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One more time, From the Heart … Grapes for Humanity Charity wine auction preview

By Rick VanSickle

The Canadian wine community is once again giving “from the heart” for the upcoming 2024 Grapes for Humanity Fine Wine Auction that goes live on April 12.

Also in this Ontario Wine Report: Our picks from the Vintages release Saturday, including rosés from Westcott Vineyards and Southbrook, four Hidden Bench wines and a Chardo from Domaine Le Clos Jordanne.

Ontario wine

The annual online auction, which is conducted in partnership with Grapes for Humanity Canada and Dymon Wine Cellars, is held to raise funds for Tree Canada, The Nature Conservancy of Canada, and the Halo Trust, in support of climate action and aiding communities worldwide in need. Since launching the inaugural Fine Wine Auction in 2020 over $1.4 million has been raised. “Our efforts to raise money for climate change could not come at a better moment considering the devastation in B.C. wine country this winter,” said Steven Campbell (above), a Grapes for Humanity board member.

Ontario wine and experiences are a huge part of the auction that also features some of the finest, most collectible wines in the world, dinners with celebrities, and international tastings with top winemakers. In all, there are an incredible 498 lots to be auctioned off from April 12-22. You can see the full list of items being offered here.

It’s important to point that this is a charity auction, which means the 20% buyer’s fee is not charged to bidders and there’s no HST. A hammer price of $100 is exactly that and not $100 plus 20% plus HST, which comes to $135.60, the price you would ultimately pay with a commercial auction.

Canadian winemakers have always stepped up to the plate for the Grapes for Humanity auction, providing unique lots of wines with a collaborative theme. “I have always wanted to put Canadian wines on the same stage as all the other great wine growing regions of the world. and our auction is the only one in Canada focusing on our home-grown talent,” said Campbell.

There will be seven “micro-lots” of Ontario wine, each featuring 120 bottles only. The wines are created by many super-star winemakers from Niagara, Prince Edward County and Nova Scotia to create an aromatic white, a Riesling, a Chardonnay, a red blend, a Cabernet Sauvignon, a Pinot Noir, and a Gamay.

“We will sell 36 mixed cases of seven with one bottle of each cuvee followed by 70 lots each featuring a case of a single variety,” said Campbell. The labels feature photos of the participants.

In addition to the new collaborative wines made from different teams of winemakers, the auction will also be featuring the last of the Cuveé From The Heart wines, made for a previous Grapes for Humanity auction, that includes wines from B.C. and Ontario in small quantities. “It’s your last chance for romance,” Campbell said.

Here are some of the lots that are focused on Canadian wine and experiences that are being auctioned off to the highest bidder:

Lot 121 From The Heart: An Ode to the Environment

This features 19 winemakers, 20 wineries, seven wines and “one commitment.”

Blended exclusively for the 2024 auction: limited production (120 bottles), handcrafted small lots of unique cuvées by Canadian superstar winemakers.

Lot includes: Seven wines, 1 bottle each: Aromatic White (Benjamin Bridge, Paradise Grapevine, Trail Estate Winery); Cabernet Sauvignon (Icellars, Southbrook Vineyards, Stratus); Chardonnay (Bachelder, Cloudsley Cellars, Leaning Post); Gamay (Divergence, Liebling, Malivoire); Pinot Noir (Bachelder, Domaine Le Clos Jordanne, Mason Vineyard); Red Blend (Lailey Winery, Queylus, Tawse Winery); Riesling (Cave Spring Vineyard, Charles Baker Wines, Thirty Bench Winery).

Estimate $150-$200

Lot 192 Red Blend: Ontario’s Female Winemakers
Take Centre Stage with this Blend (12 bottles)

In support of conservation in Canada and humanitarian efforts in Ukraine, industry veteran Ann Sperling, Lailey Winery, chose winemakers who are equally close to their vineyards and detailed in their cellars: Kelly Mason, Domaine Queylus, and Jessica Otting, Tawse Winery. With barrel lots from each winery, Ann, Jessica, and Kelly tested different blends over several weekends until they found a combination they all loved. Non-vintage assemblage allowed the winemakers to bring together characters of both warm and cool vintages. Enjoy with roasted, grilled or barbequed meals.

