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A fun look backwards at Ontario wine personalities through a camera lens

By Rick VanSickle

In the classic Bob Dylan song, My Back Pages, he wrote: “Ah, but I was so much younger then, I’m older than that now.”

I know, I know. The words “younger” and “older” are inversed for my purposes here but please bear with me as we take a little trip down memory lane with this snapshot in time of the people who made, and in some cases, continue to make, the Ontario wine industry tick.

Ontario wine
This is the photo that has been my website’s header graphic since I launched the site 15 years ago. It’s a shot of the Megalomaniac Vineyard.

Wines in Niagara has a vast library of photos taken over a couple of decades and stored in various places. I started writing about wine in 1999 while working as an editor at the Calgary Sun. I can’t remember exactly what camera I took photos with back in those days, but it was with an SLR with the film processed in the newspaper’s dark room. I have none of those photos anywhere in my archives. At some point I switched to a DSLR camera for digital downloading and began storing all photos on a desktop Mac and later, a laptop. I could edit and store the photos in an app and have stored them there all this time.

Eventually I switched exclusively to taking photos on various iPhones, where everything about photography is better and easier for my purposes across various medias, and especially this website. It has made editing photos a dream and has sped up the time-consuming chore of editing photos (a big pain in the butt).

I was flipping through the library of photos taken on the DSLR pure white Nikon camera with zoom lens I had for years recently and came across a wide spectrum of wine personalities I have either interviewed or tasted with between 2008 and 2016. I thought it would be fun to publish a bunch of the photos in their imperfect state to show you what they were doing then and where they are now before I start culling the library. Cool?

Many have moved around, some never moved at all, and sadly, some have died. I provide a little blurb with every photo to add a bit of perspective.

Enjoy these photos, presented in their raw and sometimes soft-focus original format, in the spirit they are given. FYI, the very top photo is of Fielding Estate’s Heidi Fielding being photographed by Suresh Doss, at one time a fixture in Niagara wine country as publisher of the popular Spotlight City website.

Niagara Peninsula

Ann Sperling

Where to start with Ann Sperling. The name is usually mentioned in the same breath with her husband Peter Gamble who are together involved in many wine projects in Niagara, their own winery in Argentina called Versado and, until recently when the winery was sold, the family’s Sperling Vineyards in the Okanagan Valley. Sperling is an accomplished winemaker, viticulturist, and consultant. She only recently stepped down from Southbrook to concentrate on new projects such as Dobbin Estate, among many others.

Charlie Pillitteri

Charlie Pillitteri is the CEO of Pillitteri Estates Winery. He has made it his business to sell icewine around the world since the very first vintage in 1991. The family winery is the world’s largest estate producer of icewine and continues that trend through the good times and the tough times. In 1999, Pillitteri was the first producer to create a successful Merlot icewine. In 2004, they created the world’s first Shiraz icewine, in 2007 they created the world’s first Sangiovese icewine and in 2008 they created the world’s first sparkling Cabernet icewine.

Derek Barnett

What can be said about Derek Barnett that hasn’t been said before? He is legendary. He was the winemaker at the progressive NOTL winery Lailey before it was sold, but never lost a beat, crafting wines at Karlo Estates in PEC and his own brand called Meldville, which is made in Niagara at Legends. The man never sleeps.

Andrew Brooks

Andrew and Christina Brooks had no experience in farming or agriculture but clung to the dream of starting a vineyard from the ground up. Back 10 Cellars started with pure will, gumption and determination (their words). The entire vineyard was purchased by the 20-somethings, who successfully took the big leap to make their dream a reality. 

Barclay Robinson

Barclay Robinson had a successful winemaking career at both Ridgepoint and Foreign Affair in Niagara before departing for further adventures in the Okanagan Valley where he is now the winemaker at Road 13 Vineyards.

Allison Slute

Allison Slute, now sales and product manager at Sélections Le Maître de Chai, has deep roots in Niagara as the sommelier and export manager at Pillitteri Estates Winery. For wine geeks, she is most visible on her fabulous IG page CabFrancChronicles where she explores in depth her favourite grape variety, Cabernet Franc.

