Throughout his 17-year career as a winemaker, Paul Pender helped make organic winemaking a cool concept in Ontario’s developing industry, telling whoever he could that “great wine isn’t made, it’s grown”. His sudden passing on February 3rd has prompted an outpouring of remembrance and affection.
Winemaking wasn’t part of Paul’s original career plan. A practicing carpenter, Paul left Toronto at the dawn of the 2000’s decade to have a larger piece of property – which he found in the Niagara region. He was able to set up his own little shop in his yard and just as he was beginning to settle into his new environment, he realized that he was becoming allergic to the dust and other solvents associated with wood working.
He needed to make a change but wasn’t sure what that was going to be until one night he was visiting with Daniel Lenko and was tasting Niagara-made wine. Paul remembered thinking “wow, people can make a living doing this?”
So, Paul decided to go back to school, choosing Niagara College’s Viticulture and Winemaking program to learn his new trade at. In 2005, he would get hired on in a co-op position at Tawse Winery – which had opened in 2001 – under then winemaker Deborah Paskus.
Niagara was experiencing a new wave of investment at the time, with 8-10 new wineries opening every year, including Hidden Bench, Flat Rock Cellars and Fielding Estates. Paul remembered thinking “it was an exciting time. We were all fascinated with the idea of making really great wine because we were better understanding our environment and how it relates to grape growing and producing quality wines.”
Paul would eventually become head winemaker for Tawse in 2006. An advocate of growing organically and eating organic food, he and his boss, Moray Tawse, discussed the idea of farming their wines organically. “The best wines in the world are coming out of organic vineyards,” he would say. “To be given free-reign to make that transition at Tawse (with Moray’s blessing) was a fantastic opportunity.”
The winery’s conversion to organics began in 2006, and by 2010, Tawse Winery received official EcoCert certification. Furthermore, under Paul’s leadership, Tawse achieved Demeter Biodynamic certification, which takes organics a giant step further.
“If we had fed our vines from above with fertilizers and other chemicals, we would definitely grow amazing grapes and make great wine, but they would have less a definition of terroir because the vines aren’t searching for nutrients in the soil, they’re being fed from above.” – Paul Pender
A champion for producing some of the country’s finest chardonnay, riesling, cabernet franc and pinot noir (along with many other varietals), Paul excelled at his craft. When asked what wine he loved making the most, he confidently replied “if I could only make one wine it would be pinot. It’s a pain in the ass, it’s so difficult, but everyone wants to make great pinot.”
Tawse was named Canadian Winery of the year in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2016. For himself, Paul earned the title of Winemaker of the Year at the Ontario Wine Awards in 2011.
On the afternoon of February 4th, Moray Tawse announced the passing of his close friend, saying “it is with deep sadness and heavy hearts that we inform you of the death of our colleague and friend Paul Pender. Paul died unexpectedly under tragic circumstances. We will all miss him more than words can express. He was not just our manager but our good friend as well.”
An outpouring of condolences from across the industry can be read on social media as people come to grips with the tragic news. Tawse himself, posted to his own social channels, saying “Last night I lost a brother, a mentor, a partner and one of the nicest human beings I have met. Over the last 17 years, we jointly built a vision to increase the quality and reputation of Ontario wines. Our family is crushed and will never recover from this loss.”
VineRoutes was fortunate to have been able to feature Paul Pender during a live virtual tasting experience last summer. He was so generous with his time, answering many questions and chronicling his journey throughout the last 20 years. You can watch the video, in its entirety, below.
Paul Pender was just 54 years of age. He leaves behind his wife and three children.