From the Heart Red Blend NV — Wines In Niagara had a chance to taste this wine prior to the auction. It’s a non-vintage red blend of 40% Malbec from Lailey and 30% each of Cabernet Franc from Queylus and Tawse. Such a beguiling and floral nose with red/dark berries, cocoa, and spice. It has gorgeous texture on the palate with plush tannins in a layered and complex style that shows layers of dark cherries, cassis, black currants, toasty vanilla notes, spice and long, lifted finish. Can cellar to 2030.

Estimate $400-$600

Lot 157 Aromatic White: An Ontario and Nova Scotia Collaboration (12 bottles)

Lead winemaker Mackenzie Brisbois, Trail Estate Winery, and her team, Erin Carroll and Erin Keast, Benjamin Bridge, and David Everitt, Paradise Grapevine, decided early on that an Aromatic White was a great fit for the group. Erin and Erin contributed a skin contact Vidal fermented in concrete egg, David, a skin contact muscat and Mackenzie, an aromatic white blend fermented on skins. The wines were blended and aged briefly in a stainless-steel barrel, bottled with minimal sulphur addition. Tasting notes: orange blossom, honey, dried green tea leaves, slight tannin from skin contact, medium high acidity, fresh and vibrant. Perfect pre-dinner wine or with a lightly spiced meal.

Estimate $400-$600

Lot 164 Cabernet Sauvignon: Southbrook, Stratus and Icellars
Showcase a Bold Cabernet Sauvignon Blend (12 bottles)

A trio of Niagara’s top estate wineries that are known for producing high quality, ageable red wines collaborated to create a bold Cab Sauv blend – a ‘Collab Sauv’ if you will. Casey Hogan, Southbrook Vineyard; Dean Stoyka, Stratus Vineyards; and Adnan Icel, Icellars Estate Winery, brought forth wines from the small yielding, yet beautiful, 2022 vintage. Each of these vineyards from the Niagara-on-the-Lake region brings its own unique character to the finished blend. This wine from such a concentrated and ripe year is one of intensity with a strong structural core that will reward patience and allow for many years of aging before it is opened.

Estimate $400-$600

Lot 171 Chardonnay Crafted from Three of the Best Niagara Vineyards (12 bottles)

Matt Smith of Cloudsley Cellars, Thomas Bachelder of Bachelder, and Ilya Senchuk of Leaning Post Wines have come together to craft a Chardonnay from three of Niagara’s best vineyards. This special wine was blended with wines from the Foxcroft, Cuesta and Senchuk vineyards and is a great example of what makes the Niagara Peninsula a world class location for producing Chardonnay. All three winemakers were excited to come together and work though a detailed blending process to create this elegant, expressive wine in support of these two great causes. A lucky few will get a chance to enjoy this tremendous, one-off collaboration of three of the top Chardonnay winemakers in Canada!

Estimate $400-$600

Lot 178 Next Gen Gamay Producers Step Up (12 bottles)

Shiraz Mottiar, who built Malivoire’s Gamay reputation with the most in-depth Gamay portfolio in the country, handpicked the next generation of great Gamay producers in Niagara to collaborate on this wine. Elisa Mazzi, winemaker at Malivoire Wine Company joins Jeff Moote of Divergence Wines and Jessica Solanki of Liebling Wines, whose family also grows the Huebel Estate Gamay at the Creek Road Vineyard, from which this wine is sourced. Each brings their distinct knowledge and intuition to the table, harnessing the essence of the site into a harmonious wine that transcends individual prowess.

Estimate $400-$600

Lot 185 Pinot Noir: Burgundy’s Star Thrives in Ontario

Winemakers Thomas Bachelder and Kelly Mason’s work lives have been intertwined over the last decade. Now, they make wine together once again, by blending Pinot Noir wines from their own projects to a very special Twenty-Mile Bench-based luxury wine – 10 cases only made uniquely for Grapes for Humanity – a wine that will exist nowhere else. The wine is a unique, pure lower-bench wine that spans the breadth of the Twenty-Mile Bench Appellation: From Domanine Le Clos Jordanne (34%) on the east or Jordan side of the sub-appellation, through Bachelder’s Wismer-Parke (33%) and Kelly’s Mason Vineyard (33%) from the west or Vineland side of the appellation. This is a never-before-dreamed-of collaboration from three of the Niagara’s most-renowned Pinot Noir Terroirs.

