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Culmina: No Stone Unturned

A WineAlign Winery Profile
By David Lawrason

Many of the world’s most iconic wines have taken single word names that evoke classicism and ring with entendre. Many end with the letter “a” –  Solaia and Ornellaia from Italy for example, or Insignia from California. I am wary of such wines as often the names can portend more than the wines deliver. It is much easier to sound important than be important.

Culmina, the latest ‘single-word-ending-with-an-a-winery’ from B.C.s Okanagan Valley is indeed important to B.C. and Canadian wine! As I sat with the range recently at the WineAlign offices I kept telling myself that they were clearly in a state of grace (literally) that many from B.C. have not yet attained. There is a sense of detailing and compactness that is actually quite rare in wines so recently out of the gate.

(At the bottom of this report, WineAlign critics have included some top picks from a recent Culmina tasting.)

culmina_table_crop4450_4 (1)

That may be because Culmina is not really new. The winery is new, the vineyards are new and the name is new, but the wines are truly the culmination of the careers of three men and two women with deep roots in winemaking, and who have brought not only experience, but a particular understanding of what it takes to make wine in the southern Okanagan.

The founders of Culmina are Donald and Elaine Triggs, whose surname still appears on more bottles of wine than any in Canada. After the partnership of Alan Jackson and Donald Triggs dissolved within a series of corporate acquisitions in the 1990s and 2000s, Donald was left to his own devices. He could have retired as a grandfather, but instead he and Elaine launched into a new project that would bring their years of experience to bear.

Part of that experience was having overseen the launch of Osoyoos-Larose in the southern Okanagan. Osoyoos-Larose was a joint venture between Vincor (of which Donald was president at the time) and Groupe Taillan of Bordeaux, and from the outset it was conceived as a “one wine” house focused on a red blend of Bordeaux varieties. In other words, ‘très serieux’.

Triggs hired two Bordeaux trained specialists for that project. One was renowned French viticulturalist Alain Sutre, the other was winemaker Pascal Madevon. Together these men knew the soils on the bench lands overlooking the valley; knew about temperature ranges at various elevations and about air and frost drainage; and knew the vagaries and caprices of vintages in this northern latitude. Madevon, through ten years of blending, had honed his ability to create excellent wine on a consistent basis.

Both men would become instrumental in the creation of Culmina. With Sutre’s help the search for a southern Okanagan site ideal for Bordeaux varieties began in 2006, with the first section of the current property being purchased in 2007 (of which more in a moment), with higher altitude benchlands being acquired in 2009.

Much of Donald Triggs experience and skill was administrative and operational – in building, brand development and marketing – tasks which he shares now with Elaine and daughter Sara. Elaine had been very hands on when the couple purchased and farmed the Delaine Vineyard in the Niagara River sub-appellation in 1998, turning it into one of Niagara’s best vineyards for sauvignon blanc and syrah. Daughter Sara, the youngest of three children, earned her Masters in Wine Business from Adelaide University in Adelaide, Australia and brings her very wine focused business and marketing skills to the table. In fact, I have rarely seen such careful, well-timed and sustained marketing efforts in Canada


The Vineyards

I first visited Culmina’s vineyards on the Golden Mile Bench in 2014, while in the Okanagan to judge the WineAlign National Wine Awards. I climbed into a truck with Donald and Madevon, and we stopped first near the winery at a site that once contained 12 acres of vines belonging to a previous winery (in total 44 acres were purchased, but the rest had not been planted). There were some red Bordeaux vines immediately identified as unsuitable, but also a tempting patch of chardonnay. The first tough decision Triggs had made was whether to keep them, which would give him some immediate production, or start again with his own vision. He decided to rip them out.

Culmina’s vineyards sit on the western slope of the valley with south-east-facing vineyards that capture early morning light when temperatures are cool, and are shaded when late afternoon-evening sun is hot. Their height above the valley floor was also a major draw; the Margaret Vineyard is the highest in the south Okanagan, a decidedly cool site that doesn’t qualify for the new appellation Golden Mile Bench boundary because it is above the mapped altitude line.

But knowing the basics was not enough. Triggs set up 20 temperature stations. He dug 66 pits to explore the soils of the site. He then mapped the site based on micro-climates and soil types, coming up with 45 different blocks of about 1.25 acres each. Once this information was analyzed he had a good idea of not only which grape varieties to plant but which rootstocks to use as well. No stone unturned.

That first vineyard – called Arise Bench – has similar heat-summation degree days to Bordeaux and is planted to cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and merlot, with a touch of syrah and malbec in its warmest location. Cabernet franc was also placed in the areas containing soil with high calcium content, while the merlot was planted in areas nearest to the mountain shadow to protect the variety’s delicate aromas

Back in the truck we climbed steeply to a vineyard that curved along a long terraced bench. Out at its edge there was a rocky promontory which we climbed on foot to absorb one of the most spectacular views of the south Okanagan, from Oliver in the north clear to Osoyoos in the south. Out on this rock edge Donald Triggs was actually so excited that he danced a quick jig, kicking up dusty soil.

Donald Triggs

We were on Margaret’s Bench, a cooler site with heat summation closer to Burgundy. Three white varieties – chardonnay, riesling and Austria’s grüner veltliner – were selected, with soil variations further determining the placement of each clone and rootstock combination on the Bench. Grüner veltliner was chosen for the schist-like soil areas, whereas riesling was planted on stonier soils.

Back in truck we drove across (south) to Stan’s Bench. Here again they planted riesling, and chardonnay on the cooler, higher sections, but then decided to plant late ripening varieties of petit verdot and malbec in the lower areas, with the highest number of degree days on the property. And surprisingly at the far end of this patch, on a very steep slope he showed us the most daring of his vineyard exploitations – a patch of head pruned, unirrigated vines. This too was a culmination, the crescendo in a carefully orchestrated grape-growing scheme.

The Winemaking

With the combined experience of Donald Triggs and Pascal Madevon, Culmina’s winemaking is grounded in both tried and true methods and some new pieces of technology. Born in Paris, France, winemaker Pascal completed a Technician’s Degree in Viticulture and Oenology and went on to complete an Oenology National Diploma from the University of Bordeaux in 1989. He came to the Okanagan in 2002.

His philosophy revolves around two principles: gentle handling of fruit and minimal intervention of wine. All of the grapes harvested from the estate are picked by hand. They are then protected in small stacked bins so that their own weight does not cause their skins to break before they reach the winery. Upon arrival, the fruit is hand-sorted on a vibrating table so that the fruit is gently deposited into the de-stemmer. The grapes are processed in a gravity-flow designed winery, built into the side of a hill – allowing for pump-less rackings and transfers from the fermentation hall into the barrel room.

The winery’s simple design also allows for each tank to only be used once each vintage. By allowing the fermented wine to sit on the skins for up to 24 days after the fermentation is completed creates wines with softer and more approachable tannins.

Lastly, a simple basket press is also used for all pressings. Even though this kind of press is less efficient yield-wise, and is much more time consuming and manually intensive to operate, its gentle pressing ensures that stems and seeds are never pressed so hard that they crack, thereby preventing unwanted green tannins from being added into the pressed wine.

Among more high-tech processes, Culmina uses a Bucher Oscillys de-stemmer from France – the first of its kind in Canada – that allows more gentle handling during the crushing and destemming of fruit. In addition, modern, stainless steel, temperature-controlled conical red fermentation tanks were imported from France. And when a pump is required (pumping over) they use a peristaltic pump, the kind used to transfer live fish at aquariums from one tank to another.

The Wines

Full reviews by several WineAlign critics can be viewed by following the links below.

I have sat down with the range twice in the last year, and both times, as I mentioned at the outset, I was impressed by the sense of poise and layering.

The flagship of the range is a red blend called Hypothesis, based on merlot (as are many southern Okanagan reds) with cabernet sauvignon and cab franc.  It is not the most expensive of its sort in the Okanagan, but it is easily among the best, especially the 2013 to be released next year.  Three years does not quite a vertical tasting make, but the 2013 has a fine sense of fragrance and poise, whereas the currently available and quite ripe 2012 is a bit more powerful and youthfully tense at the moment. The 2011, the debut vintage from a cool year is quite refined, more subdued and showing subtle evolution. The less expensive blend called R&D Red is quite lively, complex if a bit more sinewy. And the 2014 rosé blend from the red wine shows considerable finesse and liveliness as well.

Culmina 2014 Saignée

“It has a very pretty, gentle nose of red currant jam, raspberry and fresh herbs. It’s medium weight, elegant, smooth yet nicely fresh with a dry finish.” David Lawrason

Culmina 2013 R & D Red Blend 

“Begins like elegiac poetry, with a Bordeaux sensibility and a nod to blends distinguished by site.” Michael Godel

Culmina 2012 Hypothesis 

“The palate offers an abundance of black cherry, plum and blackberry fruit along with graphite and saline. Excellent concentration with flavours that build like crescendo.” Sara d’Amato

Culmina Saignée 2014 RoséCulmina R & D Red Blend 2013Culmina Hypothesis 2012Culmina Decora 2014Culmina Dilemma 2013

Most people discussing Culmina whites leap onto the fact that Donald Triggs has planted the Austrian variety grüner veltliner – a rarity in Canada – and he has done an amazing job extracting varietal veracity.  The wine is called Unicus, and it was an immediate hit, selling out the  2013 and 2014 vintages. I am just as impressed by the bold, taut riesling called Decora, again with vineyard altitude imparting unexpected tension for South Okanagan riesling. The chardonnay, called Dilemma, is richer of course, but also based on fine acidity and minerality.

Culmina 2014 Decora

“Dynamic and age-worthy.” Sara d’Amato

Culmina 2013 Dilemma 

“I like the freshness and the balance here – acids snap and crackle on the palate, while concentration and density are genuine, weaving in some intriguing resinous-savoury-herbal character into citrus and white fleshed orchard fruit.” John Szabo, MS

The production at Culmina is relatively small, and clearly pointed to the premium end of the market – although fairly priced given the quality. So it may not be as easy to find as many in our national audience might like. But again, for a young project the family Triggs is keenly aware of the need to get their wines out to key buyers across the country. Their website provides points of contact.

As a regular feature WineAlign tastes wines submitted by a single winery. Our critics independently, as always, taste, review and rate the wines – good, bad and indifferent, and those reviews are posted to WineAlign. We then independently recommend wines to appear in the winery profile. Wineries pay for this service. Ads for some wines may appear at the same time, but the decision on which wines to put forward in our report, if any, is entirely up to WineAlign. See below for more details provided by the winery.


