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How two couples, long-time friends, made their wine dreams come true in Niagara

By Rick VanSickle

Two couples, long-time friends, a couple of vineyards and now a full-fledged family owned and operated winery. Sometimes, it was just meant to be.

This is the story of the King and Victoria Winery, one of Niagara’s newest purveyors of small-lot, estate-made VQA wines. The winery is located (no surprise) on Victoria Avenue, just southeast of King St. in Vineland on the Twenty Mile Bench.

Niagara wine

The owners are Rob and Liz Harold (left to right, above), and Joe and Tracey Schenck (also Liz’s brother). Rob, Liz, and Joe went to the same high school (Denis Morris), with Rob and Liz four years older than Joe, so only overlapping for one year. Joe met Tracey while tree planting out west during a summer break from the University of Guelph, where they all attended. Liz, Rob, and Tracey all furthered their studies at Brock, with Rob achieving a CCOVI certificate. All became very close friends (and in the case of Rob and Liz, really close!) and are all now joint owners of their winery.

Joe Schenck is from a large and well-known farming family in Niagara and has been involved in grape growing since finishing university. Rob worked at a pharmaceutical firm in Germany for 15 years before returning to Niagara in 2010 to chase his dream of opening a winery with his buddy and their wives. “We’ve been cooking this up for a long time,” Harold told Wines in Niagara during a tour and tasting recently. “We always said that one day, let’s see if we can do this.”

The winery sits on the estate’s Hanck Vineyard, a well-appointed site that shares a border with the Wismer Vineyard to the south and close to Butlers’ Grant to the east. Just across Victoria is the Wismer Foxcroft Vineyard with Tawse and Vineland Estate not far from there. It’s a proven terroir for Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling, and Cabernet Franc, among other varieties, with distinct personality. With its gently sloping clay and limestone soils, it is a site that promotes ripe, nuanced, and mineral rich fruit.

For the past 20 years, the fruit from Hanck has been sold to local wineries and the name has appeared proudly on bottles from Cloudsly Cellars (almost next door to King and Vic) to Bachelder Wines, and a few others.

Hanck Vineyard snapshot

• Owned by Rob and Liz Harold, and Joe and Tracey Schenck
• Hanck is a combination of the brothers-in-law’s last names
• 20-acre parcel purchased in 2002
• 13 acres planted from 2004 to 2007 with Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir. An additional 1.25 acres of Pinot Noir planted in 2021
• Farmed by Glen Elgin Vineyard Management

Haynes Street Vineyard snapshot

Additional fruit for the project comes from the Haynes Street Vineyard in the Creek Shores sub-appellation in nearby Jordan.

• Owned by Joe and Tracey Schenck
• Two acres of Cabernet Sauvignon planted 2000
• Two acres of Cabernet Franc planted 2000
• Two acres of Gamay planted 2021
• Farmed by Glen Elgin Vineyard Management

The Schencks also own a 20-acre Chardonnay vineyard in the Creek Shores sub-appellation that will be incorporated into the King and Vic portfolio beginning with the 2023 vintage.

The two couples will manage all winery operations from vine to wine and are planning a taste and buy event on the last weekend of August, featuring many of the wines reviewed below. The wines so far have been made at Cloudsley but now with the winery built, the wines going forward will be crafted in house by Harold and Schenck, who both have backgrounds in amateur winemaking. “The plan is for a small-scale, artisanal, low intervention winery and to make what we can manage,” said Schenck. “It’s just fun to have a vineyard and winery to play around.”

Rob Harold and Joe Schenck.

The winery is new and built from the ground up, with tanks and barrels just arriving to the production facility and the team is committed to ecological sustainability. A state-of-the-art geothermal system powers the building’s heating and cooling as well as the wine processing tanks.

The tasting room is comfortable and welcoming with views of the vineyard. A cut-out into the vineyard will be used for events and a second floor, private tasting room provides a bird’s-eye view of the Hanck Vineyard and beyond.

Note: You can purchase a limited amount of wine here on the website and get on the email list for upcoming events such as the taste and buy event the last weekend of August.

Here’s what I liked from the recent tasting:

King and Victoria Riesling 2019 ($25, winery, retail store, 92 points) — Made from 15-year-old vines grown in the home vineyard on the Twenty Mile Bench, this Riesling is classic Bench with a fresh, saline nose of lemon-lime, green apple, pear, and nectarine. It’s dry and fresh with stony minerality, some fleshy notes, citrus, ripe pear, subtle savoury notes, and a bright, lip-smacking-good finish. Can cellar 7+ years.

