By Rick VanSickle
Queenston Mile Vineyards in St. Davids is being sold to a local restaurant group, Wines in Niagara has learned.
The deal between Diamond Estates Wines and Spirits Inc., current owners of Queenston Mile, and 43North Restaurant Group is expected to be finalized on Feb. 15.
Diamond Estates is Ontario’s third largest producer of VQA wines. It acquired Queenston Mile, Creekside Estate Winery and Shiny Apple Cider in 2021. Creekside will remain with Diamond Estates, along with winemakers Rob Power and Yvonne Irvine.
The 43North Restaurant Group, owned by Tony Visca and Fern Colavecchia (above), own and operate several popular restaurants and businesses in the Niagara region, including the flagship Johnny Rocco’s, Commercial Roadhouse, Stone Mill Ballroom, Rodman Hall, Ovation Ballroom, Cracker Jacks, DoughBox and others.
Tony Visca, while stressing the purchase is to be finalized on Feb. 15, expressed his love for local Niagara wines and a purchase such as Queenston Mile fits perfectly with his restaurant business. “I lived in Italy and was surrounded by wine. This opportunity came up in Niagara and we thought ‘let’s keep it in Niagara,’ ” he said.
Visca says purchasing a winery just “made sense for us.” He says his restaurants carry a lot of local Niagara wines and will continue to do so but will also include his own wines once they start bottling under their ownership. Probably a red, white and a sparkling, while still maintaining his current selection of Niagara wines.
Visca says he has no plans to open a full-fledged restaurant at Queenston Mile, just an offering of small bites that fit with tastings at the St. Davids winery.
On the wine side, he says, “we need to learn the wine business. We will be relying on Rob (Power) to guide us through it.” The plan is to sell some of the Queenston Mile grapes to Diamond while keeping some for their own production. Grapes will be crushed on site and will likely be finished at Creekside, but details are still being worked out. There is also some replanting of grapes to be done on the Queenston site after a couple of bad winters. Visca says he will wait a year before deciding what to replant.
Andrew Howard, CEO and President of Diamond Estates, told Wines in Niagara that when Diamond bought Creekside and Queenston Mile Vineyard in 2021, “it absolutely fit with our total business. Bringing Creekside and QMV into the fold was about adding dimension to the portfolio. I’m very attached to Queenston Mile as a couple of us dreamt it up, built and launched it … I’m also the resident amateur beekeeper on site.”
He added that it’s no secret that the last few years have been difficult in the wine business and “we made a pledge to our owners to reduce our debt levels. With QMV being primarily an onsite business with a lot of land and property, and a small amount of LCBO business, it was the logical choice to sell (and) paydown debt. We have a salesforce focused on restaurants, bars, LCBO, and grocery and QMV’s strategy was mostly high margin onsite and DTC (direct to consumer) and didn’t fully leverage our salesforce. Heavy heart to do it still, but the brain had to have the primary decision rights on this one. We hope the brand and place thrives and we’re happy to remain involved with Tony, Fern, and team.”
Queenston Mile was built as the perfect complement for Jordan’s Creekside winery — both entities were owned by the Equity Wine Group, which bought the winery from founder Laura McCain in 2012, before being sold to Diamond, and now 43North.
The 50-acre Queenston Mile site, currently with about 30 acres under vine, is situated on the St. David’s Bench directly across the road from Chateau des Charmes. The production for Queenston Mile has mainly focused on Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and sparkling wines with the rest of the grapes grown at the property going to Creekside for some of its top and iconic wines, including the Broken Press Block.