Estimate $400-$600

Lot 199 From Its Humble Beginnings,
Ontario Riesling Takes Its Rightful Place (12 bottles)

A true collaboration of leaders in Riesling have come together for this amazing cause to deliver a wine that is refined and elegant. When asked, Gabriel Demarco of Cave Spring Vineyard stated: “It is a bottled masterpiece, and it may be one of the best Rieslings in the history of Niagara.” In conjunction with Emma Garner and Charles Baker these Riesling trailblazers have harnessed the potential of the 2023 vintage through this foundational variety.

Estimate $400-$600

Lot 56 (several lots of this) Hidden Bench 2023, Canadian Winery of the Year
and Pompette, Best New Restaurant and Fine Dining in 2021 (enRoute Magazine)


Hidden Bench Estate Winery: a premium artisanal winegrower founded by Harald Thiel in 2003 that produces ProCert certified organic and vegan-friendly wines exclusively from its estate vineyards on the Beamsville Bench. Recognized domestically and internationally for the consistent quality of their award-winning Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Riesling, Hidden Bench crafts a full portfolio of low intervention, quality focused, and terroir-driven wines with nuanced attention to detail and precision from vineyard to glass.

Pompette: Chef/co-owner Marine Bauer’s menu is a treasure trove of French dishes dolled up with a contemporary flair. White facade, leafy side patio, buttery leather banquettes and convivial and welcoming staff welcome you. Food plays a starring role with wine being of equal importance. The cellar is curated by co-owner and award-winning sommelier, Jonathan Bower. This paired dinner will excite and delight your taste buds!

Estimate $350-$500

Lot 70 (several lots) Dinner for Four in Wine Country at Trius Winery


Trius Winery is a Canadian winemaking pioneer that has been crafting fine VQA wines from premium grapes for over 40 years. Come taste what happens when a chef lets nature take the lead. Chef Frank Dodd works with local farmers, growers, and producers to create inspired wine country cuisine that makes Trius wines sing. Australian-born Winemaker Craig McDonald has over two decades of winemaking experience, leads the Trius winemaking team and oversees national winemaking for Andrew Peller Limited. He will share his passion with you. The team looks forward to seeing you in wine country!

Estimate $600-$800

Lot 83 Dobbin Estate Tower Tasting with Peter Gamble and Ann Sperling


Join Peter and Ann for an evening with the best in the Canadian wine-making world. Enjoy stunning views of the three vineyard blocks and the lake from the second storey tasting room in The Tower. Specially crafted pairing by Executive Chef Laura Ramik will be matched exclusively for each individual wine. You will be greeted with a glass of class method sparkling, then explore the Pinot Noir “Pommard” vineyard, then ascend to the tasting room where each of the four wines is paired with a food match. Peter and Ann will share their wine-growing journey throughout the evening.

Estimate $750-$1,000

Lot 45 Domaine Tawse Lunch and Barrel Tasting with Winemaker


Canadians Moray Tawse and John Harris own just under one hectare of this famous Grand Cru Burgundy and have generously donated a decade’s worth of Musigny that you will pick up at the winery (2012-2021). You will be treated to a VIP tour, tasting and lunch with the winemaker. Priceless!

Estimate $10,000-$15,000

Wines in Niagara asked Campbell to highlight a few new auction items aside from the Canada lots mentioned above.

“We have expanded our celebrity dinner lots as we have had great success in the past with these dinners,” he said. “This year, in addition to a dinner with Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson of Rush, we have dinners with Jim Cuddy and Colin Cripps of Blue Rodeo, ex Toronto mayor David Crombie, Jay’s star Jose Bautista and more.”

He noted that “we also have received incredible support from the Global wine community with lots sponsored by wineries like Torres, Antinori, Catena, Quinta do Noval and many more offered tours, tastings, dinners, and accommodations. There’s something there for all those wandering wine lovers looking for one of a kind once in a lifetime opportunities.”

There’s also a Burgundy event at George restaurant with a tasting/ dinner of 10 vintages Bouchard Vosne Romanee Aux Reignots from magnums plus three magnums of 2005 White Burgundies in case people are still thirsty, he said.