Culmina is pleased to offer complimentary shipping across Canada to WineAlign Members on purchases of 12 or more bottles.
Have the warmth of the South Okanagan shipped directly to your door just in time for the holidays. All shipments are temperature-controlled to assure the integrity of your order. Purchase by Monday December 14th to best ensure delivery by December 24th.
We’ve exclusively made two cases of our sold-out 2013 Dilemma (Chardonnay) to WineAlign Members from our library (maximum two bottles per order). Try a mixed-case with our 2014 Decora (Riesling), 2014 Saignée (Rosé), and flagship 2012 Hypothesis (Bordeaux-Style blend) to share with friends and family.
Buy Now Here:

Have any questions? Call the winery directly at (250) 498-0789.
To ensure access to upcoming limited production releases – such as our first single varietal red, the 2013 Merlot, and 2015 Unicus (Grüner Veltliner) – become a complimentary Member to receive your own Allocation. No commitment is required.
Become a Member Here:
Creating wines of excellence through the blending of art and science.

Filed under: Featured Articles, Wine, , , , , , , ,

13th Street Winery: Giving a Voice to the Vines

A WineAlign Winery Profile
Written by WineAlign

Although long known for its coveted, small-batch production, by 2007 it was high time for 13th Street to take it to the next level. This is when Doug and Karen Whitty along with friends and partners John and June Mann purchased the old winery with the full intention of stepping it up a notch. From 1500 to now 13,000 cases, finally, the lineups of cult followers are satisfied and more than just select collectors and restaurateurs can get in on the game.

Although the winery has undergone change, most notably with new winemaker Jean-Pierre Colas bringing decades of Burgundian and Niagara winemaking experience, it has been able to retain its reputation as a small, artisanal winery with a highly coveted product. The wines have been traditionally rustic in character, full of charm and intrigue and have evolved into wines that are more sophisticated and express themselves more fully.

The 13th Street vineyards are a collection of older estate vineyards plus those new to the portfolio from Whitty’s farm and subsequent new holdings. They are varied parcels in age and in aspect but provide a complete tapestry of grapes on which to draw on for the winery’s various labels and levels. It is this collection of unique vineyards sites that makes the wines of 13th Street stand apart. (Following this report, WineAlign critics have included some top picks from a recent 13th Street tasting.)

This feature was commissioned by 13th Street Winery.

13 Street Winery

This mosaic of vineyards sites is responsible for the both the complexity, concentration and age-worthy character in the wines. Some of these sites are considered historic in Niagara, such as the original 13th Street vineyards yielding estate fruit planted as far back as 1976, some of the oldest working vinifera in the province. Here, limited quantities of riesling, pinot noir and cabernet franc are selected for premium, reserve level wines.  Sandstone vineyard in the Four Mile Creek sub-appellation in Niagara, planted in 1983, is managed by friends of the winery, Erv, Esther and Eric Willms and provides the fruit for the wild and unique reserve level gamay as well as chardonnay. The gamay in particular has notably contributed to the winery’s elevated profile, exposing the variety’s unique expression in Niagara. Along with producers such as Malivoire Estate and gamay’s long time champion in Niagara, Chateau des Charmes, the grape is seen as expressing unique character in our hot and cold Niagara climate. Our gamays have been subject to wide critical acclaim and have created and contributed to a significant cult following of the variety in the province. This has led to a much greater presence of gamay than ever before on more widely available commercial channels, such as the LCBO.

Jean-Pierre Colas, former winemaker at Peninsula Ridge, has leant a unique touch to the wines of 13th Street since his arrival in 2009. Striving to meet the expectations of the winery’s followers, the historic nature of the estate and improving quality while drastically increasing quantity has been the great challenge. He has been able to accomplish this task due to new facilities, but also through a singular goal – the respect for fruit, for terroir, for history and a zeal for the continued improvement of the wines of the portfolio. Jean-Pierre knows that this change cannot come about overnight and in his patient, French way, has developed a unique understanding for individual parcels and how best to facilitate the expression of the fruit in the bottle. In recent conversation with Colas, he has spilled some of his secrets and his hopes for his long apprenticeship with the unique  terroir that makes up 13th Street. Colas tends to put all of himself, full–throttle into new projects and enjoys the challenge of new situations. Always learning and experimenting, he is fully invested in understanding the vineyard and adjusting practices to specific needs of the parcel. His work extends far beyond the cellar, into the birthplace of quality wine: the vineyard.

Jean-Pierre Colas

You have a breadth of experience working in cellars both in France in Niagara and worldwide. What is unique about your experience with 13th Street?

The story itself of 13th Street is unique – a little hobby winery shared by four different individuals open only on Sunday with a few special openings during the year. It was small with a good reputation and had consumers lining up at the door. It had old vines and a very special portfolio of sparkling, gamay, riesling and a little pinot noir. A little private gem, not known by a lot of people save the sommelier community and a solid reputation with the trade. So, I arrived here and was taking over a portfolio that I was not very familiar with. Although I had made gamay for a few years in the past in Morgon when I was a student, it was a long time ago and with different conditions. Besides that, I didn’t have big experience with riesling – I had only done one or two small batches in the past. Sparkling, I had no experience at all and no specific taste for sparkling, really, nor was I a consumer of sparkling. So it was a pretty big challenge for me, similar to when I started at Peninsula Ridge and had never done rosé in my life or sauvignon blanc. I decided to do it in my own way, to work on my feelings, my base and my experience to translate that to a different varietal without having made it before. It was a big, crazy challenge.

To develop volume at the same time while maintaining the quality was my task. I try to stay on the same wavelength and quality level while maintaining public and professional recognition. Even in 2009, when I arrived, we started with 4500 cases which was already twice the volume they were doing before, always with the same kind of flagship wine: riesling, gamay, sparkling. Now I have introduced more chardonnay. With pinot noir, I try to stay with the same spirit as they were doing before – of course, I reduced the sugar on the riesling, on the sparkling and on the rosé to remain true to my own taste and feeling but we try to follow what was done before. But, we need volume to be present in the market so things are a bit different now. They have planted the new vineyards but also have still been working with old Sandstone fruit. Now, much of the production is coming from younger vineyards.

You have been well known for your work with sauvignon blanc and syrah in Niagara, in this most recent chapter, you take on chardonnay and gamay. Why are these varietals so important to you and to the region?

Riesling is renown and exhibits great behavior in Niagara, in Ontario and is a perfect fit. We have new vineyards and we have old, established vineyards that now have about 30 years of age. We have a traditional way of dealing with them. Of course, now I am working a little bit differently at managing maturity at picking, the amount of extraction and vinifying less sweet. Stewart Piggot gave us recognition for this 2012 [riesling] cuvée – he was totally crazy about it but we are basically continuing something that has already been done. We also have June’s Vineyard which is over 15 years old with very special soil. You don’t need to be a genius at winemaking to make riesling in Ontario. If you don’t screw it up, it should be ok. It is a bit more difficult to make it great but we have largely good results.

On gamay, I continue to work with the Sandstone old vines coming from Niagara on the Lake. I am still convinced that there is only one vineyard like that – it is very special, very unique. No clonal selections because it was planted from cuttings, we don’t know exactly what they are but the results are great. I think I have moved, changed the style a little bit with better control of the oak. They were not really oak people [previously at 13th Street], they were more focused on riesling and sparkling.


I remember that one of my best bottles from Niagara was an old Sandstone gamay when I arrived here in Ontario. But, I realized that with different choice of barrels, better selection, if we did better work on it we could refine and bring this cuvée to a different level.

Gamay is a naturally good cropper and it is working very, very well in Ontario. 13th Street has a good 15 years of experience with gamay and we continue to be able to deliver quality year after year. Between Chateau des Charmes and Malivoire, the top traditional producers of gamay, producers at large have been convinced that gamay can work and that it is working. We have to work in the vineyard for sure, it is a very productive, fertile, vigorous varietal but if you do the job in the vineyard, you can deliver very good bottles. This group of three producers was there before anybody but now, what a surprise, all the other wineries want to have gamay in their portfolio, everyone wants to produce gamay. Gamay at the LCBO, at Cellier at the SAQ is now more readily found. There is a buzz about gamay this summer buzz and for the last 2-3 years. Not only is it a varietal working well in the vineyards and in the wineries but the consumers are starting to realize that we can produce gamay and we don’t have to wait for the crappy Beaujolais Nouveau every year.

What is your take on the use of oak in wine? How did you bring oak culture to 13th Street? 

You know, everyone wants to put chardonnay in oak but you have to have a special affinity with the oak barrels and have a bit of practice. Through my experience in Chablis, I have worked a lot with barrels, with different coopers, with different forest selections and I was dong lots of special tasting, calibrations with the coopers and colleagues. I have a pretty extensive knowledge of barrels, fermentation, treatments, etc.,. It has always been very interesting for me but even finding the right barrel is nothing more than finding a tool for winemaking. You have to find the right tool, the right barrel to fit with the wine you are going to make. The barrel has to be there to reveal the wine, to reveal the signature of the soil, the power of the wine and not to act as makeup. Too many people use barrels to put oak flavour in their wine.

For the Sandstone chardonnay, I have a brand new selection of barrels now after 2009 and because of the nature of the farm, the nature of the grapes, my choice of barrels will be used to bring the wine to lightness, to make it fresher, avoiding a fat and heavy feeling. To choose the right barrels, you have to understand your vineyard and your wines first. Oak shouldn’t hide the wine; it is there to help you to showcase your wine and not the reverse. 

13th Street Winery HarvestWhat do you look for in high-quality fruit at harvest? 

Firstly, the sanitary aspect – clean fruit and free of disease is the prerequisite for high-quality fruit. It is through maturity control, twice a week that you continue to see the evolution of the classic three: sugar, acid and pH, but also, the evolution of the flavour. You have to understand your vineyard, you have to understand your grapes and you have to taste your grapes.

The real key is that you have to understand your vines first and understand what wine the grapes can give you. You are going to make the wine that nature gives you; you are not going to try to re-invent something that the vines are not going to be able to give you. If you try to make a bold wine with big extraction and tannins when you have grapes at the limit of unripe then that it is a mistake. You don’t have to decide that you are going to make a wine in a certain way; instead you have to discover the real potential of the grapes. And the potential of the grapes is not what you want, the potential of the grapes is what nature and the field and the vintage gives you.

Could you describe, briefly, your sustainable production program?

The vineyard is pretty simple, we don’t have the pretention to say and to follow some kind of organic structure because I am not totally convinced – we need to be more clever than that. If you are just dogmatic, it is not going to help. We have to be more reactive. So we are not doing that [organics] but we try to be as clean and respectful as possible. I have always been convinced that you have to protect your own tool and your first tool is your vineyard. You have just to protect your vineyard, your soil to be in good shape so you have good growth and a good crop, not to saturate it with some pesticide or herbicide – you need to be efficient. We are just trying to do the smartest thing on different levels.

Blending and experimenting tends to be important to you. Can you share some of your current projects?

When I arrived, I was given a big project of creating an aromatic white blend that became “White Palette”. The blend is riesling-based and we have included a few other varietals like gewürztraminer, chardonnay musqué and pinot gris. My biggest challenge in terms of blending right now is more on the sparkling side, with work on the base wines – the pinot and the chardonnay with a little bit of gamay on the cuvée rosé. I am working with the percentages of reserve wine integration, how to work the reserve differently and even working the base wine with oak.

