This series is dedicated to emerging and exciting new wine regions, perhaps not as well known or explored by the mainstream consumer. Our first entry focuses on Adamo Estate Winery, located in Mono, Ontario, north of Toronto.
When it comes to establishing the right place for a vineyard, one must understand the environment that surrounds the intended location. The sun, the rain, the air, and the soil all create a special and unique bond with the vines, and that should never be overlooked or misjudged. When that place is deemed a success, it’s like nowhere else on Earth. It becomes unique. And when we speak of wine, unique is a good thing.
Hockley Valley in Mono, Ontario – north of Toronto and nearly two hours away from the Niagara wine region’s most westerly sub appellations – may not seem like an obvious location to establish a winery. In fact, it’s nowhere near where one would think grape growing should thrive. But for Mario Adamo, this area proved to be more than just an ideal spot to try his hands at building a successful wine operation.
Adamo was born in Calabria, Italy, coming to Canada when he was 18 years old, and his career led him to where his passion for food could shine. In 1972, Mario and his wife Nancy started a thriving catering business, highly successful as a result of their reputation for high standards in both hospitality and tradition.
In 1985, Mario and Nancy discovered a 28-room inn on a parcel of land north of Toronto, in Orangeville, Ontario. To them, this was an opportunity to move their business and life to a location that really felt like home, and so Hockley Valley Resort was born. The resort’s reputation grew, as did its amenities, evolving into the 104-room full-service luxury hotel, spa, golf and ski destination it is today.
Adamo remembered the vine-covered hills of his hometown fondly, deciding that the hills of Hockley Valley could also be suitable for growing grapes. Though the region was not known for wine making, this didn’t deter him. He followed his instinct and in 2000, the Adamos purchased the 77-acre property beside the resort and planted some test vines with Mario’s late friend, Frank. Before long, those vines grew and became hearty enough for extended planting – and so, in 2015 Adamo Estate Winery was born.
Today, Adamo Estate Winery is a small-batch boutique winery with over 28,000 vines, focusing on organic and biodynamic practices. Starting with the best fruit from its estate, and from some of the top growers in Ontario, the winemaking team, led by Shauna White, are able to craft terroir-driven wines that fully express not just the area of Hockley Valley, but also some of Niagara’s most notable grape growing spots.
The 20,000 sq. ft. winery opened in fall of 2016 and includes a beautiful retail space and tasting bar, outdoor patio space with a large terrace, as well as event and meeting spaces overlooking the vines.
Adamo Estate Winery sits right on top of the Niagara Escarpment – which runs from Niagara Falls to Tobermory. Escarpment land is known for producing premium quality wines because of is glacial till soils that are rich with clay and limestone. It works for Niagara, and for Adamo, their property is no different.
“We sit at an elevation of 480 meters and we are equally far from the Great Lakes which means they have less of a climatic influence on moderating our temperatures,” says winemaker Shauna White, who joined the Adamo team in 2014. “This means we can get hotter during the day and cooler at night. We see about a five to eight degree temperature swing between us and Niagara on most days.” It also means the area gets colder in the winter and there’s always a breeze flowing through the vineyard. In fact, it is extremely rare not to have any wind gusting through the Adamo site.
There are three distinct blocks planted in the Adamo Estate vineyard – each quite unique from the other. Block 1 – Frank’s Corner is mostly sand and loamy with large deposits of limestone. Block 2 is mostly clay with a little bit of loam and is a much heavier structured soil. Block 3 is heavy clay where the chardonnay, gamay noir and pinot noir are planted and a mixture of clay and loam where the riesling is planted. Each distinct soil type has an influence on the growth of the vine and the flavours in the grapes.
“We have more noticeable acidity in our estate wines which helps make us unique from Niagara,” adds Shauna. “We practice organic viticulture and natural winemaking too. These practices are important to us for health; for the vines, the staff and guests visiting our property. It’s a personal belief too and was for the Adamo family as well. We have treated the property this way from the start.”
