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Winemaker Profiles

Winemaker Profiles

Winemaker Interview – David Sheppard, Coyote’s Run Estate Winery

May 20, 2015
David Sheppard, Winemaker at Coyote's Run Winery

I have so enjoyed working on the winemaker’s series for the blog – and I
thank all of you who have been regularly reading! Your positive
feedback has encouraged me to continue with my interviews and I have a
number of features in the works.

Today’s interview is with David Sheppard of Coyote’s Run Estate Winery in Niagara. If you haven’t visited Coyote’s Run, I highly recommend it. With wonderful staff and beautiful grounds, their patio is a lovely place to sip a glass of their sparkling, Pinot (gris, blanc or noir) or Chardonnay. I was very interested in learning more about their winemaking process and especially their Red Paw/Black Paw vineyards – showcasing how different soil makes a huge difference in the same grape varieties.

Coyote's Run Winery Five Mile Red

Can you tell me a little bit about your history? Why did you decide to move from making wine in Germany to making wine in Canada?
I did get my start and my inspiration in Germany but I am actually born and raised in the Niagara region and am descended from a line of Sheppard’s who farmed in Niagara-on-the-Lake, so I was really just coming home to my roots.  I had a degree in environmental studies from the University of Waterloo prior to going to Germany and had every intention of pursuing a career in that field.

It wasn’t until I had exhausted my funds and needed work (even to be able to ultimately purchase return air fare) that I found work in a family-run winery.   The German family were wonderful to me and the work I found fascinating, all of which lead me to change my focus and pursue winemaking.

In my time in Germany I occasionally helped my German boss, Fritz, conduct tutored wine tastings on the cruise ships that sailed up and down the Rhein River.   A lot of the patrons of those tastings were English speaking people and so I could be of considerable help to Fritz.   It was on one of those tours that I met a couple from Ottawa who, when they found out that I was Canadian, said that if I wanted to pursue winemaking in Canada I should look up these two guys who had started the first new winery in Canada since prohibition.   On the inside of a matchbook they wrote the names Karl Kaiser and Donald Ziraldo from an upstart winery called Inniskillin.   Turns out Inniskillin was located a few kilometres from my home, so once I had returned to Canada I looked them up straight away, and to this day I remain grateful for the opportunity that they gave me.

Coyote's Run Winery Pinot Grigio

What inspired you to make the leap from Inniskillin to Coyote’s Run?
Over the course of the 21 years I worked at Inniskillin I got to be very familiar with our premium grape growers and the various vineyard sites that produced consistently top quality fruit.  One of those growers was a young guy (my age so I’ll call him young) named Steve Murdza who owned and operated the vineyard that is now the Coyote’s Run Estate Vineyard.   Steve was one of a select few growers who always had a keen interest in knowing what fate awaited his grapes after delivery to the winery.  He was truly a wine grower and not just a grape grower, and he had long dreamt of being part of a winery.   Steve had approached me about just such an idea, on what I already new to be a special vineyard site.   His timing was also good in that Inniskillin had been steadily growing into a part of a much larger and more corporate structure, and scaling back to something closer to my roots had great appeal.    Both Karl and Donald were very understanding and supportive and have remained great friends of mine since my move.   To this day I know that either one of them would help me out without a second thought.

Coyote's Run Winery

I find the Red Paw/Black Paw idea so interesting – other than the soil, do you find any other major distinctions between the two? Does your winemaking technique change for each?
What makes it interesting for me is utilizing the exact same winemaking techniques so that the soil/site speaks for itself in the wines.

What are you most excited about with your newest vintage?
The newest vintage (2014) by all accounts was marked by a challenging growing season (late start, early rains, cooler spring and early summer etc.).   I think early on a lot people had written off 2014 as being one of the poorer vintages.   As it turned out, the weather we desperately needed to salvage it was exactly what we got.   What excites me about all that in particular is the quality of the red wines as they are now shaping up.  I am always more impressed with the skill of winemakers who produce great wines in “lesser” years, and correspondingly am always more pleased with my own when I know what a challenging year it was.   We have all made some great wines in the “easy” years, but it is somehow more rewarding and exciting to do it in the tougher years.

Coyote's Run Winery

I have been talking to a lot of winemakers recently who are trying different styles or grape varieties. Are you experimenting with anything new or different in the vineyard right now?
We have been playing around a bit with our Pinot Gris from the estate vineyard blocks making a few different styles.   Last fall we let a few rows hang late in the season to get super ripe.   From those grapes we then made 2 different wines.  One, a traditional Late Harvest style wine with the natural residual sweetness, and the other,  a dry, barrel aged Pinot Gris in which the higher than normal sweetness fermented out to a higher than normal alcohol.  In the latter we were looking for a bigger, bolder texture and mouthfeel, without the residual sweetness.    Our 3rd style of Pinot Gris, from the grapes picked at the normal time and ripeness, we made in a lighter, more easy-drinking “Pinot Grigio” style.  (duly designated on the bottle as Pinot Grigio).

