New Ontario Wineries 2012 – By David Lawrason


David Lawrason

The opening of new wineries in Ontario has slowed compared to the deluge in the late, pre-recession 2000s, but there are new ventures in all three established regions – Niagara, Lake Erie North Shore and Prince Edward County.

Rennie Estate Winery – Beamsville Bench

Rennie Estate Winery is a new label born in a joint venture between Angel’s Gate Winery and grower Graham Rennie, who owns Heron Pond Benchland Vineyard east of Beamsville.  Planted in 1998 this maturing fifty acre site is focused on classic bench varieties like chardonnay, pinot noir, cabernet franc, with some merlot and cabernet sauvignon as well.

“I knew the vineyard could produce classic chardonnay and pinot” says Rennie, “but I also wanted to do something different. I was actually visiting Masi in Verona, Italy, in October 2009 when I decided to try to make ‘appassimento’ reds from dried grapes in Niagara”. This is a growing practice in Ontario, which has conditions not dissimilar to northeast Italy. Rennie joins A Foreign Affair, Cave Spring, Colaneri, Burning Kiln, Organized Crime and Reif in this pursuit. Indeed, a VQA technical committee is discussing how to “regulate” the process.

Essentially, the drying or raisining of the grapes after harvest concentrates the sugar, colour and flavour compounds; with the potential of creating wines with higher alcohol and richer texture. Grapes can be fully dried as in Italy’s amarones, or partially dried, creating “ripasso” styled wines. The drying is done indoors where temperature and humidity can be controlled. The latter is crucial in preventing mould that would spoil the berries. So far different techniques are being studied in Ontario, and there is controversy whether rushed drying in tobacco drying kilns is as good for wine quality as longer drying at lower temperature.

Rennie’s joint venture with Angel’s Gate brought aboard winemaker Phillip Dowell, an Australian-trained winemaker with plenty of experience with big reds, as well as pinot noir (at Yarra Valley’s Coldstream Hills). Dowell has worked over a decade in Niagara as well, first at Inniskillin from 1998 to 2004, then at Angel’s Gate since 2006. He says he was initially against the idea of making appassimento style reds in Ontario, but he has changed his mind given the results he has encountered, and the option it provides to winemakers who are dealing with late ripening red varieties in Niagara’s short and variable growing season.

The first two appassimento reds from Rennie Estate are an intriguing, spicy, partially dried 2010 Cabernet Franc called Scarpa that will sell for $50, and a fully dried, very rich, creamy 2010 Merlot called Gaia that will fetch $75. I tasted them as barrel samples and will not review them until release. Futures orders are being taken for these wines (cases of six) now.

The sleek, elegant $30 2010 Chardonnay called Christine (named after Rennie’s wife) is my personal favourite in the portfolio, while the taut, tannic and savoury 2010 Pinot Noir called Paradox, is a wine needing a year or two in the cellar. The Chardonnay and Pinot Noir go on sale at Angel’s Gate on April 1st.