Steve Byfield

Steve Byfield is the winemaker and owner of Nyarai Cellars, one of the oldest, continuously operating “virtual” wine brands in Ontario. While Steve has made wine for other wineries, here shown at Coffin Ridge, it is his Nyarai brand where his passion really shines.

Betty and Tara Colaneri

Betty Colanari, left, and daughter Tara Colaneri are shown in this photo at the majestic Colaneri Estate Winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake, a family owned and run winery. Since this photo was taken, Tara has opened her own winery just down the road called AMO Wines.

David Sheppard

I love this photo of David as he posed with his “30th Vintage” wine from Coyote’s Run where he was the winemaker at the time, a nod to his 30 years of making wine in Niagara. David is just starting to slide into retirement after learning from and working with Karl Kaiser at Inniskillin and more recently as the winemaker at Flat Rock Cellars, where he has stepped back a bit from full-time duties.

Donald Triggs

I have many photos of Donald Triggs, the visionary behind Vincor, at the time the largest wine company in Canada and poised to take on the world before being sold to Constellation Brands. After selling Vincor, Donald moved to the Okanagan Valley to start from scratch the Culmina project, a high-end, terroir-driven winery that was his pride and joy. He has since sold Culmina and now lives back in Niagara-on-the-Lake where he undoubtably smiles every time he drives past the Jackson-Triggs winery.

Ed Madronich

Ed Madronich is the proud owner of Flat Rock Cellars and a strong voice for authentic wines made in Niagara. He’s a believer in the grapes he champions — Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Riesling — and loves to talk all things Ontario wine to whoever will listen, like here to a group of wine writers (with an assist from me).

Emma Garner

Emma Garner, now the senior winemaker at Peller Estates, shows in this photo that she can lose the Blundstones and glam it up if she absolutely must. This is Emma at a Cuvee event in Niagara Falls.

Len and Marisa Crispino

Len and Marisa Crispino had a dream to build a 100% appassimento winery in Niagara and they achieved that goal with the establishment of the Foreign Affair Winery. The couple sold the winery to Corby a few years ago, but left behind a legacy that, for the most part, is being carried on by the new owners.

Nicolette Novak and Andréa Glass

This terrific duo, Nicolette Novak, founder and former owner and founder of the Good Earth Food and Wine Company in Niagara, and the winemaker known as Dr. Dre, presided over this cool food and wine oasis for years. Nicolette has since sold the company to new owners and Andréa moved to New Orleans many years ago.

Harald Thiel

Outside of Harald and his winemakers, there’s probably no one who has tasted more of the Hidden Bench owner’s classy portfolio of single-vineyard Pinot Noirs, Chardonnays, Rieslings, sparkling wines and Bdx blends than me over the years. And for good reason — they are some of the best wines being made in Canada.

Alex Harber

In 2012, Alex Harber, part of his family-owned Ravine Vineyard, left the business to work in the big smoke (Toronto), where he spent over a decade in the service industry. But he has returned to his familial roots at Ravine and Niagara is lucky to have him back.

Jeff Hundertmark

Jeff Hundertmark is a veteran Niagara winemaker with stints at Marynissen, Stoney Ridge and Coyote’s Run before he and wife Kimberly (well known in marketing circles) packed their bags and headed to the Okanagan Valley where Jeff is the director of winemaking at the Mt. Boucherie Estate Winery. In between all that, he still had time to start his own brand, 100Marks, while he here in Niagara.

Ilya Senchek

No one thought it was possible to create a unique terroir in the far west of Niagara, no one except Leaning Post co-owner and winemaker Ilya Senchuk. What a ride it has been since this photo was taken at the Winona site that is now fully planted and producing incredible wines.

Jay Johnston

A youthful Jay Johnston is shown here when he was the winemaker at Hidden Bench. No one has a longer resume than Jay with over 20 years of winemaker experience at an array of some of Niagara’s top wineries. Jay is on a new wine adventure in the emerging wine region of Elgin County.