King and Victoria Pinot Noir Rosé 2021 ($25, online, only a few cases left, 89 points) — The Pinot Noir grapes spent eight hours on the skins and is made in the direct to press method. It is wild fermented and bottled with light filtration. It shows a pale salmon colour in the glass with pretty aromas of wild red berries, a touch of earthiness and citrus zest. It’s dry, fresh, and lifted on the palate with raspberries, strawberries, a touch of aniseed and lemon zest on the finish. The 2022 version (90 points) of the Pinot Noir rosé is a little riper, with more body and ripe red berries all balanced by the racy acidity on the finish. The 2022 rosé will be released at the end of August.

King and Victoria Sauvignon Blanc 2021 ($25, available at the end of August, 90 points) — The inspiration for this Savvy is what both Schenck and Harold were weaned on and love — the New Zealand style. It was vinified in 100% stainless steel with no malo and has a fresh nose of grapefruit, pear, white flowers and a herbal tinge. It’s perfectly dry and refreshing on the palate with notes of fresh-cut hay, herbs, grapefruit/citrus, summer pear, chalky minerality and a tangy, lifted finish.

Pinot Noir vertical

King and Vic will have a four-vintage vertical of Pinot Noir available at the taste and buy event at the end of August for guests to try. It’s a unique opportunity to discover how vintage conditions impact wine. Here are my impressions.

King and Victoria Pinot Noir 2018 ($45, almost sold out, limited quantities available, 91 points) — This gold medal winner at the Ontario Wine Awards this year was the first wine made under the King and Vic label and will be part of the four-vintage vertical tasting. It has expressive notes of black cherries, anise and wild raspberries with pretty floral notes and nicely integrated oak spice notes. It shows a melange of ripe red berries on the palate, iron-y minerality, anise/floral notes, spice, and a smooth delivery through a lifted, bright finish.

King and Victoria Pinot Noir 2019 ($50, last weekend of August, will be included in a four vintage vertical tasting) — I want to revisit the 2019 version of the Pinot Noir after a bit more bottle age. It’s a more reductive style of Pinot (like many 2019 reds) with earthy/savoury notes, but it’s tight right now and just needs a bit of time for the fruit to emerge from the shadows.

King and Victoria Pinot Noir 2020 ($55, last weekend of August at the winery’s taste and buy event and will be included in a four vintage vertical tasting, 93 points) — This is the star of the Pinot show from the fabulous 2020 vintage. It shows the richest red colour of the four Pinots in the vertical with such beautifully ripe red berries, crushed granite, a touch of cassis and elegant spice notes. It’s ripe with luxurious texture on the palate followed by a melange of black cherries, wild black raspberries, earthy/savoury notes, fine oak spice and a long, long, lifted finish. Can age 6+ years. A beauty!

King and Victoria Pinot Noir 2021 ($55, last weekend of August at the winery’s taste and buy event and it will be included in a four vintage vertical tasting, 92 points) — A little lighter in colour and shows a prettier, more delicate style on the nose with wild raspberries, subtle herbs, fresh cherries, violets, and light spice notes. It’s silky smooth and treads lightly on the palate with fresh red berries, red currants, anise, floral notes, subtle spice, and a bright, vibrant finish.

King and Victoria Cabernet 2020 ($35, last weekend of August at the winery’s taste and buy event and will be included in a four vintage vertical tasting, 92 points) — The blend for this red is 53% Cabernet Sauvignon and 47% Cabernet Franc from 20-year-old vines from the Haynes Street Vineyard in the Creek Shores sub-appellation. It spent 22 months in 100% French oak (30% new oak). It has a gorgeous nose of black cherries, cassis, currants, earthy/savoury notes, barrel spice notes and a touch of pepper and herbs. It’s nicely integrated on the palate with bold and juicy red and dark fruits, evident tannins, anise, and mulled herbs that come at you in layer after layer. It’s dense and spicy but nicely balanced by mouth-watering acidity on a long, lifted finish. Can age this 7+ years.

Note: I also tasted one of the last remaining bottles of the Riesling pét-nat made by the team. It’s now sold out, but it was one of the cleanest, least-likely to explode, pét-nats I have tasted in a quite some time. It was, in fact, rather enjoyable. More of this, if you keep making it like this, please.