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UPDATED: Historic Niagara winery Chateau des Charmes sold to investment group

By Rick VanSickle

One of Ontario’s most historic and important wineries — Niagara’s Chateau des Charmes — has been sold to an Ontario investment group, Wines in Niagara has learned.

Niagara wine

The late Paul Bosc Sr., above, and his family have been true pioneers in the Ontario wine industry and leave an important legacy that will be honoured, a news release said. His son, Paul-André Bosc, is dedicated to ensuring there is a seamless transition and very little disruption to the current CDC team. He will continue to own and operate the Paul Bosc Estate Vineyard, established by his father in 1982, the vineyard will continue to exclusively supply Château des Charmes (CDC) with premium vinifera grapes of the highest quality.

In addition to this transaction, the new ownership group, that wishes to remain anonymous for now, announced that Chateau des Charmes will become an investor in one of the newest and most innovative wineries in Niagara, the Niagara Custom Crush Studio (NCCS). As a result of this joint venture partnership, Marco Piccoli, former director of winemaking and operations for Arterra Wines Canada and most recently, chief operating officer (COO) of The Crush will transition to a dual role with both Chateau des Charmes and NCCS.

As chief executive officer (CEO) of Chateau des Charmes, Piccoli will oversee the entire winery business and as newly named chief strategy officer at The Crush, he will be responsible for executing long term strategic initiatives.

Piccoli said the new investors, from the GTA and Markham, prefer to have him as the face of the brand. They are not involved in either the wine or hospitality businesses and prefer to take a backseat to running a business they are not familiar with. “They see a lot of potential in the Niagara wine industry,” said Piccoli. “I’m very excited by this, otherwise I wouldn’t have done it.”

Paul Bosc Sr. and son Paul walk in the vineyard at Chateau des Charmes.

Piccoli will continue to be very involved at The Crush and will ensure that a great partnership ensues between Château des Charmes and The Crush, the news release said. Piccoli is a prominent figure in the Canadian wine community. Starting in his native Italy, he has received many international and Canadian awards for wine quality. “His deep understanding of the Niagara terroir and his commitment to quality, as well as his business knowledge running a winery and a production facility make us delighted to have been able to secure Marco Piccoli as our new CEO,” the news release said.

“We are very excited to embark on this new chapter for Château des Charmes and look forward
to continuing the tradition of producing premium wines that showcase the unique character of
our vineyards. Our team is dedicated to preserving the legacy of this unique winery while also bringing a fresh perspective and innovation to this fantastic brand,” Piccoli said.

As part of the transition, the investment group retained the services of BevPro Canada to help with the strategic and day-to-day commercial running of Château des Charmes. Together Piccoli and BevPro will work closely with the team at Château des Charmes to ensure a seamless changeover and uphold the
standards of excellence that the winery is well known for, the news release said.

“Customers can expect to see a continued focus on sustainability, innovation, quality and best-in-class hospitality and visitor experiences,” the news release said. “As Château des Charmes looks forward toward a promising future, wine lovers can anticipate an array of exciting developments, including exclusive events and the release of new and innovative wines that celebrate the authenticity of Niagara.”

The Crush was founded in 2022 with the mission of supporting emerging winemakers and providing specialized custom crush services to Ontario’s growing wine industry. This joint venture partnership will merge Chateau des Charme’s established traditions with The Crush’s innovative spirit as Crush founder Piccoli will transition to a dual role with both The Crush and Chateau des Charmes.

Marco Piccoli and Graham Rennie share a glass at the Niagara Custom Crush Studio.

The Crush announced that award-winning winemaker Kevin Panagapka, with over 25 years of experience and one of Ontario’s first virtual winemakers, will become a shareholder at The Crush and take on the role of chief operating officer (COO) and head winemaker. Panagapka will oversee all winemaking activities and move his wine company, 2027 Cellars, to The Crush providing customers with another ultra-premium brand to purchase.

Piccoli said about the sale of Chateau des Charmes: “CDC’s investment in NCCS (The Crush) aligns with CDC’s commitment to fostering innovation and excellence in winemaking. We see great potential in supporting and collaborating with emerging winemakers at NCCS.”

Graham Rennie, Founder and CEO of the Niagara Custom Crush Studio said: “Our partnership with Chateau des Charmes will increase the scope of our hospitality options for wine enthusiasts and provide our winemaker clients with a range of benefits including privileged access to Chateau des Charmes high-speed bottling and disgorging lines.”

This joint venture represents a bold step forward in the tradition of excellence that both Chateau des Charmes and Niagara Custom Crush Studio embody, said the news release. “Together, they are poised to elevate Ontario’s wine industry to new heights, creating exceptional wines and unforgettable experiences for all who visit.”

The sale of Chateau des Charmes comes a week after another Niagara winery — Featherstone Estate Winery on the Twenty Mile Bench —  announced it has sold the estate after 25 years. The new owners are Rayla and George Myhal. “(We are) looking forward to a lengthy collaboration with George and Rayla,” the Facebook announcement on Facebook said, “one that will embrace fresh ideas and unleash untapped potential. George and Rayla have grand plans and this marks an exciting new phase at Featherstone. The many positive changes ahead will surely bring us ever closer to perfection.”

A rich history for Chateau des Charmes

Chateau des Charmes opened its doors to its St. David’s estate only three years after Inniskillin became the first winery to be given a licence since Prohibition in 1929, thus igniting the modern wine industry in Ontario.

Bosc, a fifth-generation French winegrower, and his young family arrived in Niagara in the 1960s with the idea that growing their own grapes was the best way to make fine wine. With over 45 vintages from their estate vineyards, it was the longest family-owned wineries in Niagara.