J-L Groux

This is a photo of a winemaker who loves what he does. J-L Groux is the long-time winemaker at Stratus Vineyard who is starting to wind down his illustrious career while making way for Dean Stoyka. Introspective, incredibly cerebral and one of the brightest wine minds in the business, J-L has proven himself to be among the best of the best in expressing estate-grown, Niagara wines.

John Howard

John Howard took his big personality and built the Megalomaniac winery perched atop the Niagara Escarpment in Vineland at the highest altitude site in Niagara. He has since stepped back from the winery, but sipping his Niagara and Bordeaux project wines at his magnificent Vineland home are some of my fondest memories since writing about wines.

JP Colas

Animated, opinionated, passionate and talented as a winemaker, tasting with JP Colas is always an adventure. The 13th Street winery winemaker has built an incredible portfolio of wine and contributed greatly to one of Niagara’s top destination wineries.

Kevin Panagapka

A youthful Kevin Panagapka, owner of 2027 Cellars, is one of the original members of a collection of terroir-hunting “virtual” winemakers in Niagara crafting wines from some of best vineyards in Niagara. Panagapka has since shed the virtual tag and has the licencing to make and retail his own wines. Here he’s pouring his wines at an icewine gala event.

Daniel Lenko

There was a time, when those in the know couldn’t wait to get their hands on the next vintage of Lenko wines on the Beamsville Bench. The historic vineyard, with some of Niagara’s oldest vines, produced incredibly soulful wines with an uncanny ability to age gracefully in the cellar. Daniel Lenko has not made any new vintages in quite a long time but still sells his grapes to key wineries.

Lou Puglisi

Bella Terra Vineyards, formerly known as PondView, sits on a 50-acre grape farm that has been tended to by the Puglisi family since 1974. Lou Puglisi draws on grape-growing knowledge and experience that has been handed down from one generation to the next.

Lydia Tomek

Feisty, passionate, tough, and well-travelled, Lydia Tomek has found a home at one of Niagara’s top wineries, Ravine Vineyard in St. Davids. I love this photo of Lydia when she was the winemaker at Hernder and bottled this special wine as a tribute to friend Audrey Davies, a Virgil mom who passed away after a courageous but short battle with breast cancer. A portion of the proceeds went to help in the fight against breast cancer. Such a Lydia move.

Daniel Pambianchi

Daniel Pambianchi and three silent partners acquired the assets of Maleta Winery and relaunched the business in 2004. It only lasted about 10 years, but the amateur winemaker made some memorable, and long-lived, wines in that short period of time.

Craig McDonald

Craig McDonald, who was once the senior winemaker for Peller Estates and has now skyrocketed to vice-president of winemaking and integrated supply chain at the company, has always seemed most comfortable pouring wines for wine lovers and friends. Craig has a deep passion for Niagara wines, created the largest sparkling program in the country, and continues to pour and sip wines with friends and colleagues from coast to coast and continent to continent.

Michele Bosc

Sadly, we lost Michel Bosc in 2019 to cancer. As part of the Bosc family that owns Chateau des Charmes, Michele was a marketing wizard and one of the first to embrace social media as a tool to engage consumers.

Paul Bosc

This was the last photo I took of Paul Bosc, the patriarch of the Bosc family, who passed away last month. He was a legend in the Niagara wine industry and a pioneer whose legacy in viticulture will be remembered for decades to come.

Paul Speck

I had the pleasure of having lunch with Paul Speck recently, just a casual, off-the-record affair to discuss the state of the Ontario wine industry and a chance to get caught up. Paul and his two brothers created Henry of Pelham Wines, one of Niagara’s most successful wineries, with a portfolio that runs the gamut of everyday, value wines to some of the most spectacular wines Niagara has to offer under the Speck Family Reserve label. The sparkling wine portfolio is one the most complete and exciting in Ontario.

Peter Rod

Friend, fellow golfer, sometimes contributor to Wines in Niagara, sommelier (seen here while working at 13th Street) and gifted with a suburb palate, Peter Rod is now teaching future generations of winemakers as a professor at Niagara College. This man knows how to express wine in plain language and can kick your butt in any blind tasting put in front of him. I’ve been humbled a few times by him.

