Lake Erie North Shore Gathers Momentum
Wine Access, November 2006
Locals refer to the area as "the Deep South", but they have a
point: on a late-August visit, 22 degrees and rain in Toronto
at 1 p.m. became 28 sunny, humid degrees in Kingsville at 5 p.m.
Mexican labourers, who harvest Essex County's bounty, rode their
bicycles after a day in the fields.
Erie North Shore does not look like a wine region. There are
huge greenhouses everywhere and fields full of produce. Roadside
stands in Niagara tempt with peaches, plums and berries; here,
you get tomatoes, cucumbers and bell peppers. But things are on
the move on the vinifera front. Laurie MacDonald of VQA Ontario
confirms the region's rapid progress: "It's definitely developing
and we've seen a spurt of growth - from 3 VQA wineries in 2000
to 11 today."
Winemaking has been happening in the area since Confederation.
Vin Villa, on Pelee Island, was up and running in the 1860s. Pelee
Island Winery's "Vinedressers" series features historical photos
of Victorian-era staff on the labels - suits and ties all round,
even among the field workers. But, as with Niagara, vinifera grapes
were not planted until about thirty years ago. Today the area
produces good quality whites like chardonnay, riesling, and gewurztraminer,
but the pinot gris (or, increasingly, "grigio") is also reliable.
But the distinguishing feature is its Bordeaux-style reds.
"This area is particularly suited to producing good red grapes,"
says Colio Estates winemaker Carlo Negri, whose 2002 CEV Reserve
Merlot won a gold medal and "Best Merlot" at Cuvée 2005
in Niagara-on-the-Lake. "The summer heat is similar to Niagara's,
but our growing season is at least 10 days longer and so the grapes
mature more slowly."
Negri, who was named ontario's Winemaker of the Year in 2005,
will retire next year after four decades. He has a word of caution
for those who trumpet pinot noir as Ontario's next great wine:
"My view of pinot noir [in Ontario] is that it must be a good
year. In poor years, you can have a decent cabernet franc or merlot,
but not a decent pinot."
Pelee Island Winery winemaker Jeff Kah presides over Ontario's
largest vineyard at 550 acres, providing impressive economies
of scale that result in lower prices. He says his winery is focused
on super-cleanliness and attention to detail in the production
area, and it too is expanding. "We were inspired by some of the
bigger Niagara wineries who have amazing tasting rooms," says
Kah, whose ambition couldn't have come at a better time.
John Fanscy is the affable giant spearheading the ambitious Viewpointe
Estates Winery in Harrow. With millions invested, he and his partners
are taking a bold bet that the area's time has indeed come. "We
want to position ourselves as the destination winery in southwestern
Ontario," says Fancsy. "At Viewpointe we're offering something
special - a winery experience, a cooking experience, or just a
great place to just hang out by the lake." The nearly-completed
complex features an impressive kitchen with a dazzling row of
frighteningly industrial-looking stainless steel stoves and a
large area for cooking-demo spectators. Viewpointe has also invested
in winemaking technology, like an automatic "de-leafer" - a useful
in a high humidity region where there's a danger of mildew and
diseases. And like Colio and Pelee Island Winery, Viewpointe is
experimenting with clones and rootstocks to see which perform
best, as well as a range of different grapes - auxerrois anyone?
So how is all this Erie activity translating in the glass? Check
out the Buyer's Guide on page 60, where David Lawrason profiles
some of the best quality and value wines of the region.