Experimenting for the sake of experimenting doesn’t make any sense – it is just a waste of time and money. I am still doing new experiments and am taking some risks but those risks have to be calculated and the results anticipated. Temperature, yeast, length of maceration, so many things, the kinetic of fermentation on the reds, the combination between delestage and pumpover along with experimenting on different equipment are day to day life. Now on riesling, I have clones with enough production now that I can keep them separate. New single vineyard definition based on individual clones leads to a better understanding of your farm (this side of the block is reacting differently, how are you going to work with these specifics during growing and after in the winery.)

Finally, could you share some thoughts on the 2015 vintage?

First, and you are not going to be surprised, it is a short crop. It was a cold winter and the outcome is dependent upon location as the cold hit Niagara inconsistently. Around us and going west to Beamsville, Jordan and Vineland, is one of the worst spots in Niagara this winter. We are seeing a great deal of inconsistency in the vineyards, even among one varietal in the same block, from clone to clone and from year of planting. Even riesling and gamay have been badly hurt. Adjacent areas can be as different as 25% crop loss to a full loss. We don’t really have an explanation for that at that moment. It is too early. After two years in a row of bad winters, the vines are getting weaker and weaker. If you take the example of merlot which is an area at the corner of 7th Street and the North Service road, a 15 year old vineyard – last year it was just devastated by the winter, we have no crop, nothing. But, on the vineyard that we rebuilt from the trunk, coming from the suckers that we rebuilt from 2014 winter, we will probably have 80% crop on the same block this year even if it was colder. We are going to pick the grapes and we are happy to have some but I don’t have the explanation. It is a little bit surprising.

13th Sparkling

The old vine gamay at Sandstone farm was picked this year in September – never before has it been so early. That is pretty surprising. You also have varietals that are later than usual and some that are just reacting totally differently. Mother Nature decided to do what she wanted and sometimes we cannot plan for it. It is not because this one is ready early that this one is going to be ready too.

Besides that, the grapes we do have are pretty good. It is not going to be crazy maturity but we have good flavours, good balance. There has even been a bit of botrytis due to a recent rainy weekend. If we don’t have the crop or yield this year, at least we variation and surprising quality.

This feature was commissioned by 13th Street Winery. As a regular feature WineAlign tastes wines submitted by a single winery. Our critics independently, as always, taste, review and rate the wines – good, bad and indifferent, and those reviews are posted to WineAlign. We then independently recommend wines to appear in the winery profile. Wineries pay for this service. Ads for some wines may appear at the same time, but the decision on which wines to put forward in our report, if any, is entirely up to WineAlign.

Click on the links below for complete, multiple reviews by WineAlign critics for recent 13th Street Winery releases:

13th Street Gamay Noir 2013

“Nicely structured, with ripe fruit and fine tannin-acid balance. Some earthy-clay notes add depth and interest. Great depth.” – Platinum Medal winner at The Nationals

13th Street 2012 Meritage

“Rich and nicely ripened with freshness and traditional old world appeal. Clean and with notable focus, this well-structured wine shows a progressive layering of flavours showing off complexity and elegance rather than power.”

13th Street 2010 Essence Pinot Noir

“…delivers fresh, crisp, red apple, strawberry leaf, red cherry fruit, light cinnamon spice…a fine range of aromatics, and bold, densely concentrated palate.”

13th Street Gamay Noir 201313th Street Meritage 201213th Street Essence Pinot Noir 201013th Street Essence Syrah 201213th Street Essence Cabernet Franc 2011

13th Street 2012 Essence Syrah 

“Loads of freshly cracked black pepper and black fruit… This makes a good argument for syrah in Ontario, in the right places it certainly matures very well.”

13th Street 2011 Essence Cabernet Franc

“This is a quite intense yet elegant, nicely maturing cabernet franc with fine, complex aromas of forest floor, tobacco, leather and fine strawberry/raspberry fruit nicely framed by oak.”

13th Street 2007 Grande Cuvée Blanc de Noirs

“…creamy texture and outright tuber vigour and backbone…a slow-simmered chalk breathes limestone and then ginger…”

13th Street Cuvée Rosé Brut

“A lovely traditional method rosé from pinot noir and chardonnay with a maturing colour. Notes of strawberry and cherry on a palate that is clean and rather rich.”

13th Street Grande Cuvée Blanc De Noirs 200713th Street Cuvée Rosé Brut13th Street Cellar Door Members Selection Pinot Gris 201213th Street Sandstone Reserve Chardonnay 2011

13th Street 2012 Cellar Door Members Selection Pinot Gris

“This ripe, rich pinot gris from the warmer 2012 vintage is showing some of the opulence of Alastian styles.”

13th Street 2011 Sandstone Reserve Chardonnay

“There is beautiful colour to this rich and delicately matured chardonnay. Notes yellow apple, pear, brioche and honey.”


This feature was commissioned by 13th Street Winery. See below for more details provided by the winery. 

More from 13th Street Winery

13th Street WineryLocated in the Creek Shores sub-appellation of the Niagara Peninsula, 13th Street Winery is devoted to the creation of world-class wines that provide an authentic expression of our local terroir.

Our boutique winery, set among 25 acres of estate vineyards, is located just minutes west of St. Catharines and minutes from the QEW (exit at 7th Street).

Don’t have time for a visit to the winery but want to restock some of the fabulous wines you tasted on your last visit? Or perhaps you enjoyed some 13th Street wine at one of the many fine restaurants that feature our products and would like some for home?

Ordering online is easy and convenient!

13th Street Order Online

Wine Clubs

Join one of our WINE CLUBS and enjoy the convenience of having 13th Street wines automatically sent to your home or office plus many other great benefits including access to our Member’s Selection exclusive bottlings and two complimentary tickets to all our Wine & Food Seminars!

13th Street Wine Clubs

We have two different clubs to choose from:  Cellar Door Wine Club and Staff Picks Wine Club

Explore 13th Street Winery and awaken all your senses!


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What’s New at the LCBO – August 2015

Between our VINTAGES Buyers’ Guide and Steve Thurlow’s top picks from the LCBO Wines, we have the whole store covered each and every month.

What’s New at the LCBO in August
by Steve Thurlow

Steve Thurlow

Steve Thurlow

The LCBO does not release many new wines mid-summer, but I was able to find a few new wines to tell you about since I last reported. Some are on shelf already; the rest will arrive over the next few weeks. Consequently, I have reprised below five additional wines that arrived over the last few months that are great value and are worthy of a second mention.

The wines on the shelves at the LCBO are constantly changing and I am tasting new ones all the time. Many favourites are always there but the range and variety is gradually being updated.

Anyway, I suggest you read on, pick a few that appeal and then sign in to WineAlign to check on inventory at your local LCBO, which should be set up as your Favourite Store in Find Wine at WineAlign.

Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names, bottle images or links. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid members wait 60 days to see new reviews. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!


Lavau 2011

Quinta Do Valdoeiro 2013

Domaine La Gardie Merlot 2013

Domaine La Gardie Merlot 2013, Vin De Pays d’ Oc, Midi, France ($10.95)
This opaque purple red wine is a great buy for a pure clean structured red. Not a lot of complexity but well balanced for cheese and meat dishes.

Quinta Do Valdoeiro Baga, Cabernet Sauvignon & Syrah 2011 Bairrada, Portugal ($12.95)
A fresh lively blend of the indigenous grape baga with two other grapes. Try with roast meats.

Lavau 2011, Côtes Du Rhone Villages, Rhone, France ($12.90)
A very youthful 2011 Rhone red, lively with mild tannin. It’s mid-weight and fleshy with nice sweet and sour tension. Very good length.

Faustino V Tempranillo Rosado 2014, Rioja, Spain ($12.90)
This shocking pink rosé is hard to miss on the shelf in its distinctive tall bottle, so grab a few and enjoy with mildly flavoured meat dishes. Don’t overchill or you might miss the good stuff! Best 2015 to 2016.

Creekside Cabernet Merlot 2013 v2

Kir Yianni Paranga 2012

Faustino V Tempranillo Rosado 2014Charles Tort Côtes Du Rhone Old Vines 2013 Rhone Valley France ($13.40) A fruity and spicy southern Rhone red that’s brimming with fruit yet has the structure for food. Try with a steak. (No image available)

Kir Yianni Paranga 2012, Macedonia, Greece ($13.70)
This is a modern styled red blend with little evidence of its Greek origin. It is full bodied and quite vibrant with very good length. Try with lamb cutlets.

Creekside Cabernet Merlot 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($14.95)
An opaque fruity complex red with a refined pure nose of cherry fruit with herbal and floral tones. It is mid-weight to full-bodied with a fine tannin structure and lemony acidity. Try with a steak.

Erben Pinot Noir Reserve 2013, Rheinhessen, Germany $15.45
A soft fruity nicely structured pinot that would be good with roast pork. It is very pale but has some nice delicate aromas of cherry and plum fruit.

Long Weekend Chardonnay Pinot Grigio 2014

Les Trois Couronnes 2013

Erben Pinot Noir Reserve 2013Les Trois Couronnes 2013, Crozes Hermitage, Rhone Valley, France ($17.65)
A cellar worthy syrah-rich red that would go well with a steak. Fruity, yet structured with an appealing nose.


Long Weekend Chardonnay Pinot Grigio 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula ($12.95)
A well priced, fresh aromatic juicy white from Fielding Estate; good for sipping but fine also for seafood or chicken appetizers.


We would love to get your feedback on this report. Meanwhile check out my list of Top 50 wine values by dipping into the Top 50 LCBO and VINTAGES Essentials wines. There will surely be something inexpensive that suits your taste. In two week’s time I will be back with a look at the updated list in our WineAlign’s Top 20 Under $20 report.


Steve Thurlow

Top 20 Under $20
Top 50 Value Wines

Editors Note: You can find our complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the wine names, bottle images or links highlighted. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critic reviews immediately. Non-paid users wait 60 days to see new reviews. Membership has its privileges; like first access to great value wines!

The Hidden Sea of Change

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What’s New at the LCBO – July 2015

Between our VINTAGES Buyers’ Guide and Steve Thurlow’s top picks from the LCBO Wines, we have the whole store covered each and every month.

Tour de France, Portugal, Spain, Ontario …
by Steve Thurlow

Steve Thurlow

Steve Thurlow

The French section of the LCBO has been refreshed with several new wines for around $18 from Bordeaux and the Rhône. I have picked four that I recommend plus some new well priced selections from Ontario and New Zealand. The LCBO has also added to the Portuguese and Spanish sections, so  you can find several new wines in your local store to try.

The wines on the shelves at the LCBO are constantly changing and I am tasting the new ones all the time. Many favourites are always there but the range and variety is gradually being updated. I have selected eleven new wines that have refreshed the system out of the 70 or so that I have tried since I last reported. Some are on shelf already; the rest will arrive over next few weeks.

Anyway, I suggest you read on, pick a few that appeal, then sign in to WineAlign to check on inventory at your local LCBO which should be set up as your Favourite Store in Find Wine at WineAlign.

