A common question that gets circulated among those in the Canadian wine business is, “How do we get more people to buy local?” Unfortunately, Ontario has one of the lowest purchasing habits per capita for local wine in the world. With such a young industry, it’s no surprise that a large demographic of buyers today are reluctant to give Ontario wine a second chance after tasting their grandma’s low grade version of Canadian wine.
However, after only 30 years of commercial wine growing, Ontario has made tremendous strides in quality. With winemakers and grape growers beginning to take a focused approach on site specific wines, (following suit with the rest of the world’s great wine growing regions), our wines are becoming so intricate and precise, that they are now on an even playing field with the best in the world.
Craig Wismer, of Glen Elgin Vineyard Management, has focused on growing premium quality grapes, and a term he coins “precision viticulture”. Working with 40 different wine producing partners, they work to bring out the best terroir of the Vineland Bench, a sub-region of the Twenty Mile Bench sub-appellation in Niagara. Although for most vineyards of this size it may be less conventional, Wismer says “early on we wanted that approach of multi-relationships. It drives attention to detail in the vineyard which drives the quality of the program.”
Wismer adds, “we have a genuine passion to try and deliver on demands from what they (producers) need in the fruit.” Because of this, he explains that single vineyard branding came along by accident. There was more focus on growing high-end fruit and fostering relationships with wineries, which in turn has developed a budding industry for high quality, single vineyard wines.
“Consistency is a main pillar of terroir and sustainability for Niagara vineyards.” – Craig Wismer
Several of the most elite wines to come out of the Niagara region were produced from grapes grown on Wismer’s seven farms. Producers like Bachelder, Leaning Post, 2027, and Cloudsley have worked with Wismer sourcing grapes from his vineyards to cultivate wines that represent the fullest potential of the land.
One of these “cru” vineyards in Niagara that fall under the Wismer umbrella include Wismer-Foxcroft. You’re likely to find this name on premium bottles of gamay, pinot noir, chardonnay, riesling, and cabernet franc. Wines from the Wismer-Foxcroft Vineyard stand out for their balance of power and elegance. Signature Bench acidity and edgy minerality to round out a supple structure. The white wines showcase complex palates with florality, and ripe yellow fruit. Red wines cultivated from this vineyard have bright red fruit, iron and wet stone tendencies. Both red and whites have considerable aging potential at the hands of the producer.
Black Bank Hill and Leaning Post wineries in Niagara showcase this vineyard with flavour-packed chardonnays of exceptional quality. “True Bench land, right in the heart of Vineland” is what Craig Wismer says sets this vineyard apart, in particular. The Black Bank Hill Chardonnay 2019 reveals a velvety and plush palate that cascades flavours of golden apple, walnut, candied lemon, cedar, and vanilla. Leaning Post 2018 Chardonnay from the Wismer-Foxcroft Vineyard displays golden apple, yellow plum, ripe nectarine, and creamed corn.
Both of these chardonnays translate the vineyard through chalky minerality, fresh, balanced acidity, as well as ripe fruit from the optimum sun exposure of its’ location. Wismer mentions, “It’s important to have six to eight producers making Foxcroft Chardonnay, then you can really start to get an understanding of that block.”
Cabernet franc is another variety that benefits from top tier sunlight on the bench. Vineland Estates and Mason Vineyard have outstanding examples of the varietal. 2027 Cellars and Black Bank Hill both produce a cabernet franc specifically from the Foxcroft Vineyard. The outcome of both versions is ripe, concentrated fruit, and a thorough structure which is uniquely attributed to the vineyard.
Another vineyard to keep an eye out for on labels that signifies an in-depth precision of Bench land is Parke Vineyard. The Parke Vineyard Pinot Noir from Cloudsley Cellars interprets this vineyard well by revealing earth and iron notes with impressive depth, a common thread in pinot noir from Parke.
Winemaker Thomas Bachelder has also included a focus on this vineyard in his pinot noir terroir pack. The Bachelder terroir packs are one of the best ways to explore the cru vineyards of the Bench for the wine wonderous. Bachelder’s Wismer-Parke ‘Wild West End’ Pinot Noir 2019 is a complex and harmonious balance of florals, earthy nuances, and serious fruit.
With Bachelder’s extensive portfolio of terroir driven wines, Le Clos Jordanne Le Grand Clos Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are Bachelder’s crème de la crème on the Jordan Bench in the Twenty Mile Bench sub-appellation. Both wines exude exceptional chalky limestone minerality and exciting complexity unveiling a sense of place from the bench. Winemaker Thomas Bachelder claims the Jordan Bench, arguably, has the top sites for pinot noir and chardonnay in Niagara.
Bachelder’s La Violette Terroir Pack navigates some Bench vineyards using the gamay grape. Wismer says “So many producers are making amazing gamay. It’s gone from almost being ignored, to a bright spot in the (Niagara) industry…It grows well, it crops well, and the wine is amazing.” It’s agreed by most wine professionals that gamay is making its way to be our next big signature grape with so many producers making serious gamay. And don’t sleep on our gamay rose either. 2027 Wismer-Foxcroft Gamay Rose is an example that brings forth every positive aspect that a wine can achieve in the balance between a great grape grower and a great winemaker using bench grapes.
With gamay being winter-hardy and well-suited to our Niagara climate, it seems to be a good building block to the Twenty Mile Bench terroir and sustainability for our vineyards. After another year of severe winter damage on the vines in Niagara, Wismer states – “It’s so clear cut this year which areas survive well and which don’t, and it’s very interesting how that plays into the similarities between our consistency and high-quality fruit.” He adds, “consistency is a main pillar of terroir and sustainability for Niagara vineyards.”
“We need to sustain the premiumization of single-vineyard wines – have the wineries receive and market them, and have consumers not just be able to have an understanding of the wine, but to understand the region and dial in on certain vineyards,” says Wismer.
With elite grape growers and producers now crafting premium wines in Ontario, the only thing left is to present and market to local consumers is the region’s capabilities, excellence and value. Will you be supporting local?