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Newsletter #251 - Ontario at the Crossroad (part 4): Specialization

02 Apr 2015

MichaelPinkusWineReview Newsletter #251

            April 2015

  • WineReview: Ontario at the Crossroad (part 4): Specialization

  • Grape Guy’s Picks of the Bunch: New and Noteworthy Wines

  • Bi-Weekly OWR UpdatesWine Videos, Blog Additions and more

  • Wine Event Spotlight:  See What's Going on in Wine Country

WineReview:  Ontario at the Crossroad (part 4): Specialization

Over the past number of weeks we’ve looked at different aspects of the Ontario wine industry and how in 2015 the industry truly is at a crossroads – be it privatization, grape pricing, the need for better cartography … today we’ll talk about another aspect of the industry that I’m sure many a winery has thought about, but still many do nothing about:  Specialization – namely: you have to be known for something.

If you think of all the wineries in Ontario that you can specifically remember for something, be it a grape variety they do well, limited or small lot wines, or something that makes them special, I bet you could number those wineries on both your hands and still have a few digits left over to count your memorable bottles.  Problem is, most wineries are afraid to limit their market by specializing in only one, or a few, grapes … the more wines you make the more likely you are to be something for everyone – it’s the shotgun approach to winemaking/marketing, as opposed to the rifle effect: a single well placed shot.

I’m not saying that each winery should pick one grape and make that exclusively, we’d be stuck with a very monochromatic wine industry … what I am saying is that you have to be known for something, or else, when it comes to the map we discussed last time, you’re just another name on the page.

Let’s take a couple of wineries for example.  In Prince Edward County (PEC) there’s a place called Hinterland – their specialty is sparkling wine, sure they’ve made a few still wines in their day, but sparkling wine is their bread and butter – and it’s what they are known for and do best.  Niagara has a number of wineries in similar situations:  Henry of Pelham has made a name for themselves with Baco Noir – yes they make all kinds of other wine, but Baco seems to be their calling card.  Cave Spring is a Riesling house, they have 7 or 8 different styles on the tasting menu every given year.  Thirty Bench is also known for its Riesling program, making single vineyard as well as a blended vineyard version.  Vineland does Riesling as well, but they are also a Cabernet Franc specialist, and as of later the only winery making a single varietal Pinot Meunier (red), which compares favourably to Pinot and Gamay Noirs. Lailey Vineyard has been a Chardonnay and Pinot producer since day one, but they are becoming known for their Syrah.  Coyote’s Run is playing the “different soil” game with as many of their varieties as they can (ie: Black Paw / Red Paw) … and let’s not forget the countless Niagara and PEC producers who have staked their farm on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  Malivoire started off as a Pinot and Chardonnay house but today their flag bearing wine is Gamay Noir – making three different versions; they found a small niche that was void of quality players doing it well and filled the gap.

A few of Niagara’s newest wineries are following the specialization model:  Westcott, 16 Mile Cellar, Bachelder (Pinot Noir / Chardonnay); Domaine Queylus (Pinot Noir); Two Sisters (Bordeaux Reds); KEW Vineyards (Sparkling)  - these wineries are making other things, but where they are trying to establish a reputation with a “calling card” wine or wines.

That’s all fine and dandy for a new winery, but what about those wineries that are established, what can they do to bolster a reputation that may be of the scattershot approach?  Find a hook:  be it small lot, single vineyard, vineyard designated, clonal difference … find your hook into the market, something that makes you special, different, unique.  Being growers for 50 years doesn’t cut it, but having the oldest Chardonnay in Niagara might.  The Vineland-Meunier mentioned above is a good example of finding a niche, and Malivoire has done a masterful job of putting themselves consistently above the pack when it comes to Gamay (sorry 13th Street).

One winery that took this bull by the horns, pulling off a complete transformation is Rockway Vineyards.  They took a program loaded with shabby wines that were, at best, barely drinkable and today have reformed their program, ushering in small lot, limited edition, and specialty block wines that really show something special; sure they still have their share of schlock, but if you’re a serious wine lover they now have something for you too.  Sure it’ll take time for the word to get out, but once it does it’ll be one of the major transformations in Niagara in quite some time ... as long as they have the fortitude to stay the path.

