Cuvée and long summer drives
Clockwise, starting at top left: Hidden Bench Winery; Stratus Vineyards; Kacaba Winery; J-L Groux, the winemaker at Stratus, pours samples at the Cuvée Gala.
Photos courtesy of Niagara Community Foundation and Wine Council of Ontario
Each winter, the sleek Fallsview Casino plays host to Cuvée’s Grand Tasting Gala, which is hosted by the Niagara Community Foundation. Attendees stroll through the high-ceilinged hallways lined with shops and restaurants to arrive in a draped ballroom filled with winemakers from all over the province. Dressed to the nines in tuxes and gowns, guests range from those with an interest in wine to those employed by the massive business that surrounds the making, selling, and consumption of Ontario wines.
Winemakers pour their best, a select group of area chefs serve small bites, and bars featuring craft beer and sparkling wine pair with a live band to deliver a fun and interesting evening—punctuated by lots and lots (and lots) of wine sampling.
As an industry, the Ontario wine scene has decades on many of New York State’s wine regions, but it’s impossible not to draw comparisons, even if you narrow your scope and only consider the similarity between the Niagara Wine Trail’s climate and geology and that of Ontario.
Impressive wines were to be had, for certain, and the backstory associated with each of them ranged from small farmer-owned operations to major winemakers with easily recognizable names.
While the Gala and subsequent Cuvée En Route wine tour weekend provide an exceptional way in which to experience the breadth of Ontario’s liquid assets, if you don’t wish to wait until next winter, we suggest you plot your course and make a day of it this summer. After all, when the vineyards are lush with fruit and the skies are blue and streaked with clouds, time spent idling at the border crossing and tooling Ontario’s back roads seems more delight than labor.
After sampling a fair number of wines and drawing upon fellow attendee Jonathan Oakes’ experiences in the Ontario region (Oakes, a winemaker, was educated and trained in Ontario), we have developed a short list of recommended stops to be included in your next adventure across the border.
Winemaker’s Cuvée selection: Wismer Vineyard, 2011
Winemaker Thomas Bachelder trained in Burgundy and was the first winemaker at Ontario’s well-respected Le Clos Jordanne winery. With a heavy focus on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, this off-the-beaten-path winery stays true to the terroir of its site. Bachelder also operates two small craft wineries in Oregon and France. (thomasbachelder.com)
Foreign Affair Winery—Vineland Station, ON
Winemaker’s Cuvée selection: Conspiracy, 2012
This winery takes risks by employing the Amarone-style of winemaking. Grapes are dried before the winemaker begins the winemaking process, resulting in unique wines with interesting weight, depth, and richness. (foreignaffairwinery.com)
Hidden Bench Vineyards and Winery—Beamsville, ON
Winemaker’s Cuvée selection: Estate Pinot Noir, 2011
Hidden Bench, located along the Niagara Escarpment’s Bench, is a cuvée winery whose wines truly define the area’s terroir and soils. A small producer, this winery is known for delivering strong white wines. (hiddenbench.com)
Kacaba Vineyards and Winery—Vineland, ON
Winemaker’s Cuvée selection: Terrace Vineyard Syrah, 2011
A lawyer-turned-winemaker, Michael Kacaba is a legendary do-it-yourselfer. As a producer who has embraced Syrah—a grape that really shouldn’t do well in our climate—Kacaba is producing fantastic examples of this varietal. (kacaba.com)
Palatine Hills Estate Winery—Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON
Winemaker’s Cuvée selection: Newfeld Vineyard Meritage, 2010
This farmer-owned operation has been in the mix since Ontario’s wine region first took form. Focused on creating and growing fruit with the best balance for winemaking in the Niagara Region, Palatine really began to make a name for itself upon hiring former Finger Lakes winemaker David Hojnoski. (palatineestatewinery.com)
Stratus Vineyards—Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON
Winemaker’s Cuvée selection: Red – Magnum, 2010
Stratus, arguably one of the most beautiful wineries in Canada, possesses the ability to blend and create wines of great distinction with respect to the land. (stratuswines.com)
Other wineries to consider: Cave Spring Cellars, Inniskillen–Niagara Estate, Southbrook Vineyards, and Vineland Estates. For access to additional information on Ontario’s vibrant and expansive winemaking scene, visit WineCountryOntario.ca
Jonathan Oakes is the winemaker at Leonard Oakes Estate Winery. A fourth-generation fruit farmer, Oakes attended the viticulture program at Ontario’s Niagara College and trained at Vineland Estates. Some would say his wines have put NY’s Niagara Wine Trail on the map in terms of the national wine scene.
Christa Glennie Seychew is the senior editor of Spree.