David Lawrason rounds up some of the best Ontario wines from off the beaten track
New Ontario vintners are planting vines in unlikely places and making wine that will warm your indie-loving locavore heart.
In the last five or so years, vineyards have popped up off the beaten track of Ontario’s wine circuit—in Norfolk County (Port Dover), Grey County (Collingwood) and the south of Prince Edward County (Milford). To adapt to the idiosyncrasies of their untested terroirs, trailblazing winemakers are trying out new types of grapes and growing techniques. For example, at the Coffin Ridge winery near Owen Sound, they’re planting hybrid vines, like Marquette and Frontenac, that are designed to survive -34°C winters. To accommodate a growing season that’s two weeks shorter than that of much of the rest of Ontario, the Georgian Hills winery near Collingwood plants early-ripening gamay. And at Burning Kiln, on an old tobacco farm near Port Dover, they’re drying ripe grapes in tobacco kilns to produce the big, flavour-rich reds that generally come from warmer climates. After a few years of experimentation, these small operations are now turning out intriguing, often very good wines, but because the LCBO doesn’t carry small-batch bottlings, you have to order them online or make the pilgrimage to the wineries. Here, nine bottles worth the extra effort.
$20 | Norfolk County | 88 points Six Norfolk County businessmen have built a compact, ultra-modern winery near St. Williams, and their chardonnays are a hit. This barely oaked edition has a classic, subtle nose of apple, honey and spice set in a smooth texture. Very well made. burningkilnwinery.ca
$23 | Norfolk County | 88 points Winemaker Andrzej Lipinski is crafting seriously big reds (for Ontario anyway) by drying grapes in former tobacco kilns prior to pressing. This red (named after the vineyard’s manager, Frank DeLeebeeck) is spicy and rich, with classic cab franc raspberry, herbal and leathery flavours. burningkilnwinery.ca
$17 | Grey County | 87 points Owen Sound surgeon Neil Lamont has planted 10 hectares on Coffin Hill, surrounded on three sides by the waters of Georgian Bay. This blend, comprising winter-hardy grapes geisenheim and prairie star, is zesty, grapefruit scented and mindful of New Zealand sauvignon blanc. coffinridge.ca
$19 | Grey County | 89 points An impressive, swarthy, almost syrah-like red from a hybrid grape created in 1989 at the University of Minnesota. It’s rich and berryish, with a bit of smokiness from aging in American oak. It shows a level of elegance that hybrids rarely achieve. coffinridge.ca
$16 | Grey County | 86 points The Georgian Hills winery is set on seven hectares of former apple orchards in the Beaver Valley near Collingwood. Cold weather grapes are a mainstay. This crisp, barely off-dry seyval blanc is the best bet. Pinot noir, pinot gris, chardonnay and riesling are in the works as well. georgianhillsvineyards.ca
$18 | Grey County | 88 points Due to early winters, the Beaver Valley has a short growing season. Georgian Hills solves the problem by planting early-ripening vinifera varieties such as gamay. The hot 2010 vintage has turned out a lovely, smooth yet vibrant pink wine with pure raspberry–sour red plum fruit and spice. Good focus and length. georgianhillsvineyards.ca
$30 | Prince Edward County | 91 points This is an impressive first effort from a vineyard with tough, gravelly soils. It’s a mature pinot with a meaty funk that burgundy traditionalists will love. It’s complex, smooth and concentrated, with smoky, brûlée barrel notes atop sour-cherry jam fruitiness. Drink now.
$17 | Prince Edward County | 86 points After six years, Half Moon opened a tasting room this summer. This powerful, dry, almost Alsatian-style riesling pours deep yellow. Its aromas of dried peach, candle wax and spice are reserved but complex. Needs pork dishes or breaded fish.
$25 | Prince Edward County | 87 points The windswept, thin-soiled Lighthall vineyard has produced many acclaimed Huff chardonnays and sparklers. Glenn Symons purchased and expanded the vineyard in 2008 and opened a winery this summer. This chardonnay is fine, slim, taut and mineral. Reminiscent of flinty chablis. lighthallvineyards.com
(Images: Illustration, Jack Dylan; Coffin Ridge, Rachel Wine; Georgian Hills, Erin Leydon)