In the cacophony of wineries that are crowding and crowing to get their message out Ontario wineries have to learn to make a different noise to lure the already saturated Ontario wine consumer to their door.  Making a different noise isn’t always easy, but it does bring attention to oneself.

Which of course leads us to our next dilemma – how to get more people to consume Ontario wine.  That’s another piece of the pie which we’ll consume next time.


Grape Guy’s Picks of the Bunch:  New and Noteworthy Wines

16 Mile Cellar 2011 Pinot Noir, Rebel - $22.95 (W)
When I hear “recently reduced” it sets off alarm bells in my head … why?  Was it bad?  Is it going bad?  Not selling?  Is something wrong with the wine?  The something wrong here is restaurant sales – at $22.95 it brings the wine below the $20 mark for restos and that’s a more attractive sale price to them … and the consumer benefits as well.  Speaking of attractive this wine has some of that attractiveness in spades.  Nose is rather simplistic with its cherry and cranberry notes; but the palate is incredibly approachable right now with its cranberry, sour cherry and delicate spice rolling around with hint of violets and well-balanced acidity … delicate, lively and ultimately delicious – and above all well worth the money, even more so now.  Price: $22.95 – Rating: ****

Creekside 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, Undercurrent “Dripper Barrel” - $38.95 (W)
For a 2010 you’d expect this to be mellowing by now, but that is not the case here.  Aromas wrestle with the nose: big, dark and brooding fruit with cassis, black cherry and tobacco; flavours ride a wave of tannin grip with cocoa, black fruit, pepper and lots of brute force – after 31 months in oak none of this is surprising, this is a massive wine with plenty of time ahead of it.  Don’t be afraid to buy, lie and forget about it for a while.  Price: $38.95 – Rating: ****+

Ravine Vineyards 2012 Chardonnay - $25.00 (W)
A mere eight months in oak has given this Chardonnay all the attractive aromas and flavours Chard-lovers crave.  Nose is full of vanilla, apple and butterscotch, while the palate has plenty of fruit, namely apple, peach and pear though still delivers on creamy vanilla and butterscotch all balanced by a delicate, ever-present acidity.  Price: $25.00 – Rating: ****+

Rockway Vineyards 2012 Meritage, Small Lot - $19.95 (W)
Dominated by Cabernet Franc (53%) with the addition of 27% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon.  On the nose the red fruit just sings and dominates, but its backing vocalists are tobacco and vanilla, and they hum a very pretty tune.  Palate starts off with a silky smooth entry delivering a plethora of fruit along with oak, spice and vanilla … all this is balanced by acidity and the tannins keep all that fruit at bay – plus there’s an exceptionally good length on the finish.  The rejuvenation of Rockway’s wine program continues and we all benefit when they are making wines like this one. Price: $19.95 - Rating: ****

Strewn 2012 Merlot, Terroir - $32.00 (W)
2012 didn’t need too much fussing with, the wines of that vintage were almost gonna make themselves (as they say), winemakers just had to shepherd them along.  Here Marc Bradshaw used older French oak barrels for 19 months, which helped to soften the Merlot and let the fruit shine.  Aromas are laced with cassis, blueberry, and blackberry along with hints of cinnamon and vanilla.  The palate is richly full fruited, juicy and sexy with soft approachable tannins that play well with the gentle spice, hints of cocoa, raspberry and gobs of fruit … it’s a wine to sit and sip on while contemplating why life is so good to you.  Price: $32.00 – Rating: **** ½+

Thirty Bench 2012 Pinot Noir, Small Lot - $35. 00 (W)
Thirty Bench is not the first place you think of for Pinot in Niagara – and there are a number of reasons for that … one being they only have 2.5 acres of the grape planted (since 2000) and just started making it as a stand along wine in 2005; plus there are some great Pinot producers in Ontario and Thirty Bench’s focus has always been Riesling.  But Thirty Bench opened my eyes with their version of Pinot Noir in this vintage: the main reason is that it’s finally starting to taste like Pinot Noir should.  Aromas hit high notes with black cherry, smoke, fresh cranberry and hints of vanilla.  Flavours are all Pinot: fresh red berries including cranberry and sour cherry with a nice spicy seam which run right down the middle of the palate.  Great acid / tannin mix and a finish full of spiced-cranberry.  Quite possibly the best Pinot Noir to come out of Thirty Bench to date.  Price: $35.00 – Rating: ****

Availability legend:  W (Winery) – L (LCBO/Vintages) –  OL (On-Line).