You can find our complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the wine names, bottle images or links highlighted. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critic reviews immediately. Non-paid users wait 60 days to see new reviews. Membership has its privileges; like first access to reviews of great value wines!


Quinta Do Valdoeiro Baga, Cabernet Sauvignon & Syrah 2011 Bairrada, Portugal ($12.95) – A fresh lively blend of the indigenous grape baga with two other grapes. Try with roast meats.

Las Mulas Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2013 Chile ($12.95) – A pure flavourful organic cabernet for a great price.

Chateau Fort Lignac 2012, Haut Médoc, Bordeaux, France ($18.95) – A dense oaky modern Bordeaux ready for fine dining now or into your cellar for later.

Quinta Do Valdoeiro Las Mulas Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2013 Chateau Fort Lignac 2012 Lavau 2011 Chateau Haut Langlade 2012 Chateau Tour Carmail 2011

Lavau 2011, Cotes Du Rhone Villages, Rhone, France ($12.90) – A very youthful 2011 Rhone red, lively with mild tannin.

Chateau Haut Langlade 2012, Montagne Saint Emilion, Bordeaux, France ($19.95) – A juicy red Bordeaux with some cellar potential but great now with roast meats or mature cheese.

Chateau Tour Carmail 2011, Haut Medoc, Bordeaux, France ($19.95) – A classically styled Bordeaux that has a traditional French feel to it; balance, oak and length are all good.


Fasto Verdejo 2014, Rueda Spain ($11.30 + 6 BAMs until July 18th) – Rueda is the hot category for inexpensive fresh dry whites in Europe these days. The wines from this region are made from the verdejo grape. This fresh pure dry white should help the cause in ON. Try with seafood, chicken and mildly flavoured veal.

Long Weekend Chardonnay Pinot Grigio 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula ($12.95) – A well priced fresh aromatic juicy white from Fielding Estate; good for sipping but fine also for seafood or chicken appetizers.

Fasto Verdejo 2014 Long Weekend Chardonnay Pinot Grigio 2014 Banero Extra Dry Prosecco Riverlore Sauvignon Blanc 2014 Tawse Quarry Road Riesling 2013

Banero Extra Dry Prosecco, Veneto, Italy ($14.05) – This juicy fresh prosecco is well priced with nice clean lines, a soft mousse and explosive flavours. It is also kosher certified.

Riverlore Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Marlborough, New Zealand ($15.90) -A crisp classic kiwi sauvignon for a good price. Sautéed seafood or creamy goats cheese would both be good food matches.

Tawse Quarry Road Riesling 2013, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara ($23.95 VINTAGES Essentials) – An elegant nervy very typical Niagara riesling. A very versatile food wine.


We would love to get your feedback on this report. Meanwhile check our my list of Top 50 wine values by dipping into the Top 50 LCBO and VINTAGES Essentials wines. There will surely be something inexpensive that suits your taste. In two week’s time I will be back with a look at the updated list in our WineAlign’s Top 20 Under $20 report.


Steve Thurlow

Top 20 Under $20
Top 50 Value Wines

Editors Note: You can find our complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the wine names, bottle images or links highlighted. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critic reviews immediately. Non-paid users wait 60 days to see new reviews. Membership has its privileges; like first access to great value wines!

Cave Spring Estate Bottled Chardonnay

International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES May 30 – Part One

Pinot Noir’s New World and Ontario Whites
by David Lawrason, with notes from John Szabo and Sara d’Amato

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

Nowadays I am having a barrel of fun tasting and tracking pinot noir’s global gallop. The selection coming May 30 to VINTAGES in Ontario is a clinic on the state of affairs.

When I starting following pinot noir in the mid 80s it was an almost monastic, local grape variety turning out occasionally brilliant wines on a slope called the Côte d’Or in Burgundy, France. With over 400 years of experience they had pretty much figured out that this thin-skinned, nervous and unpredictable grape variety had a knack for showing its place or origin. To taste a line-up of pinots from Burgundy from the same vintage and same producer but different appellations – a horizontal tasting – is still the most important thing an inquisitive wine fan can do for him or herself. It is an indelible lesson on terroir.

For most of the past 30 years the wine world has tended to believe that Burgundy – because it was the first and sometimes brilliant – was the only place where pinot noir could possibly be interesting and of high quality. But of course that is not true. A grape that can show terroir in one place can show terroir anywhere. And what we are now enjoying is the rooting of pinot noir in distinctive terroirs around the world.

The only unifier is a certain preferred climate where it is fairly cool through latitude, altitude or proximity to maritime influence to preserve essential acid tension and fruit purity. The pinot vine can actually grow in different soil types, where it will render different textural nuances, and although styles may vary, quality need not. That is in the hands of the winemakers, and pinot winemakers are among the most serious in the world.

I have been paying a lot of attention to New World pinot through my career – it being a focus of my first extended wine travel in 1984, in California. Yes California, where it was supposed to be too hot for pinot. But go tell that to Josh Jensen who had established Calera, Dick Graff at Chalone, the Carneros pioneers at Acacia and Saintsbury, Jim Clendenen at Sanford in Santa Barbara, or Santa Cruz Mountains men like Martin Ray who planted pinot in the sixties. Even Tim Mondavi, back in his exuberant youth was enthralled by California pinot, and we opened a few together in 1984. My personal taste affair with good California pinot has continued ever since, as long as sweetness and confection do not interfere.

Most recently my attention has shifted to New Zealand, which I have visited three times in two years. I think it is the most exciting pinot region outside of Burgundy. Pinot noir is the country’s most important red variety and it grows very well in the cooler southern half of the country. There are many terroirs here, and I have gone over-length in a recent article published here to outline what I think are 24 pinot noir appellations. But I am equally intrigued by pinots in other southern hemisphere locales in the past five years, and how they show their origin. And of course I have written a lot about pinot in Canada. Even Germany, the world’s third largest producer of pinot noir (Spatburgunder) could be considered a “newish world” for pinot.

Beyond the terroir hunting, what I like most about New World pinot is a certain fruit lift, exuberance and drinkability. Great Burgundy can be ethereal, and I have had some NW pinots that get close to that as well. But what I enjoy just as much is simply drinking a fresh, yet complex and generous pinot noir. And that is what this VINTAGES collection offers. They are interesting enough to be discussed, yet generous enough to be enjoyed, ideally with a light chill, from a large, fine rimmed glass, on the deck before, during and after dinner.

Here are our picks, and interestingly almost every pinot in the release has been “picked” by one or more of us. Such is the individuality of pinot, and in a weird way, its greatest strength.

The Pinots

Auntsfield 2012 Single Vineyard Pinot Noir, Southern Valleys, Marlborough, New Zealand ($29.95)

Rosehall Run Hungry Point Pinot Noir 2013 Auntsfield Single Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012David Lawrason – I am delighted to see Southern Valleys on the label! This is a large “unofficial” but increasingly obvious sub-district of Marlborough where pinots are growing on gravel/clay soils. There are very exciting terroir-driven pinots in the five southern valleys that each might one day have their own appellation – Fairhall, Ben Morven, Omaka, Brancott, Waihopi. This is lovely, very expressive pinot from a cooler year, although still showing considerable ripeness.
Sara d’Amato – David Herd, one of New Zealand’s forefather’s of wine, was responsible for planting the first of Auntsfield’s grapes in 1873. Needless to say, Auntsfield is one of New Zealand’s oldest wineries and produces a masterful pinot noir.
John Szabo – The Cowley family now runs Auntsfield, an established regional leader in the Southern Valleys sub-region widely acknowledge as the best spot for pinot noir in Marlborough. This is a wine of pure pleasure, not massive structure, well balanced, juicy and succulent. I love the immediate drinkability; serve with a light chill. Best 2015-2020.

Rosehall Run 2013 Hungry Point Pinot Noir, Prince Edward County, Ontario ($24.95)

David Lawrason – Being a County pinot this is a light weight among others in this release, but it does have great aromatic lift and cool climate pinot cranberry-sour cherry fruit. It is not as deep as Dan Sullivan’s more expensive JCR pinot, but there is great piquancy and charm here. County to its roots.
Sara d’Amato – Every time I taste this pinot noir (now for the third time) that is quickly coming into its own, it becomes more and more enjoyable. It is produced on the legendary “Hungry Point” site which surrounds Rosehall Run and is formerly known for its inability to produce sustenance. It is now a premium, nutrient-poor growing site for coaxing out only the most concentrated flavours from the berries.

Argyle 2012 Artisan Series Reserve Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon, USA ($44.95)

John Szabo – Although Argyle started off in the late 1980s as a dedicated sparkling wine producer (launched by Brian Croser of Petaluma fame and Bollinger champagne, among others), it was quickly realized that fine table pinot noir could also be produced in the region. This Reserve is made from Argyle’s top lots in the Dundee Hills and Eola-Amity Hills AVAs and their predominantly volcanic-Jory soils, yielding a perfumed, lightly floral, silky-textured pinot, well-tuned to this ripe vintage. Best 2015-2020.
David Lawrason – This nicely defines Oregon’s pinot place, a cross-hatching of ripeness and tension. Look for pretty aromas of fresh red cherry jam, spice, herbs and light toast. There is elevated youthful tannin, so I would give it a year or two – and it should last admirably for five.

Argyle Artisan Series Reserve Pinot Noir 2012 Montes Limited Selection Pinot Noir 2012 Saint Clair Premium Pinot Noir 2013 O'Leary Walker Pinot Noir 2012

Montes 2012 Limited Selection Pinot Noir, Casablanca Valley, Chile ($14.95)

David Lawrason – Pinot Noir in Chile is a relatively recent endeavour, and not yet considered a whole-hearted success. But Chilean pinot is developing a signature that echoes its cabernets and carmeneres reds, showing lifted blackcurrant, fragrant rosemary like herbaceousness derived from its local “garrigue” called boldos. This is ultra-fresh, juicy and lively. And very well priced.

Saint Clair 2013 Premium Pinot Noir, Marlborough, New Zealand ($24.95)

Sara d’Amato – I was instantly enamored by this juicy and succulent Marlborough pinot noir offering plenty of verve and a very pleasant note of red currant jelly. This consistently good value producer is most known in Ontario for their sauvignon blanc and it is no surprise that their pinot noir is of equal and perhaps better quality.

O’Leary Walker 2012 Pinot Noir, Adelaide Hills, South Australia ($24.95)

David Lawrason – The western edge of the forest clad hills above the city of Adelaide offer the best pinot noir conditions in all of South Australia. O’Leary Walker is based in the Clare Valley two hours away but the family has Adelaide Hills holdings with vines planted in the 90s. Very lifted aromatics here and it is fresh and juicy with considerable tannin.

Frei Brothers Reserve Pinot Noir 2012 Jekel Pinot Noir 2012 Migration Pinot Noir 2013

Frei Brothers 2012 Reserve Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, USA ($27.95)

John Szabo – This nicely captures the approachable nature of RRV pinot without slipping into excesses of fruit, oak or ripeness. I like the punchy and edgy nature, with balanced fruit and alcohol, herbal and earthy character playing nicely to all preference camps. Best 2015-2020.

