Q&A: Ontario winemaker Richie Roberts on cool-climate winemaking and the joy of hard work

Q&A: Ontario winemaker Richie Roberts on cool-climate winemaking and the joy of hard work

Toronto Life Wine Club

Richie Roberts has been making wine at Fielding Estate Winery in Beamsville since 2007, with a focus on sparkling wines, vibrant whites and rosés and age-worthy reds. Three of Fielding Estate’s wines are featured this month in an exclusive subscriber-only edition of the Toronto Life Wine Club. We caught up with Roberts to talk about cool-climate winemaking, his favourite beers and the joy of hard work.

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What is Fielding all about?
Curtis Fielding and his wife, Heidi, run the day-to-day operations of the winery, and it really feels like you’re part of a family at the winery. Part of our mantra reads: “Working hard doesn’t feel hard.” It’s an atmosphere where collectively we’re giving it our all, and loving it, and the results are in the glass. Fielding is a family owned winery that is all about making accessible wines with great value.

What varieties do you focus on and why?
I like to think our focus is really on wine styles. That’s one of the beautiful things about Niagara, is that we do a number of wine styles well. Our primary focus is on traditional method sparkling wines, vibrant whites and rosés, and flavourful, age worthy red wines. We definitely have our favourites to work with, such as riesling, pinot gris, chardonnay, pinot noir and cabernet franc. We also work with some eclectic varieties that work well in Niagara, including viognier, merlot, gamay and syrah.

What are some of your favourites from Fielding?
The Sparkling Rosé is a really accessible wine for anyone, regardless of his or her drink of choice. The Estate Chardonnay or Estate Riesling from Beamsville Bench VQA are two varietals that define Niagara, from our own vineyards on the Bench. And the 2016 Chosen Fielding Estate Winery: It’s a blend of cabernet franc, syrah and cabernet sauvignon that will cellar well for a long time. It’s our boldest red wine, which we make exclusively in the warmest vintages—this is just the third bottling we’ve done.

What do you love about being a wine maker?
The seasonality of winemaking is really fantastic. You get into a rhythm where you associate everything going on around you in nature with what you’re doing. Spring is bud break and beyond. Summer is the growing season. Fall is the harvest. Winter is bottling.

Are winemakers a snooty bunch?
I think that we could easily dispel that myth by getting a bunch of winemakers together over a pint of beer! I’m very much a family guy. I love my career, but nothing means more to me than my wife Deanna and two daughters, Macy and Olivia. My idea of fun is hanging out with them by our pool on a summer weekend. And most winemakers I know are very much blue-collar, down-to-earth folks who just want you to enjoy their labour of love. They’re the polar opposite of snobs!

How does Canada stand up against the world of wine?
I think that Fielding and most other Ontario wineries have some fantastic values in the $20-$40 range. In that price range we’re making vineyard-driven, focused wines that would fetch more money almost anywhere else in the world. And they’re right here in our own backyard. Some of my colleagues in Niagara are making wines as good as anyone in the world—there truly is an abundance of amazing talent in our industry.

Is there a Canadian personality that you’d like to enjoy a glass of your wine with?
I’m a sports guy. Ron MacLean, for sure.

Can you name a few of your favourite Ontario wineries?
I hate to leave anyone out, there are so many. The classic bench wineries in Niagara that are making super consistent wines are probably my go-to choices: Cave Spring, Vineland, Thirty Bench, Creekside, Hidden Bench, Flat Rock and Tawse are all making fantastic wines that I’m always happy to drink. Our neighbour on the bench, Organized Crime—their winemaker Greg Yemen is making killer chardonnay. Kelly Mason at Domaine Queylus is making some really exciting stuff. Shiraz Mottiar at Malivoire is making truly amazing gamay and rosé. Two Sisters’ winemaker Adam Pearce’s portfolio of red wines is outstanding. And my good friend Wes Lowrey at Five Rows knocks it out of the park every vintage with all the wines he releases.

What will you be drinking this summer?
Anything light and vibrant with a lot of flavour. Niagara rosé and low-alcohol rieslings, crisp sauvignon blanc. Maybe a cider or a cold Balls Falls Session IPA from Bench Brewery here in Beamsville.

What’s your favourite farm animal?
The ostrich. My kids will get a kick out of that answer if it makes it to print. On a recent family road trip up the coast of California I made us stop at an ostrich farm, and I may have taken a bit of flak for it.

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