonnay’ and ‘best Pinot Noir in the world’ in London, and the first-ever perfect 100-point-scores for their collection of fine wines, handcrafted in the Okanagan Valley.

At the same time, his group of companies has created and launched several new to the world beverage categories and a portfolio of well-known brands, including White Claw Hard Seltzer and Mike’s Hard Lemonade, that have transformed the drinks industry. Anthony’s obsession with best-in-class taste is rooted in the family’s organic vineyards and distinctive, award-winning wines.

In addition to owning Mission Hill, pictured above, Martin’s Lane, Check Mate, Cedar Creek, Road 13, and Liquidity wineries, Mark Anthony also owns White Claw, Bearface Canadian Whisky, Glendalough, and Dillon’s Distillery.

As one source told Wines in Niagara, with Mark Anthony joining the fray in the area, it’s like “Niagara’s Bermuda Triangle” — it’s easy to get in, but you might not want to get out with all that deliciousness congregating in one spot.

Forrer Farms was founded by Duc’s father-in-law, the late Jack Forrer, who emigrated to Canada from Switzerland in 1950. When Duc took over as owner of the of the vineyards, he retained the name of the founder “out of respect” for the original family name.

Duc is originally from Jordan and was dating (and later married) Jack’s daughter, Linda, in high school. When he graduated from college, Duc started working on the Forrer farm to make ends meet and never left.

Duc said he put the vineyard up for sale earlier this year and by the time the deal was done, Mark Anthony wanted more than the 44 or so acres, so ended up parting with over 70 acres under vine. “It was all about location for them,” Duc told Wines in Niagara. Duc has a deal in place to “run” the vineyards for von Mandl while they decide on a plan going forward. Other details of the deal, including price, were not disclosed to Wines in Niagara.

Duc’s father-in-law sold Jackson-Triggs a portion of the original vineyard when that iconic winery was just getting established in the late 1990s. To this day, Duc sells his grapes to Arterra Wines Canada, which was originally Vincor, founded by Allan Jackson and Donald Triggs. Duc took the proceeds from the sale to purchase the family’s first homestead and vineyards on the East-West line and will continue farming as the new generation of family members takes over the business.

I asked Duc if the family ever considered using the coveted Niagara Stone Road for a full-fledged winery. “I like the family life on a farm,” he said. “It’s a great family life … until you become a winery.”