Jekel 2012 Pinot Noir, Santa Barbara County, California  ($19.95)

Sara d’Amato – Bill Jekel is well regarded as an influential and boundary-pushing producer who was instrumental in the creation of a Monterey AVA. If you enjoy this both substantial and elegant pinot, the Jekel riesling is also one to watch for.

Migration 2013 Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, USA ($44.95)

David Lawrason – Migration is the Sonoma wing of the Duckhorn flock. And it has the lovely raspberry and florality that I love in Russian River pinot, with just a touch of evergreen foresty character. It’s delicate, fruity and well balanced.

Ontario Whites

Hidden Bench 2013 Estate Riesling, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($23.95)

Lailey Unoaked Chardonnay 2013 Redstone Limestone Vineyard South Riesling 2012 Hidden Bench Estate Riesling 2013John Szabo – One of the province’s top riesling producers, Hidden Bench regularly delivers quality far above the average, proving there’s no substitute for meticulous farming. The 2013 estate bottling is clean, pure, crisp, dry and firmly structured, and even though this is the “mere” estate blend, it could easily sit among the top single vineyard bottlings in the region.
David Lawrason – This is a very complete and complex riesling; a dandy statement to riesling’s prowess on the Beamsville Bench.

Redstone 2012 Limestone Vineyard South Riesling, Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($18.95)

David Lawrason – Redstone is a Tawse owned property that will begin to make its mark in the summer of 2015 when it opens, complete with a restaurant. This riesling comes from the Limestone Vineyard over near Flat Rock on Twenty Mile Bench. The ripe 2012 vintage has provided generous peach, honey and petrol character.

Lailey 2013 Unoaked Chardonnay, Niagara Peninsula Canada, Ontario ($14.95)

John Szabo – Unoaked chardonnay is rarely a category that excites, but Derek Barnett has managed to coax an unusual amount of flavour out of this 2013. It’s vaguely nutty and creamy, but still lively and crisp and genuinely dry, and altogether more “serious” than the price would imply. In other words, it’s a great buy for serious Tuesday night sipping.

Other Whites and Rosé

Château De Sancerre 2013 Sancerre, Loire Valley, France ($24.95)

David Lawrason – The only ‘chateau’ in Sancerre is owned by Marnier-Lapostolle, the company that produces Grand Marnier liqueur, and also owns Casa Lapostolle in Chile. This is a beautifully refined, delicate and fresh sauvignon to reserve for delicate seafood occasions.

Maison Roche De Bellene 2012 Vieilles Vignes Bourgogne Chardonnay, Burgundy, France ($20.95)

Sara d’Amato – Tremendous value alert! This entry level Burgundy is anything but simple exhibiting a leesy texture, fresh acids and delicately integrated oak. Although this chardonnay would certainly prove versatile with food, I recommend sipping on its own, barely below room temperature.

Château De Sancerre 2013 Maison Roche De Bellene Vieilles Vignes Bourgogne Chardonnay 2012 Domaines Schlumberger Kessler Gewurztraminer 2010 Castello Di Ama Rosato 2014

Domaines Schlumberger 2010 Kessler Gewurztraminer, Alsace Grand Cru, France ($33.95)

John Szabo – Gewurztraminer is the most planted grape in this 28ha grand cru in the village of Guebwiller, and Schlumberger its most emblematic producer. The pink sandstone seems tailor-made to produce a terrifically rich, exotically ripe and plush, opulent style, such as this. The 2010 vintage also yielded wines with brilliant acids, which in this case beautifully balance the considerable residual sugar. A textbook lesson in Alsatian GW. Best 2015-2022.

Castello Di Ama 2014 Rosato, Tuscany, Italy ($21.95)

Sara d’Amato – Lending some credibility to the rosé category, the famed Chianti Classico producer, Castello di Ama, has put forth an undeniably sophisticated blend of merlot and sangiovese. Sourced from high-quality, low-yielding old vines, this rosé was certainly not a mere afterthought, as are many commercial pink wines.


That is enough for this week, and what a busy week it has been at WineAlign. We have published an Ontario Wine Report update on Prince Edward County, and have released our 7th instalment of “So, You Think You Know Wine?”. (We get better folks!). We are also ramping up for the National Wine Awards of Canada that are just a month away in Niagara Falls. We are pleased to announce that Jamie Goode will be joining us again from the UK. British Columbia wineries are rapidly reaching their shipping deadline and the response has been excellent, so now it’s time for Ontario wineries to ante-up and register their wines. In recent years the medal performance of B.C. and Ontario has nicely evened out.

John will be here next week covering the substantial southern Rhône Valley collection on the May 30 release.

Until then.

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From VINTAGES May 30, 2015

Lawrason’s Take
Szabo’s Smart Buys
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
All Reviews

Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names, bottle images or links. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid members wait 60 days to see new reviews. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!

Castello Di Gabbiano Chianti Classico Riserva 2011

Taste the soul of Portugal

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Ontario Wine Report – May 2015

Prince Edward County
by David Lawrason and Sara d’Amato

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

In the wake of two major Prince Edward County tastings in recent weeks (County in the City in Toronto and WineAlign’s trip to Terroir in Picton) I offer thoughts, opinions and reviews on the “state of the County”. Having followed the County from the days in the late 90s when vineyards were first being planted – and before wine was made – I have a perspective that is historical, sentimental and critical (as wine critics are supposed to have). It’s a tough balancing act, but in the end I am writing about what’s in the bottle for those who are buying it. This year at Terroir I encountered everything from great highs to significant lows, but overall the playing field is evening out, prices are moderating a bit, and the palette of wine styles and varieties is broadening and becoming more colourful.

New Wineries

The official Prince Edward County Winegrowers Association touring map for 2015 lists 34 wineries. But not everyone joins associations, so there are at least three others to my knowledge that are not on the official touring map. There are four new wineries this year (within the past 12 months or so) – Broken Stone, Darius, Trail and Traynor. I see real potential in three, and I have not yet tasted Darius.

Traynor Family Vineyard has a great locale at the junction of Loyalist Parkway and Danforth Road just south of Hillier. Mike Traynor has been “in the game” in Ontario wine for over a decade. He began and trained at the former Willow Heights in Niagara, then moved out to make wine at the ambitious but short-lived Oak Heights in the Northumberland Hills northeast of Cobourg. He purchased his current acreage in Hillier in 2008 and opened late last year. A Niagara-bred sauvignon blanc was a hit at Terroir, but I also really liked a deft un-oaked chardonnay. Pinot Gris was good too, altho’ a bit sweet thanks to a stuck ferment. Good potential here; he will be joining the club with County fruit soon enough.

Broken Stone occupies an excellent site on Closson Road between Old Third and Closson Chase. Tim and Micheline Kuepfer have been planting their dream for over five years while holding down day jobs and residence in the GTA. They are focusing on chardonnay and pinot noir and the first releases show classic County lightness and minerality. No formal reviews yet after a quick encounter at Terroir.

Trail Estate has opened on Benway Road in the Hillier area, just south of Hinterland and Grange. It is owned by the Sproll family, with winemaker Dan Tweyman at the helm. Their own vineyards are very young, so everything so far is from Niagara fruit. Very modern, bright, squeaky clean winemaking here – liked their gewürztraminer. I will be watching them grow and move into County fruit with interest.

The Charmat Sparkling Trend

The bubbly gold rush is on. With Huff, Hinterland and Grange having proven there is great potential with traditional, more expensive ‘champenois’ method sparklers, the next wave is to produce bubbly that is simpler and less expensive. Everyone is jumping in. And County fruit – with its snappy acidity and aromatic fragrance – is the perfect ingredient for these simpler wines. Hinterland (the County’s sparkling wine specialist) is the incubator of the trend. From their barn at Closson Road and Benway they are equally (proudly) marketing sparklers from the traditional, charmat and ‘ancestral’ methods. The latter is bubbly produced by one fermentation with trapped CO2. And they have sub-contracted most of the sparkling charmat method wine production in the County. At the Terroir tasting on a hot May afternoon, the charmats proved popular including Lighthall Progression and a rose called the Fence, By Chadsey’s Cairns PTO, Huff’s Janine and Rosehall Run Pixie.

Vicki Samaras from Hinterland speaking sparkling to our tour group

Vicki Samaras from Hinterland speaking sparkling to the WineAlign tour group


The Rise of Riesling
(by Sara d’Amato)

If you have been to the County, you will have heard the analogy of the climate and soil types to that of Burgundy. Given the similarities, it is not surprising that premium vinifera growing is largely focused on chardonnay and pinot noir. However, riesling is beginning to make a play on the scene. The County’s crumbly limestone bedrock suits the varietal quite nicely but its need for slow ripening can be a challenge in a short growing season. In years past, most of the riesling produced was from small plantings of younger vines and thus was often blended with Niagara fruit – a region with an excellent track record with the grape.

My observations this time around on our recent trip to Terroir was that 100% County riesling is less of a rarity and more of a burgeoning new wine style. What had me curious was a misleading advert in the Toronto Star this past week from claiming that Prince Edward County was home to more than 10,000 acres of riesling. Certainly, a comma was misplaced as that number is about 10 times less. Norman Hardie was kind enough to offer a tank sample of his very first 100% County riesling harvested in 2014 which I found quite riveting. However, as I mentioned, this is less of a rarity now as I discovered that several other producers were on the same wavelength. Examples certainly worth exploring include Chadsey’s Cairn (ahead in the riesling game), Half-Moon Bay and Sugarbush among others. These versions are light, lively and elegant – traits common to the County’s cooler climate

Other New and/or Singular Wines & Grape Varieties

It’s solidly established that pinot noir, chardonnay, pinot gris and cabernet franc are the core County varietals, but every year Terroir turns out to be a testing ground for other ideas.

Traynor Family VineyardThe late Richard Karlo of Karlo Estates was famous as a quester after new wines, with his faith in the new Minnesota hybrid called Frontenac gris being well known. He also made a quite successful Sangiovese 2013, with a gentle nod to Tuscany in its mid-weight, currant and herbal style. WineAlign will be dedicating the 2015 National Wine Awards to Richard Karlo.

Del-Gatto Winery out past Waupoos on the Cressy Peninsula is also doing work with more obscure hybrids like leon millot and geisenheim (which Waupoos has also made) and they have combined it nicely with seyval blanc and chardonnay in a snappy blend called Dragonfly. Heidi Del-gatto also revealed they have made 12 cases of pinotage (South Africa’s famous crossing of cinsault and pinot noir) but it was not being poured at Terroir.

New Traynor Family has created Alta Red, a blend Saint Laurent and Marquette, the latter being another new Minnesota hybrid gaining converts in the coolest parts of the province.

I also took the opportunity re-visit By Chadsey Cairns 2013 Chenin Blanc, a classic Loire Valley white grape that could be more widely planted in the County.

The Annoying On-Going VQA Conundrum

Last year, for the first time, the Terroir Festival gained ‘farmers market’ status allowing wineries to sell bottles from their stands. The program continued this year. The hitch however is that farmers’ markets can only sell VQA wines, and there are many non-VQA wines being made in the County.