Rob Power and Matt Loney

The power duo of winemaker Rob Power and marketing guru Matt Loney created an impressive body of work at Creekside Estate Winery (along with assistant winemaker Yvonne Irvine). Creekside and its sister winery Queenston Mile are now owned by Diamond Estates Wines & Spirits Inc. Power stayed with the company and Loney is now the GM at the Niagara Custom Crush Studio.

Klaus Reif and Roberto DiDomenico

Reif Estate owner Klaus Reif, left, and winemaker Roberto DiDemenico (since 1989) have been a formidable tandem team at one of Niagara-on-the-Lake’s founding family wineries, founded in 1982 by the Reif family. Today, Reif produces wines in a full range of styles from its 125-acre vineyard first planted in 1977. The winery was recently put up for sale by the family.

Graham and Christine Rennie with Philip Dowell

The original team of Graham and wife Christine Rennie with winemaker Philip Dowell produced the first vintage of Rennie Estate Wines featuring mostly appassimento style wines, along with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from the estate vineyard which is mainly contracted to Arterra Wines. Rennie recently purchased the Stoney Ridge winery and created the new Niagara Custom Crush Studio, where the wine is now being made by Marco Piccoli, after years of having the wine crafted at Malivoire by Shiraz Mottiar.

Richie Roberts

Love this photo of Richie Roberts posing by the rock pile that existed way back then at Fielding Estate’s Tufford Road Vineyard and was the inspiration for the “Rock Pile” wines that are now a big part of the wines made at this Beamsville Bench winery.

Roman Prydatkewycz

Roman Prydatkewycz holds a favourite bottle of red wine from Vineland Estates where he works as the viticulturalist. Fun fact: Roman owned and originally planted the Rosomel Vineyard 40 years ago. He sold the vineyard to Hidden Bench in 2004 and the vineyard has consistently produced award-winning wines over the years since then.

Joseph DeMaria

I took this photo of Joseph DeMaria, owner of the notorious Royal DeMaria icewine producer in Niagara. It was for a story on a bottle the former hairstylist allegedly sold in 2006 to a Saudi prince, who paid $30,000 in a deal consummated in New York City’s Central Park. No idea if his icewine is being sold or made there anymore, and no idea if DeMaria is allowed to even sell icewine anymore. Enough said.

Brian Schmidt

Hard to choose just one photo of Brian Schmidt that sums up the work and dedication he has brought to Vineland Estate where he is the winemaker (and much more than that). So, I decided to show two photos, one was of Brian holding court with a bunch of wine writers in the St. Urban Vineyard. The second photo is with Canada’s legendary and most important wine writer, Tony Aspler. Two giants of the Canadian wine industry together in one shot.

Shiraz Mottiar

Shiraz Mottiar, long-time winemaker and now GM of Malivoire, is just about the most photogenic wine personality in Ontario. No wonder he stole the show in the movie Crush: Message in a Bottle, by Canadian filmmaker Maya Gallus. Shiraz is the nicest winemaker you’ll ever meet and loves pouring his range of incredible Gamays, rosés, sparkling wines, Chardonnays, Pinot Noirs and so on.

Andrzej Lipinski

Andrzej Lipinski, now the proprietor and head winemaker at Big Head Wines, has a packed resume over 20 years as winemaker, mostly spent creating a market for appassimento style wines in Ontario. This photo is of Andrzej when he made the wines at Colaneri in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Thomas Bachelder

A classic shot of terroir-hunter Thomas Bachelder back in the heady days of making single-vineyard expressions of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from three regions — Niagara, Oregon, and Burgundy. His days of flying around the world to feverishly make three (or more) expressions of Burgundy-inspired wines are long gone, but his Niagara portfolio has grown 10-fold and now includes Gamays from several single vineyards across Niagara. He’s a busy guy, and we didn’t even mention the rebooted Le Clos Jordanne project from Arterra and the move to the recently purchased Angels Gate winery where Le Clos will now be housed permanently.