Shauna continues: “Natural wines are a fun and exciting way to challenge ourselves to be better, as we continue to learn and experiment in the winery.” And of course, there is the Italian influence. “We make and use appassimento in our wines as well.”
Grape varieties grown on site include chardonnay, pinot noir, riesling, vidal, merlot, cabernet franc and gamay noir. The idea is to keep producing an array of wines both homegrown and sourced from other growers to showcase Ontario’s differing terroirs and winemaking techniques.
“Mr A. knows that Ontario wine growing is far different to Italy and wants to express the best Ontario made wines possible with the best grape varieties of our site,” says Shauna. “He applied his old-world knowledge to make the best wines possible from Hockley Valley, an emerging and exciting place to be growing grapes!”
As their wine list continues to expand and shift around each year (there are currently 45 different bottlings listed on their website!) the team is still in exploratory mode. I had the chance to visit Adamo Estate Winery earlier this summer and met with Shauna who graciously walked me around the property before guiding me through a tasting of much of their portfolio.
Below is most of what we tasted. It should be noted that we tasted through wines from estate grown fruit and wines from which fruit was sourced from various Niagara vineyards. The reviews below are therefore divided up accordingly.
Wines from the Adamo Estate property, labelled as the ‘Estate Series’:
Adamo 2019 Estate Gamay Rose
This is the first vintage of this very satisfying and refreshing wine and just 33 cases of it was made. 100 percent estate grown fruit made from four year old vines. 10% alcohol (a major reason why this is so gulpable). There’s lifted red fruits including strawberry, sour cherry and watermelon that carry over onto the palate. It’s bone dry with crisp, sharp and clean acidity. Hard to resist. ($19.95)
Adamo 2019 Estate Vidal (Frank’s Corner)
A pretty nose of peach, nectarine, pineapple and grapefruit leap from the glass. It has that noticeable and distinct acidity that makes wines from Hockley Valley unique. A combination of citrus fruits and tropical fruits mirror the aromatics on the palate and it finishes with a welcoming acidic burst. ($19.95)
Adamo 2019 Estate Riesling
This is very concentrated with layers of exploding fruit and texture filling the mouth. Apples, peach, tangerine, apricot and lime zest are balanced by that hallmark acidity. It’s got tight focus, textured minerality and a long finish that is true to the place where it is grown. ($29)
Adamo 2017 Estate Chardonnay
Barrel fermented and aged for 10 months in 50% new French oak, this is an intense chard with elegance and structure. Focused, tight and fruit-driven on the palate, it reveals layers and complex flavours of apple, pear, plum, lemon and lime. ($31)
Wines sourced from Niagara properties, labelled as the ‘Grower’s Series’:
Adamo 2015 ‘Willms Vineyard’ Oaked Chardonnay
From the Willms Vineyard in Niagara-on-the-Lake, this wine is more rounded with a well-focused, full mouthfeel and pleasant orchard fruit aromatics. A medley of fruit flavours drives the palate; lemon and lime citrus and apple. There’s a distinct toasty oak influence and a wet stone, mineral core. ($26.50)
Adamo 2016 ‘Wismer-Foxcroft’ Vineyard Oaked Chardonnay
The differences between this – from the Niagara Escarpment based Wismer Foxcroft site – and Adamo’s Niagara-on-the-Lake single vineyard bottling from the Wilmms Vineyard are definitely noticeable. This is a more narrow wine with precise acidity and structure. There’s refreshing minerality and salinity that complement the fruit-driven palate of fresh apple, pear and citrus notes. There’s good oak support here too, which lends to the complex nature of this wine. ($26.50)
Adamo 2015 ‘Wismer-Foxcroft’ Wild Ferment Chardonnay
An all-natural wine that is both unfined and unfiltered, this chard is loaded with flavours of citrus, honeydew melon, refreshing minerality and slight salinity. It’s a very smooth and soft wine with vibrant acidity and a very lengthy finish. An interesting interpretation of the famed Foxcroft fruit. Will age 10+ years. A bit pricey at $96 a bottle.