There are several reasons that a wine may not be submitted to or pass the VQA process, and all are somewhat controversial in their own right. But the most controversial for the County and other emerging regions in eastern and northern Ontario is that some wines are ineligible because they contain varieties not on the VQA list of authorized grapes. The list was created in the late 80s to screen out many “inferior’ varieties or those deemed unsuitable for Ontario’s climate; but we have learned a lot since then and many new cool climate varieties have emerged that can work in the province. VQA says it is reviewing the list, but it is taking a very long time.

So in the meantime, at Terroir there was a roped-off area in which the wineries with non-VQA wines were not allowed to sell direct. (And that’s just one of the financial penalties paid by non VQA wines). VQA was originally designed as a quality control and appellation guarantee mechanism, but it is become attached to all kinds of financial and distribution incentives or dis-incentives. In my view VQA should be a pure appellation system, and unhitched from financial consideration.

Twelve Highly Recommended County Wines

Based largely on tastings for the media at County in the City, here are twelve of the most highly recommended 100% PEC wines and yes many are from the most well established and experienced producers. Click to read my reviews and those by John Szabo, Sara d’Amato and Michael Godel.


Norman Hardie Niagara Unfiltered Chardonnay 2013

Rosehall Run J C R Rosehall Vineyard Chardonnay 2012

Rosehall Run Hungry Point Unoaked Chardonnay 2014

Closson Chase Chardonnay Closson Chase Vineyard 2013

Huff Estates Pinot Gris 2013

Huff Estates South Bay Vineyards Chardonnay 2012

Keint He Portage Chardonnay 2013


Keint He Portage Pinot Noir 2013

Norman Hardie County Unfiltered Pinot Noir 2013

Lighthall Pinot Noir 2013

The Grange Of Prince Edward County Diana Block Pinot Noir 2010

Huff Estates South Bay Merlot 2012

Rosehall Run Syrah Cuvée County “The Swinger” 2012


David Lawrason
VP of Wine

Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names, bottle images or links. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid members wait 60 days to see new reviews. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!

The National Wine Awards of Canada

NWAC15 croppedThe National Wine Awards of Canada (NWAC), held annually in June, is only open to wines grown and produced in Canada. The goal of ‘The Nationals’ is to expose Canadian wine drinkers to the best in Canadian wines. There is no restriction on price, leaving each winery the opportunity to compete with and against the best wines in the country. More importantly, as barriers to ship wines across the country come down, the combination of winning recognition at The Nationals and WineAlign’s ability to display the results alongside your key retail outlets, from the winery direct to across the country, makes it the only competition with enduring post competition sales opportunities.

The 2015 tastings will take place from June 23 to 27 in Niagara Falls, Ontario.

Registration is now open. Click here for more information and to register.

Canadian Wineries on WineAlign

It’s easy to explore Canadian wines & wineries on WineAlign. From the menu bar simply choose Wine >> Wineries.  You can select by region or winery name, or use our interactive map. We are adding new wineries all the time, so please let us know if we are missing your favourite.

Canadian Wineries

You can also click on the winery name on any wine page (or as in David’s Links above) to be taken directly to the winery’s profile page where you can see more wines and reviews. Just remember to set your filters to “All Sources” and “Show wines with zero inventory” as winery wines are not linked to retail inventory.

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Acclaimed UK Wine Journalist Jamie Goode joins the Judging Team for the Nationals

National Wine Awards of Canada 2015May 19, 2015


We are delighted to announce that, for the second year in a row, acclaimed UK-based wine journalist Dr. Jamie Goode will be a part of our panel of judges in Niagara Falls, Ontario at the WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada.

Jamie Goode new

Dr. Jamie Goode

Jamie’s experience in wine very much mirrors that of our regular judges, which made for a seamless fit inside the tasting room in 2014. Of course another view, and one from Europe, should prove useful to those wineries engaged in the competition and hoping to expand their export horizons.

Jamie first visited Ontario wine regions in 2013 during The International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration and British Columbia wineries during his time at the Nationals in 2014. This year, he will again visit Ontario wineries as part of the judges’ tour.

After last year’s trip to the Okanagan to judge the National Wine Awards of Canada 2014, Jamie published “Thinking out loud about Canadian wine” on his blog He had this to say about the Nationals:

“The WineAlign judges are highly competent and well travelled, and it was painless judging with them. The organization of these wine awards, which involved opening over 4,000 bottles, pouring flights for each judge, and then collating the results in real time, was superb. Which means that judges can get on with the process of judging wine. The process was thorough, and every wine was given respect and time to show its best.” – Dr. Jamie Goode

Dr. Goode completed a PhD in plant biology and worked as a science editor before switching careers to wine writing. He’s a book author (The Science of Wine and Authentic Wine – both with University of California Press), writes a weekly wine column for a national newspaper (The Sunday Express), and blogs daily at, one of the world’s most popular wine websites. An experienced wine judge, he’s a panel chair for the International Wine Challenge each year, and has judged wine in France, Australia, Bulgaria, Hungary and Serbia. He tweets as @jamiegoode.

National Wine Awards of Canada 2015

The National Wine Awards of Canada (NWAC), held annually in June, is only open to wines grown and produced in Canada. The goal of ‘The Nationals’ is to expose Canadian wine drinkers to the best in Canadian wines. There is no restriction on price, leaving each winery the opportunity to compete with and against the best wines in the country. More importantly, as barriers to ship wines across the country come down, the combination of winning recognition at The Nationals and WineAlign’s ability to display the results alongside your key retail outlets, from the winery direct to across the country, makes it the only competition with enduring post competition sales opportunities.

The 2015 tastings will take place from June 23 to 27 in Niagara Falls, Ontario.

Registration is now open. Click here for more information and to register.

The Judges

There are subtle changes to our panel each year but for the most part the judges are comprised of some of Canada’s leading wine writers, journalists, sommeliers, buyers and industry professionals. The competition also seeks out new and emerging talent in the industry to be part of the panel. This blend of experience and enthusiasm, brought by judges from many regions across Canada, ensures a comprehensive view of the wine world’s most current state. (NWAC15 Judges)

You can follow the 2015 NWAC and our judges’ tweets from start to finish on Twitter @WineAlign and look for the hashtag #NWAC15 .

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County in the City 2015 – Try and Buy Event with Special Offer

Join us on Thursday, April 16, at Airship 37 in the Distillery District for the 4th Annual County in the City, and sample some of the best wines Prince Edward County has to offer!  Over 20 small-batch and family-owned wineries will sample more than 50 different wines, including many vintage and specialty wines.

County in the City

This is the place to taste and buy some of Canada’s top cool climate wines. Most you’ll never see outside of PEC.” – John Szabo MS

This tasting event will delight the palates of Torontonians and introduce them to some of the most enticing flavours of Prince Edward County; Ontario’s hottest growing wine region.

“‘County in the City’ is the most efficient way for city folk to slice and dice the fascinating and increasingly diverse range of Prince Edward County wines, most made in such small quantities that you will never see them at the LCBO.” – David Lawrason

Many of the County wines showcased at the event are not available at retail wine outlets in the GTA, so guests can take part in the “Try and Buy” program and have delicious County wines delivered right to their door. Mix and match bottles from different wineries and receive FREE shipping (minimum 6 bottles).

County in the City

Special Offer:

Buy a ticket to County in the City and receive a complimentary Thursday night (June 18th) ticket for the Toronto Wine and Spirits Festival ($20 value).  It’s the best outdoor wine beach party you’ve ever seen!

Event Details:

Thursday, April 16, 2014
Location: Airship 37 – 37 Parliament Street, Toronto Distillery District
Time:  5pm to 9pm
Tickets: $49.00 in advance (includes all wine and food samples)
Tickets: $60.00 at the door (subject to availability)

 Purchase Your Tickets Here


Participating Wineries:

Karlo Estates Winery
Lighthall Vineyards
Harwood Estate Vineyards
Norman Hardie Winery
Three Dog Winery
Stanners Vineyard
Keint-he Winery
Rosehall Run Winery
Casa Dea Estates Winery
Closson Chase
Sandbanks Estate Winery
Grange of Prince Edward County Vineyards and Estate Winery
Devils Wishbone
Huff Estates Winery
Trail Estate Winery
Black Prince Winery
By Chadsey’s Cairns Winery & Vineyard

 Purchase Your Tickets Here

About Airship 37

Airship 37Airship 37, nestled adjacent to the historic Distillery District, is the perfect backdrop for your momentous occasion.

Airship 37 is a blank canvas featuring 2 separate rooms and an outdoor space, each with its own individual look and feel. It is the venue of choice for car shows, product launches, cocktail and wedding parties, private functions and corporate events.

Please always drink responsibly. Take public transit or have a designated driver.

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Report on Cuvée and Expert’s Tasting 2015

Ontario Wine ReportMarch 16, 2015

by Sara d’Amato

Sara d'Amato

Sara d’Amato

February 27, 2015 was a frigid day to set off to Niagara’s Fallsview Casino for Cuvée’s annual grand tasting and the first time I experienced the Falls frozen over, almost entirely so. Not only did the grand affair take place on the 27th but it was also the 27th anniversary of the event.

The format has changed greatly over the years but this year, like several years before it, participant wineries were asked to have their winemakers present one wine of their choosing to the large gathering of consumers and media. At $200 a ticket, attendees were afforded the chance to hobnob with the winemakers (all in their finest black-tie garb) and enjoy some exquisite cuisine presented by the finest local Chefs.

The evening kicked off with Tony Aspler’s presentation of his annual Cuvée Award of excellence to Laurie Macdonald, the director of VQA. The soiree finished memorably as guests were treated to a selection of craft beers, sparkling wine and Icewine as the dance floor filled up, brought to life by live music at Après Cuvée.

Brock-U-2015-Cuvee-Fab-08 Brock-U-2015-Cuvee-Fab-188


White wine highlights:

Riesling and chardonnay made their usual splashes at the Grand Tasting but there were some surprisingly lovely entries made of semillon, chenin blanc and pinot gris.

Southbrook Triomphe Chardonnay 2013 Big Head Wines Chenin Blanc 2013 Cave Spring CSV Riesling 2012

Southbrook Triomphe Chardonnay 2013 ($22.95) – Organic and biodynamic production are the hallmarks of Southbrook but it is the attention to detail and an uncompromising approach that produces some of the region’s most memorable wines as well as its most unconventional and polarizing bottlings. This example is elegant, sublimely integrated, undeniably sophisticated and thankfully, well-priced.

Big Head Chenin Blanc 2013 ($22) – Prolific winemaker Andrezj Lipinski knocks it out of the park, once again, with this substantial, unctuous and widely-appealing chenin blanc from old vine Niagara Lakeshore fruit.

Cave Spring Cellars 2012 Riesling CSV, Beamsville Bench ($29.95) – I seem to be drawn in by the warmer vintages of Cave Spring’s CSV riesling and this example exhibits those notable flavours of petrol and passion fruit as well as a rich, tongue-coating texture and memorable length.