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Bi-Weekly OWR Updates: Wine Videos, Blog Additions and more

The Weekly Wine Videos
Just as the name suggest … every week I'll introduce you to another fabulous Ontario wine that you've just gotta try – Check out the YouTube Channel Now

Regular Weekly Videos

Video #123 - Malivoire 2012 Cabernet Franc
Video #124 - Strewn 2012 Chardonnays

Subscribing to the YouTube channel by clicking here

Coming April 6 ... National / International wine videos brought to you by Schott Zwiesel

On the Road with the Grape Guy (blog)
(Trips, tours and tastings – join me as I review the highs, and sometimes, the lows)
Nothing New This Week - More Coming Soon

NEW - Taste it Again / Lost & Found (blog):  the two blogs have merged
(Find out what happened to some favourites and to those that never were tasted) 
Nothing New This Week - More Coming Soon

NEW NAME - Uncorked Tonight (blog)
When it’s not an Ontario wine, here’s what I’m pulling out of the cellar
New Posts Added

Vintages Release (blog)
April 4, 2015 - Vintages Report can be found here
April 18, 2015 - coming soon

Wine Event Spotlight: See What's Going on in Wine Country

County Character: Our Sparkling Personality … put on by the Ontario Wine Society - Prince Edward County Chapter.  Saturday, 18 April 2015 from 7:00 PM to 9:00 PM – details can be found here.

The Sake Institute of Ontario (SIO) is honoured to present the 3rd annual "Kampai Toronto", the largest sake festival in Canada. Showcasing over 120 of the best sake produced in Japan and North America. Every grade & style of sake will be presented, along with a myriad of appetizer-style foods courtesy of local Restaurant Partners.  Thursday May 29th - 6:30PM-9:00PM … The Historic Distillery District, 55 Mill Street, Toronto - Fermenting Cellar and the Thompson Landry Gallery.  More details can be found by clicking here.

5th annual Niagara Food & Wine Expo “serves up a world of flavour” May 1-3 at the Scotiabank Convention Centre in Niagara Falls, Ontario.  For more information on the Niagara Food & Wine Expo, please visit

Importing Wine for Pleasure & Profit Seminar … Saturday June 6th, 2015 (9:30 a.m.-4 p.m) at The Old Mill Inn & Spa, Toronto.   C. Steven Trenholme, a 30-year veteran of the international beverage alcohol industry, gives you the details on how to import wine, spirits and beer into the Ontario marketplace for personal use or as a career.  $325.00 includes seminar, material, lunch and 30 days of online consulting. Pre-Registration Required Contact -- C.S. Trenholme & Associates, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Get Fresh in the Valley … Join the Twenty Valley wineries this April as they celebrate spring. The Get Fresh in the Valley passport entitles you to sample new vintage and aromatic wines paired with fresh spring inspired dishes at 22 Twenty Valley wineries. As an added bonus, collect a recipe card at each winery to assemble your very own Get Fresh Spring Cookbook.  For more information and pairings click here!

OntarioWineReview’s bi-weekly newsletter is devoted to the love, enjoyment and promotion of the wines of Ontario and the wineries that make them.

What can the Grape Guy do for you … Michael Pinkus (Grape Guy) provides a variety of wine related services that you might be interested in taking advantage of:  he gives lectures, leads seminars, conducts tastings, sets up tours; consults, selects and judges.  He also gives interviews, broadcasts, podcasts and writes.  Contact the Grape Guy if you require any of these services or have any questions.

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