Adamo 2016 ‘Huebel Estates’ Oaked Gamay Noir
A Juicy and savoury gamay with notes of underbrush, field berries, leather and dried cherries leading the way on a very structured palate. A versatile wine to pair with many styles of food from sweet to spicy and white and red meats alike. ($29.95)
Adamo 2016 ‘Lowrey Vineyard’ Pinot Noir
One of Adamo’s first successes was a 2013 pinot noir made with fruit harvested from the well-respected Lowrey Vineyard in St. David’s Bench in Niagara. This isn’t the old vines fruit. Rather, this is sourced from vines that were planted in 2008, so there’s a different feel to this vs. the fruit that was planted back in the 80s. Nevertheless, this is an elegant pinot with structural finesse to it. It’s very light in colour with a tight focus of flavours; sour cherry, strawberry-rhubarb and red currants on the forefront of the palate. It’s vibrant, energetic and fruit-forward. ($29.95)
Adamo 2016 ‘Parke Vineyard’ Pinot Noir
Made with fruit sourced from the Wismer-Parke vineyard (Thomas Bachelder also sources fruit from this site), this is a ripe and concentrated pinot that exudes flavours of cherry and raspberry fruit. A round mid palate holds the fort down with more red fruits, floral notes, forest floor and spice. An interesting compliment to the Lowrey Vineyard offering. ($29.95)
Adamo 2017 ‘Lowrey Vineyard’ Wild Ferment Pinot Noir
This is yet another interesting expression from a well-documented vineyard. Darker in colour, this is a wine with intensity and a tight focused palate from start to finish. There’s more core structure and complexity here with ripe, red fruits of cherry and cranberry on the forefront of the palate. Layers of firm tannins and structure fill the mouth and a mid-palate of toasty oak, dark cherry and baking spice. There’s some good grip that carries secondary characters of dried herbs, graphite and toasted cedar on the long finish. ($65)
Adamo 2017 ‘Lepp Embers Path’ Merlot
Right off the bat this wine seduces with enticing aromas of plum, black currants, toasted cedar, leather, fig and notes of tobacco. There’s blueberry, cherry and vanilla that continue to tantalize your senses. The palate is just as expressive, carrying a dark ripe fruit backbone along with depth and concentration. Earthy characters along with hints of cedar and tobacco round out the experience. There’s solid tannin structure and lingering flavours on the extended finish. No new oak was used here. All neutral barrels and aged for 18 months. Very well-made merlot, and at a price that’s hard to beat for the quality. ($34.95)
Adamo 2017 ‘Huebel Estates’ Cabernet Franc
Huebel Estates is located within the Niagara River sub appellation of Niagara-on-the-Lake and warmer temperatures of this particular site make all the difference in this very new world expression of cabernet franc. The palate is round and fruit focused with a long finish, making it very approachable and food friendly. ($34.95)
Adamo 2016 ‘Foxcroft Vineyard’ Cabernet Franc
The one major thing I noticed with this wine was tannins. This is one that can easily age in your cellar for another five years. This wine is loaded with fruit flavours of raspberries, blackcurrants and black cherries on the fore palate, which is then followed with blueberries, dried tobacco, violets and leather. Full bodied, with gripping tannins that gently coat your tongue. ($49)
Adamo 2016 Meritage
A blend of 53% cabernet sauvignon, 30.5% merlot, 15% cabernet franc and 1.5% petit verdot, this has welcoming hints of figs, toasted nuts, vanilla and subtle floral notes on the nose. The palate is packed with big and bold fruit flavours of blackberries, black cherries, blueberries, leather, vanilla and cocoa. It’s concentrated and ripe, full bodied, grippy and generously layered with structured tannins and fresh acidity. A hearty wine very much made to satisfy any premium level Bordeaux fan. One of my stand-out favourite wines of the year and sold at such a satisfying price point. Well done. ($45)