Most importantly, Campbell said, “the last three years we have witnessed unprecedented damage to Canadian vineyards by the impact of global warming. The most recent polar vortex in B.C. will result in a more than 95% crop loss in 2024 and yet to be calculated replanting costs. While our governments wring their hands and do little, I am planting trees, and I am preserving wilderness. Help me make a difference let’s show our community that we care.”

So, get the Waddington’s auction website here book marked for Friday when bidding starts and begin plotting your bidding strategy. This is a win-win auction, you get great wines and experiences, the fight again global warming gets a helping hand.

Our recommendations for Niagara
wines coming to Vintages Saturday

Saturday’s Vintages release is clearly focused on Niagara rosés and not one, but four, wines from the Beamsville Bench winery, Hidden Bench, plus a fine Domaine Le Clos Jordanne Chardonnay from 2020. Here’s what we can recommend for the release:

Westcott Pinot Noir Rosé 2023 ($26, new review, 92 points) — One of two impressive rosés from different varieties in Niagara that are hitting the shelves just in time for the recent bout of sunny, spring weather we’ve been treated to lately. The Westcott rosé is made 100% Pinot Noir from estate fruit in the Vinemount Ridge sub-appellation. With a pale salmon hue in the glass, this lovely rosé is both pretty to look at and pretty on the nose, with a medley of summer cherries, fresh raspberries, strawberry tart, cranberries, and a subtle note of zesty citrus. It’s perfectly balanced on the palate with juicy red berries and red currants in a refreshing dry style that carries through the zesty finish. 

Southbrook Triomphe Organic Cabernet Franc Rosé 2022 ($24, new review, 92 points) — Moving to Niagara-on-the-Lake and organically grown Cabernet Franc, here’s another rosé that should be on your radar. Showing a deeper shade of pink in the glass, this offers the full range of red berries, summer herbs, and a subtle note of wild blackberries. It’s fresh and lively on the palate with fresh-picked raspberries, cherries, a touch of cassis and anise, herbs, and a hint of earthy character in a dry style driven by juicy acidity through the finish. Delicious!

Hidden Bench Estate Organic Chardonnay 2021 ($32, 92 points) — The Estate Chardonnay from Hidden Bench is a blend of Locust Lane, Felseck and Rosomel vineyards aged in large format French oak (25% new oak) and a small portion aged in concrete. The nose shows fresh pear and quince, yellow apple, grapefruit/lemon zest and integrated oak spices. It’s generous and rich on the palate with a creamy texture, flinty/mineral notes, apple, pear and lemon freshness all delivered on a finessed and lifted finish.

Hidden Bench Estate Organic Riesling 2019 ($25, 92 points) —The estate version of this Riesling is a blend of the three Hidden Bench vineyards — Locust Lane, Felseck and Rosomel. This is a pure and fresh Riesling with a floral nose that displays honeysuckle, lime, grapefruit, apple skin, stony minerality and saline freshness. There is sweet-tart tension on the palate with gushing lemon, green apple, pear and stony minerality in a focused and racy style that all leads to a bright, lifted finish. Can cellar 5+ years.

Hidden Bench Estate Organic Pinot Noir 2021 ($38, 93 points) — The Estate Pinot is a blend of all three vineyards that sees 89% French oak aging (only 22% new oak) with the rest aged in concrete, all for 10 months. For an estate Pinot, this represents incredible value. It has a lovely, complex nose of brambly red berries, plums, forest floor, pretty violets, and savoury oak spice notes. It’s juicy and layered on the palate with wild black raspberries, dark cherries, earthy/savoury notes, medium+ tannic structure, dried herbs, and a vibrant, long finish. Can cellar 5+ year.

Plus, the Hidden Bench Estate Organic Gamay 2021 ($30), which Wines in Niagara has not tasted.

Domaine Le Clos Jordanne Village Chardonnay 2020 ($30, 92 points) — Always a smart buy for quality at this price point, the Village Chardonnay has a rich nose of ripe pear and apple with bergamot, elegant spice notes and freshness. It’s generous on the palate with pure, dense stone fruits, lemon tart, integrated spices, and length through the finessed finish.

Also released, but not reviewed by Wines in Niagara:

• Flat Rock Pink Twisted Rosé 2023 ($18)
• Creekside Laura’s Red 2018 ($25)
• Cave Spring Estate Grown Chardonnay 2020 ($22)