Mike Weir

Mike Weir spent over 110 weeks in the top-10 of the Official World Golf ranking between 2001 and 2005 but he is best known for winning the Masters Tournament in 2003, making him the only Canadian man to ever win a major championship. His foray into Niagara wine wasn’t quite as successful. The Weir winery began with a grand opening where I took this photo of Weir photographed with my son Tynan, a big fan of Weir’s, and a pretty good golfer himself on the Niagara Junior Golf Tour. The Weir winery no longer exists and it became the Locust Lane winery. I am not certain what’s happening there (or, I don’t want to say), but it hasn’t been open for a while.

Wes Lowrey

Quiet and unassuming, Wes Lowrey has a not-so-quiet cult following for the tiny amount of wines he makes from grapes grown at his dad’s Lowrey Vineyard. Released once a year, Five Rows Craft Wines, a Pinot Noir from the oldest Pinot Vineyard in Ontario, a Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah sells out almost immediately every single vintage. Wes does not use marketing, other than a mailing list, does seek out reviews for his wines and keeps a low profile. It’s a system that works for him.

A barrel of fun

I don’t know if these three winemakers exercise their competitive nature in the cellars where they make their wines, but boy or boy, did they ever battle it out on the streets of Jordan during the icewine festival back in the day. Sue-Ann Staff (owner of Sue-Ann Staff winery), Lydia Tomek (winemaker at Ravine) and Yvonne Irvine (winemaker at Queenston Mile, Creekside and her own brand Maenad Wine Co.) tossed these barrels like their lives depended on it. All for a chance to hoist the Golden Blunnies Barrel Rolling champion trophy. Don’t mess with these women.

Prince Edward County

Sherry Karlo

Sherry Karlo founded Karlo Estates, just outside of Wellington in Prince Edward County, with her late husband, Richard Karlo. Together they built a winery in a charming County barn. After the death of her husband in 2014, Karlo assembled a talented team to bring the winery back from the brink of disaster, including Saxe Brickenden (now husband to Sherry) for his business expertise, and Derek Barnett as winemaker.

Gerry Spinosa

Exultet Estates owner/winemaker, Gerry Spinosa, holds a bottle of his much-awarded Beloved Pinot Noir. Both the Pinot and Chardonnay (Blessed) are some of the most sought-after wines in The County.

Glenn Symons

Lighthall winemaker Glenn Symons made some terrific wines (and cheese) at this County treasure. Symons up and left the winery last year and moved to the east coast, but still owns a piece of the winery.

Mackenzie Brisbois

Mackenzie, shown here at a Pinot Noir “Twitter Twasting” in Niagara, is the superstar winemaker and viticulturist at Trail Estate. While Brisbois makes a range of classic, low intervention County and Niagara wines, she was also among the first in Ontario to champion natural wines in various styles and has a built a solid cult following for them.

Bruno Francois and Jens Korberg

Partners Jens Korberg (right) and Bruno Francois started their tiny winery in 2014 and debuted with a thrilling Pinot Noir, the diamond in the portfolio. Health problems and then vineyard issues slowed the progress at this estate, but the Pinot Noir is back, along with a Cabernet Franc and one of the best sparkling ciders in Ontario.

Dan Sullivan

Dan Sullivan is the long-time winemaker and owner of Rosehall Run in The County. With a proven track record in the region and the history to back that up, he is a strong advocate and voice for Prince Edward County wines.

Battista Calvieri

No visit to Prince Edward County is complete without a stop to see Battista Calvieri, owner/winemaker at the tiny Hubbs Creek Vineyard. The man exudes joy, just look at that photo, and he makes fascinating wines always served with engaging discussion.

Jonas Newman

Jonas Newman is the founder and winemaker at Hinterland Wine Company. He was the first exclusively sparkling wine producer in Ontario (as far as I know). While I haven’t been back in a while, and I don’t know why, I always loved the passion Jonas has for the various styles of sparkling he makes in The County.  

And one more for the road

Rick VanSickle

I can’t let all these old photos of people I’ve photographed over the years stand without at least one self-deprecating photo of myself during, shall we say, an awkward hair phase. So, go ahead and pile on, I can take it.