Red wine highlights:

Not surprisingly, gamay and cabernet franc were standouts in this year’s tasting and prove that Niagara has both the climate to produce consistently outstanding examples of these varietals and the gumption to craft fine, high-end examples.

Peller Estates Private Reserve Gamay Noir 2012 Two Sisters Cabernet Franc 2010 Vineland Estates Cabernet Franc Reserve 2012

Peller Estates Private Reserve Gamay Noir 2013 ($18.75) – Talented Winemaker Katie Dickenson, has been making a splash since her debut as Winemaker with Peller only three years ago. She continues to produce serious and noteworthy wines such as this Gamay, one of her favourite varietals – and it shows!

Two Sisters Vineyards Cabernet Franc 2010 ($48) – The buzz continues to grow about Two Sisters who have been officially open for less than a year but have captured the attention of top critics across the globe. Proprietors Angela and Melissa of the Marotta construction family have brought Adam Pearce, a Niagara College Wine and Viticulture graduate, to lead the winemaking team with his low interventionist methods.

Vineland Estates 2012 Cabernet Franc Reserve, Niagara Peninsula ($40) – Soon to be released, this show-stopping Cabernet Franc is vibrant but meaty and substantial. It is a solid expression of the unique, high-quality and age-worthy style of cabernet franc of which Niagara is most capable of producing.

Expert’s Tasting

John Szabo

John being congratulated by Magdalena Kaiser and Zoltan Szabo

Once a year, a gathering of Ontario’s top winemakers, educators, sommeliers and wine critics are brought together by Brock University’s CCOVI for a day of academic discussion on the state of affairs of local, cool climate wine production and the unique potential of the industry. This is usually mixed with a little competitive joviality as attendees are asked to identify wines blind among international ringers. All in all, a chance to get serious after the Gala’s revelry.

The Expert’s tasting was hosted by the gregarious Jamie Drummond, Sommelier and wine and food journalist with Good Food Revolution who has been a long-term promoter of Ontario wines. Along with the wine flights, the coveted VQA Promoters Awards were presented by WineAlign principal critic Janet Dorozynski. Some notable mentions were the Media Award bestowed upon WineAlign’s very own John Szabo MS as well as the educator award to Evan Saviolidis, a past WineAlign World Wine Awards Judge. The Lifetime Achievement Award was rightfully granted to Len Pennachetti, proprietor of Cave Spring Cellars and a pioneer in the development of Ontario’s quality wine production. For a list of all the deserving recipients: http://Cuvé

A snapshot of four flights of note:

Legends Estates Pinot Gris Terroir 2013 Pelee Island Pinot Grigio 2013Flight #1: The beauty of the middle path – a discussion focused on pinot gris and pinot grigio lead by LCBO product manager, Ontario Wines, Astrid Brummer. Although Niagara produces both these distinctive styles, it is no surprise that pinot grigio is a much better marketing title.

No longer do the names on the label necessarily implicate the style of wine produced. That being said, many of Ontario’s dazzling pinot grigios seemed to prove a much greater value than one of LCBO’s top sellers, Santa Margherita our ringer of the flight.

Pelee Island 2013 Pinot Grigio, Ontario ($13.95) – Hailing from the most southern wine production area in Canada, Pelee Island winery is one of Ontario’s most visible wineries on the shelves of the LCBO. It has been some time since I have revisited this top selling, well-priced pinot grigio and I was pleasantly surprised by the wine’s clean, pure and elegant output.

Legends Estate 2013 Terroir Pinot Gris, Lizak Vineyards, Niagara-on the-Lake ($17.55) – Here is one fresh, crisp pinot gris that exhibits the lovely lightness and refreshing dryness more common in pinot grigio. Regardless of the name, it is certainly a focused and finely crafted pinot.

Flight #2: For whom the bell pepper tolls lead by Shiraz Mottiar, Malivoire winemaker

Peller Estates Private Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2013 Trius Showcase Clean Slate Sauvignon Blanc Wild Ferment 2013Our flight illustrated the wide diversity of sauvignon blanc present across Ontario. The region has yet to focus on a particular style but given the level of quality and the bold fruit tasted perhaps it shouldn’t. There was some consensus that perhaps the industry’s styles should be as diverse as our vintages.

Trius 2013 Clean Slate Wild Ferment Sauvignon Blanc, Niagara-on-the Lake Vineyard ($32) – As premium of a price as you can pay for sauvignon blanc in Niagara, this stylized sauvignon benefitted from a touch of oak and a good deal of creamy lees ageing. Its wild ferment only enhanced its local character.

Peller Estates 2013 Sauvignon Blanc, Four Mile Creek ($30.20) – A riper style of sauvignon blanc almost devoid of the grassy, green vegetal notes characteristic of the varietal’s cool climate expression. A solid, well-made and appealing wine.

Flight #3 Weirdos, misfits and uprooted things with thoughts from Joshua Corea, Sommelier Archive Wine Bar

Sad to say goodbye to some of these uprooted varietals after our, literally, killer winter. With semillon and chenin blanc likely on the chopping block, some other varietals like viognier and gamay surprisingly took center stage.

Creekside 2013 Viognier Reserve, St. David’s Bench, Queenston Road Vineyard ($29.95) – Creekside has long been one of Niagara’s most important producer of this varietal. Call it a guilty pleasure, this lips-smacking viognier is a bombshell with epic flavour and impact.

Creekside Estate Winery Reserve Viognier 2013 Keint He Voyageur Gamay Noir 2013 Malivoire Courtney Gamay 2013

Flight #4 Hip Hip Gamay! Amelie Boury, Winemaker at Chateau des Charmes lead this rousing discussion on a topic that everyone in attendance seemed to champion. The excitement for gamay has certainly gained strength if the empty glasses and rapid-fire discussion were any indication.

Keint-He 2013 Voyageur Gamay Noir, Beamsville Bench, Niagara ($25.00) – This peppery beauty is indicative of a unique Niagara expression of gamay that is brimming with big aromatics and a great deal of charm.

Malivoire 2012 Courtney Gamay Noir, Beamsville Bench, Niagara ($25.95) – This top block from the winery’s estate puts the succulent fruit center stage. Malivoire’s gamays are consistently exciting and are among the top examples in Niagara.

That’s all for this year! I look forward to watching out for these many exciting Ontario trends in the year to come.



From John Szabo: Cuvée 2015: Judging vs. Choosing and The Winemakers’ Stories

Cuvée Event Photo credit goes to: Fab Formisano


Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names, bottle images or links. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid members wait 60 days to see new reviews. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!

County in the City

Filed under: News, Wine, , , , , ,

Cuvée 2015: Judging vs. Choosing and The Winemakers’ Stories

Ontario Wine ReportMarch 16, 2015

Text and photographs by John Szabo MS

John Szabo MS

John Szabo MS

It was a brittle and glacial February evening for the 27th annual Cuvée celebration of the Ontario wine industry at the Fallsview Casino in Niagara Falls. Outside, the lampposts shivered and the iron railings surrounding the gorge groaned under a thick coating of ice. Even the mighty cataracts were given pause by the cold, struggling by the sheer force of gravity to stay fluid, while the normally raging Niagara River below had hardened into a solid sheet of snow-covered ice as if to blanket itself from the icy caress of another Canadian winter’s night.

Yet inside, it was all fireside warmth and smiles. Some seven hundred or more wine drinkers had overcome the darkness of cold and had gathered to warm their palates with fifty-two Ontario wines, the maximum expression of each vintner’s art and soul.

If you haven’t been to Cuvée in the last couple of years, things have changed. For the first twenty-four years of the event, the process of selecting the wines to be presented to the public was altogether different. The wines were chosen through a competition, judged by the winemakers themselves – winemakers judging the wines of their peers – a sort of Oscars of the Ontario wine world. Wineries would submit wines to the Cuvée Awards competition, and then winemakers would gather and taste them blind, in various categories, just as we do at WineAlign for the National and World Wine Awards of Canada. The top scoring wines were awarded the opportunity to be poured at the Cuvée Grand Gala, and the winemakers who came out on top of course earned bragging rights for the next twelve months.

But the awards-style process of selecting Cuvée winners was discarded like pressed grape skins in 2013, coinciding with the 25th anniversary of the celebration. It was, as I’m told, a way of freshening up an event that had perhaps run its course. “We started to review ways to make enhancements to Cuvée and create a new format that would again be the first of its kind”, says Magdalena Kaiser of Wine Country Ontario, who was on the Cuvée board when the changes were made. “And so a Grand Tasting was created where one single wine each year would be highlighted – the winemaker’s favourite.”

So now, the selection is left up to each winemaker. Each chooses what he/she believes is a unique wine, something representative. Or at least that’s supposed to be the plan.

But admittedly, I miss the old selection process. It was unique in the world, and I always found it fascinating to learn what the winemakers of Ontario liked about Ontario wines. Which deserved awarding and which deserved the kitchen sink? What grapes were favoured, outside of commercial considerations, in the rigid context of a blind tasting? And which winemaking approaches were becoming more universally accepted or rejected? After all, winemakers are often much harsher critics than wine critics, lightning quick to point out even the most minor technical deviations, like a Spanish inquisitor sniffing out an infidel, or a nosy neighbour ratting out dissenters to Party Officials.

Seeing which wines the winemakers would choose to represent the entire industry, through the unsullied, anti-commercial process of evaluating anonymous bottles, certainly added another valuable perspective in the vast constellation of opinions that populate the wine universe. I’m sure it was also a useful opportunity for winemakers to take a hard objective look at the industry as a whole from 30,000 feet, to taste each other’s wines without the mental shackles of friendship, admiration, envy or dislike that impede objectivity when tasting in each other’s cellars or at industry events. It’s a fair way to get a sense of where Ontario wines stand on a broader stage, to identify strengths and weaknesses, and perhaps even gain inspiration to try new techniques, and plant (or rip out) certain varieties.

Frozen Niagara River and Sluggish Falls

Frozen Niagara River and Sluggish Falls

The new approach though, allowing winemakers to take control of their own message-in-a-bottle, paints a vastly different but also interesting scene. Feedback from the industry and attendees is apparently positive. “The fifty-two winery spots were filled far before the deadline, and we actually had a waiting list of wineries wanting to participate”, writes Barb Tatarnic of COVVII at Brock University, which took over management of the event in 2015. So it seems most wineries have embraced the new format: no judging, no awards, just a chance to let consumers read that message and decide for themselves if it moves them. It’s surely also fascinating, and in some cases telling, to see how winemakers view themselves through the lens of the wine they select as their representative.

In an ideal world, I’d love to see the two formats combined in some fashion, so we’d benefit from the insight offered by both selection processes.

I also couldn’t help but notice that the new format also opens the door to distortion of the spirit of the event. While the majority of wineries in attendance rose above the base needs of business – the current that runs through virtually every other consumer wine event on the planet – some couldn’t resist the siren call of commerce.