Bosc passed away on Decc 2, 2023. His legacy will forever be engraved in the history of the Niagara wine industry and his contributions, especially his pioneering efforts in growing vinifera grapes, will continue to help grow the region for years to come.

Working as winemaker and the director of research and development at Chateau-Gai, Bosc became convinced that Ontario had to transition from growing native grapes (Concord and others) to planting vinifera to create world-class wines. By the early 1970s, Bosc was making Ontario wines that surprised many in the wine world. In 1978, he founded Chateau des Charmes as a 60-acre grand estate winery and planted the first commercial Canadian vineyard growing only vinifera grapes.

In an interview with Wines in Niagara in 2011, Bosc (above, with winemaker Amélie Boury), 75 at the time, explained where his passion for making wine comes from. “My passion is to be on the scientific side part of it,” he said. “It’s all know-how and putting it all together to produce either icewine or sparkling wine or red table wine. It’s to know that you’re using the very best methods and know-how to produce that particular wine. It’s not ‘oh, the guy’s an artist’ … no, that’s not good enough. You have to have more than being an artist. That’s the way I look at winemaking. It’s something that every year you get more passionate about because you acquire more knowledge and you never stop learning and studying, even at my age, you keep reading all the time and trying different things. It’s something that grabs you and doesn’t let you go.”

Bosc’s wines have been awarded medals at numerous national and international wine competitions. He was also the recipient of many honours including a doctorate from Brock University, The Order of Ontario, The Queen’s Golden and Diamond Jubilee Medals, the inaugural Canadian Vintners Association Award of Distinction and the Order of Canada; all for his significant contributions to the modern Canadian wine industry. In 2011 Bosc was awarded the LCBO Special Recognition Award and in 2017 the Grape Growers of Ontario Award of Merit.

From the Niagara Custom
Crush Studio’s perspective

The Niagara Custom Crush Studio was founded and envisioned by Graham Rennie (above), owner of Rennie Estate Winery, in August of 2022.

Rennie put together a core team of four partners and several shareholders to bring the custom crush idea to fruition after purchasing the Stoney Ridge Winery.

Now with at least nine winemaker clients, including 2027 Cellars, Rennie’s own label Rennie Estate, Stoney Ridge (and Tragically Hip), The Long Way Home, Bonsang, and Therianthropy, among others, Ontario’s first custom crush pad studio is a multi-brand operation that has transformed the former winery into a home for small to medium brands to thrive under one roof, one retail location and one destination for consumers to enjoy a varied and eclectic array of Ontario-made wines.

A $3.7-million major renovation and expansion of the winery at the existing Stoney Ridge winery and retail facility was completed this year, which expanded the former estate to 17,000 square feet of production space (from 4,700 square feet) with a new state-of-the-art retail and tasting room to support a range of winemaking clients who have signed up with the Niagara Custom Crush Studio, located at 3201 King Street.

CEO and the brainchild of the operation, Rennie, who was the first to move his range of Rennie Estate appassimento, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines to the new location, said at the time: “I always thought this made sense. I’ve been talking about it for seven years.”

Another of the original partners, Piccoli, called the Niagara Custom Crush Studio “game changing for the industry.” He told Wines in Niagara that the facility caters to both the virtual winemaker who wants to come into the winery and make his own wine exactly as they see fit, or clients who prefer to start a brand but don’t have the technical skill (or desire) to make the wine themselves. Clients will have several options available to them, including the use of the new facility’s marketing and sales expertise, managed by new general manager Matt Loney, formerly of Stoney Ridge and before that, Creekside.

With Piccoli having the dual role of CEO for Chateau des Charmes and chief strategy officer at Niagara Custom Crush Studio, 2027 brand owner and winemaker Kevin Panagapka takes on the role at The Crush as COO and head winemaker and also moves his brand to the new location. Wines in Niagara provided some questions to Panagapka on his new role. Here is the Q&A.

From 2027 Cellar’s perspective

Graham Rennie and Kevin Panagapka.

Wines in Niagara: Are you excited about the transition from an owner/consultant role to the chief operating officer/head winemaker role at the Niagara Custom Crush Studio?

Kevin Panagapka: Over the years I’ve enjoyed working with a variety of wine styles and brands. I’m looking forward to the collaboration with the NCCS team. Having the opportunity to tap into the wealth of knowledge from the founders of the NCCS team is very exciting for me. Being able to contribute to the overall success of the company is my focus.  

WIN: How do see the 2027 brand benefitting from its new home. Any plans yet to expand or venture into new projects with 2027?

KP: I’ve always believed in the collaboration of various winemakers/wine styles under one roof. For the consumer it showcases NCCS as a dynamic retail experience being able to sample various wine brands in one space. 2027 Cellars has focused on single-vineyard, sub-appellation wines from top tier vineyards in Niagara for the past 17 years. 2027 Cellars will only add to the diversity of high-quality wines available for the consumer and I am excited to have the additional channels of distribution that NCSS can provide to help grow my brand. I have some interesting ideas for the future of 2027 Cellars, stay tuned!

WIN: You’ll be helping winemakers with myriad wine styles. Is that a challenge you relish?

KP: I’ve had the fortune over the past 20 years to work both for various wineries in Niagara and overseas, and work with various winemaking projects through my consulting company since 2007. Having worked with various wineries over time with a multitude of different techniques and styles, I’m looking forward to working with each NCSS client to produce an array of different wine styles. From Bordeaux blends, sparkling wine, appassimento, ice wine, single-vineyard wines and working with some of the best vineyards in Niagara, I’m confident in producing any wine style needed. It’s a fantastic opportunity for me to work closely with each NCSS client (including 2027 Cellars) to produce ultra-premium products in any style the client is interested in. Collaborating with Marco (Piccoli, former COO) on the project will also leverage both of our experience profiles to enhance the NCCS experience for the Clients and Customers.