Perhaps under pressure from the sales and marketing department (and in the wine business, there is always pressure), some felt compelled to show the wine that is readily available, just released, or most popular, rather than the one they’re most excited about or personally fascinated by, or what they’re ultimately most proud of – the wine that distills their philosophy and personality into a bottle. But those are precisely the wines we want to taste. Those are the wines that, even if not available, cast a warm and positive glow over an entire winery’s range, and by extension the whole industry – it’s what those same marketers call the halo effect. And those are the wines that make Cuvée unique, rather than just another fancy wine gala.

It’s also unfortunate that Cuvée is not fully representative of the entire Ontario industry – there wasn’t a single winery from Prince Edward County in the room, for example. And other noteworthy wineries were conspicuous by their absence, and not because they didn’t make the deadline. When I inquired why, say, Tawse or Hidden Bench or Norm Hardie didn’t participate, I was told essentially that they were too busy, a polite way of saying that other events are more worthwhile, and that Cuvée is overly Niagara-centric. “Perhaps if this event were held in Toronto in alternate years and celebrated the industry as a whole, not just Niagara, it would attract more interest from us” wrote Harald Thiel of Hidden Bench, for example.

Yet in the end it certainly is a worthwhile event from my perspective, with enough winemakers rising to the occasion and pouring something representative, something that unfolds another leaf in the story of Ontario wine.

And for those who missed Cuvée 2015, I’ve rounded up a baker’s dozen of my top picks based on a combination of wine quality and intriguing narrative. But rather than writing my usual critique (you can assume they’re all worth buying) I’ve asked the winemakers instead to share the reason why they selected their wine, to tell a (mostly unedited) story that captured some aspect of their art or history or personal journey.

Meet the Winemakers


2027 Cellars Fox Croft Block Chardonnay 2012-9352

2027 Cellars Fox Croft Block Chardonnay

2027 Cellars 2012 Wismer-Foxcroft Block Chardonnay ($30)

Kevin Panagapka: ” 2012 was my second year working with the Wismer Vineyard ‘Fox Croft Block’ Chardonnay. I intentionally picked this block slightly early in 2012 to retain the acidity and ease back on the alcohol. I like the tension in the wine; there is a fine acidic backbone and minerality I haven’t seen in other blocks.  I feel like the wild barrel fermentation added complexity and mouthfeel while the Burgundian Oak is working in nicely after a year in bottle.  Frankly, out of my current portfolio I felt this wine was showing the best at the time, which is why I chose it for Cuvée. For me, it’s about understanding the individuality of each vineyard block. I fell like this Chardonnay has a wonderful sense of place.”

Big Head 2013 Chenin Blanc ($22)

Andrezj Lipinski: “I would have gladly chosen any one of our wines for their quality but the Chenin is special to me. I think it has tremendous potential, it just needs to be planted in the ideal areas of Niagara, and the vineyard we source from in Niagara-on-the-Lake, close to the water and protected by it, is giving us beautiful and healthy fruit consistently. We let it go naturally in older oak, and it sings. The 2013 had much more hang-time than the 2012 resulting in some wonderful complexity that is just starting to push through.”

Andrezj Lipinski and his Big Head Chenin Blanc 2013-9353

Andrezj Lipinski and his Big Head Chenin Blanc

Jay Johstone and his Flatrock Cellars The Rusty Shed Chardonnay 2012-9374

Jay Johstone and his Flatrock Cellars The Rusty Shed Chardonnay

Flatrock Cellars 2012 The Rusty Shed Chardonnay ($24.95)

Jay Johnston: “We chose the 2012 Rusty Shed Chardonnay because we’ve loved that wine since it was first blended together. We had a lot of different styles of barrel fermented Chardonnay in the cellar in 2012, and this was my first chance to blend the Rusty, having started at Flat Rock in September that year. Tasting the results when we racked and blended the 25 barrels selected for Rusty was a very special moment. All of the barrels were so individually unique beforehand, and then once blended they created an extremely focused and pure wine that totally blew us away. It was one of those ‘wine moments’ where you really appreciate the creative and artistic side of winemaking.”

Marty Werner and his 2013 Ravine Chardonnay-9404

Marty Werner and his 2013 Ravine Chardonnay

Ravine Vineyard 2013 Chardonnay ($25)

Marty Werner: “I selected our 2013 Ravine Chardonnay because I feel that it shows the potential of picking Chardonnay in Niagara-on-the-Lake while the grapes are still green, as opposed to golden. I feel that picking the grapes earlier can show off not only fruit, but other complexities such as vintage and sense of place.”

Stratus Vineyards 2012 White ($44)

JL Groux: “The 2012 Stratus White is the tenth edition of that wine and we are celebrating our tenth anniversary this year so it did fit well for Cuvée. With no aromatic varieties and 43% Chardonnay, the 2012 has a lot of depth and length. The balance is made of Sauvignon Blanc at 42% and Semillon at 15%.”

Westcott Vineyards 2013 Estate Chardonnay ($26)

Carolyn Hurst (owner; Arthur Harder is the head winemaker): “This wine represents the culmination of a vision that started in 2006 with the purchase of the vineyard and the selection of the chardonnay clones and root stock. We dreamed of creating a chardonnay of this elegance and we were rewarded in 2013 for our hard work and care. We are inspired by this wine to continue on our rocky road journey to perfection.”

Suzanne Janke standing in for JL Groux and his 2012 Stratus White-9428

Suzanne Janke standing in for JL Groux and his 2012 Stratus White

Victoria and Garett Westcott and their Westcott Estate Chardonnay 2013-9439

Victoria and Garett Westcott and their Westcott Estate Chardonnay 2013


Coyote’s Run Estate Winery David Sheppard ‘Vintage 30’ Cabernet 2012 ($36.95)

Dave Sheppard and his _Vintage 30_ Cabernet, Coyote's Run-9393

Dave Sheppard’s Vintage 30 Cabernet

Dave Sheppard: ‘Jeff Aubry had asked me to pick something special from the vintage to do an anniversary issue wine, so the field was wide open. The Cabernet Sauvignon was a “one-off” opportunity from a grower (Ralph Serluca) whose vineyard is only a couple of kilometers from Coyote’s Run and within the same sub-appellation. Ralph had offered us the block of Cab pending our approval upon inspection. The moment I set foot in the vineyard I told Jeff “we must have these grapes”, not thinking specifically of the 30th anniversary wine at the time, but rather just that the vineyard was absolutely beautifully and paternally tended and the grapes were spectacular.  It was an opportunity not to be missed. Later in the process when it came time to select a wine for the 30th, I admittedly quite selfishly gravitated towards what I thought to be the best of the vintage, and that was the Cabernet Sauvignon from that vineyard.”

Lailey Vineyards ‘Impromptu’ (84% Syrah with malbec and petit verdot) 2012 ($45)

Derek Barnett: “I chose the wine for its elegance and balance, something I think that the Niagara River appellation brings out in syrah each and every year. I also chose it because it is awesome, too‎”.

Creekside Estate Winery Broken Press Syrah 2011 ($39.95)

Rob Power: Pouring our top Syrah at high-end Ontario wine events usually raises a few eyebrows. But one taste reminds that Syrah actually does very well in cooler climates. And it also serves notice that Niagara is much more than a one or two-trick varietal pony: many different great wines are possible across the Peninsula’s varied terrain. Broken Press, à la Côte-Rôtie, includes Viognier skins in co-ferment with Syrah, imparting added aromatic complexity and rounded texture.”

Derek Barnett and his Lailey Impromptu 2012-9386

Derek Barnett and his Lailey Impromptu 2012

Rob Powers and his Creekside Broken Press Syrah 2011-9470

Rob Powers and his Creekside Broken Press Syrah 2011

Thirty Bench Winemakers Small Lot Pinot Noir 2012 ($35)

Emma Garner: “Our 15 year-old Pinot Noir block at Thirty Bench has been quite a well kept secret until just recently.  Our reputation at the winery has always been centered on Riesling and its unique ability to demonstrate the subtleties of terroir. Pinot is another such variety and I have finally started to understand our vines and just what they are capable of. 2012 was a picture perfect year to develop optimal ripeness. It was also a year in which grapes could get too ripe and jammy if left to hang too long. We found the sweet spot with our 115 clone Pinot Noir in 2012. Extended skin maceration (3 weeks) and judicious oak usage (100% French and 15% new) helped to develop a wine worthy of aging. I truly feel that I have turned a page in my Pinot vinification journey. It has always been somewhat daunting, however. Now I realize that it is an endless journey in search of the perfect glass.”

Emma Garner and her Thirty Bench Small Lot Pinot Noir 2012-9414

Emma Garner and her Thirty Bench Small Lot Pinot Noir 2012

Craig MacDonald and his Trius Grand Red 2012-9395

Craig MacDonald and his Trius Grand Red 2012

Trius Winery Grand Red 2012 ($55)

Craig McDonald: “The G Red was my choice because I wanted to showcase an unusual technique I learnt from an old Penfolds Winemaker back in 2000, ‘Slingers’, whilst at De Bortoli in the Yarra. Once fermentation is complete and the free-run wine is transferred out of the wooden vats I use gravity to press the remaining cap and gently ‘drip’ the wine from the skins directly into barrel. It takes a bit of practice to make the right cut and it’s a pain in the butt to dig out later on but the wine is stunning – rich, intense and inky black but with fine silky tannins because it’s naturally pressed and not dug out and pressed mechanically. Most of the G Red was made this way so it’s actually pressings from our best blocks of company fruit from the great 2012 vintage. I think pressings are often overlooked by Winemakers so this is my ode to B-Side Winemaking and classic Aussie innovation ”

The Foreign Affair Winery Petit Verdot “On Assignment” ($49.95)

Len Crispino: “In exceptional years like 2012 we produced a single varietal Petit Verdot. We take a judicious approach on the proportion of grapes dried, in this case almost 15%. We believe our slow drying method yields subtle nuances and rich complexities. We do not depend on a standard formula. Decision are based on listening to the vintage, being respectful of the varietal and being true to our desired artistic interpretation through innovation.”

Len Crispino and his Foreign Affairs and his Petit Verdot 2012-9418

Len Crispino and his Foreign Affairs and his Petit Verdot 2012

Brian Schmidt and his Vineland Estates Cabernet Franc Reserve 2012-9448

Brian Schmidt and his Vineland Estates Cabernet Franc Reserve 2012

Vineland Estates 2012 Reserve Cabernet Franc ($40.00)

Brian Schmidt: “I just had to bring out the 2012 Reserve Cabernet Franc for an early showing at Cuvée.  I am thoroughly convinced that Cabernet Franc is Ontario’s “red hammer” and I believe the variety is most suited to showcase our terroir with consistency. I think the 2012 Reserve is the “sledge” and it drives the Cabernet Franc point home with authority. After its quick outing I had to pull it back into the cellars where it is going to quietly develop more depth and finesse until it is ready to come out for good.”

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo MS

Sara d’Amato: Report on Cuvée and Expert’s Tasting 2015

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County in the City

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