Winemaker Profiles

Winemaker Interview – Bruno Francois, The Old Third Winery

April 8, 2015
Jens and Bruno – Photo provided by winery

Whenever I’m in Prince Edward County, it’s hard not to stop by The Old Third Winery. The barn that Bruno Francois and Jens Korberg have refurbished is absolutely stunning and the wine and cider they produce are equally impressive.

Known for their unique style and daring choices—white Pinot, dry sparkling cider—The Old Third is not your average wine trail stop. Their white Pinot was one of my favourite wines of last year and I am eagerly awaiting their next vintage.

I was glad Bruno was willing to be the latest subject for the winemaker series so I could pick his brain about some of those choices. And I encourage you to check out The Old Third’s new blog, which chronicles their adventures in winemaking, food and interior design. Jens incredible photography skills are on display (he also designs the winery’s lovely labels) and it’s always an inspiring read.

Why did you decide to start a winery in Prince Edward County – what drew you to the area? My partner came here in the dead of winter having heard of the potential of the region. We fell in love with the place immediately.

You have tried some very unique wine styles – such as your white Pinot – why have you opted to do things that are somewhat unexpected?

Well, I believe my soil is suited for red grapes, which is why I have both Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc planted.  The French have been making whites from Pinot Noir, both sparkling and still, for quite some time. It can be a challenge to press ripe Pinot Noir and get a white wine and not a rosé but I like a challenge! And I certainly believe in the quality Pinot Noir can give, both as a red and a white.

Your cider is another very unique endeavour – it’s very different than what most expect from cider. What inspired you to try a dry, sparkling cider? What has the reaction been?

I have been amazed at the reception my cider has gotten. My grandfather produced cider in Normandy, so it felt right that I should continue my family tradition. The apple can express terroir every bit as much as the grape and so I make it the same way I  make all my wines. Single vineyard (or orchard) and single varietal. Cider should be given the same respect wine has. So, I suppose I didn’t really decide on a style as much as just do what I do already.

This has been a tough winter – do you have any concerns about the vines?

None, we bury our vines. I am worried for our colleagues down in Niagara and Lake Erie North Shore, however.

Is there anything you’re very excited about for 2015?

Yes, we have great wine to sell!

Be sure to plan a visit to The Old Third the next time you are in the County

Winemaker Profiles

Bill Hardy – Spotlight on Hardys Wine

March 25, 2015

I recently had the opportunity to attend an event with Bill Hardy of Australia’s Hardys wine. Bill is the fifth generation of his family to continue the tradition of making Hardys wine, a company that was founded in 1853 by Thomas Hardy and has a long and storied history.

Bill Hardy, who trained in Bordeaux, no longer makes wine for the company and now travels the world as an ambassador for the wines, a role he is more than suited for. During our chat and his speech that evening, his passion for the wines shone through.

Hardys is a huge operation, there are 2 million glasses of Hardys wine drunk every day around the world! They have more than 50 winemakers on staff and have vineyards all over Australia. In our conversation, I asked Bill about whether, given this level of success, they experiment much with new or different styles. He said that they do and they are currently looking at working with more Spanish wines, as they see potential for those grapes in an Australian climate.

We also spoke about grapes native to Australia. While there aren’t many to speak of, he had heard about one and would love the opportunity to experiment with it. Having recently read The Wild Vine about the Norton grape, the only native vinifera in North America, I couldn’t help but be fascinated by the idea of an Australian wine grape and what that might taste like. Perhaps one day fans of Hardys will find out.

Bill spoke quite a bit in his speech about why Hardys tends to do more blends than some wineries. The company likes to find wines that really complement each other and use “the magic of tinkering” to make them special. He feels that blending two or more varieties can create a more complex wine.

For myself, I saw this to be true in Hardys Chardonnay/Semillon blend—on its own, this might be a fairly straight-forward value Chardonnay (it retails for $9.99), but the Semillon added a bit of character and made for a much more interesting wine. I’ve actually started keeping a bottle of this on hand, as it’s a very good value bottle.

The Shiraz Sangiovese was another good blend, making what Bill considers a very food-friendly wine. I’m inclined to agree and this was another popular bottle at the tasting.

If you have the opportunity, take some time to learn about the history of the Hardy family and their winery. This was such an interesting part of the evening for me—Thomas Hardy came to Australia with 20 quid in his pocket and started making wine, the winery burned down years later and they started over again. Then, in 1938, Tom Mayfield Hardy (third generation at the winery and then managing director) was killed in a plane crash and his widow, Eileen Hardy, took over running the winery. She is a fascinating woman who led a winery at a time when this was not the norm at all—and she is now the namesake of Hardys premium Eileen Hardy wines. I couldn’t find a book on this story, but I hope someone is working on one now, it would certainly make for a page-turning read.

Bill Hardy’s overwhelming passion for wine, and Australian wine in particular, is evident when you speak with him. I left the event feeling like I had learned much about the wines of the region and about the art of wine blending. An evening well spent.

Thanks to iYellow Wine Club for the opportunity to attend this event.

Winemaker Profiles

Winemaker Interview – Glenn Symons, Lighthall Vineyards

March 11, 2015
Photo provided by The Cellar Sisters

I have never been shy about my love of Lighthall Vineyards’ Progression sparkling wine and, in general, I’m a pretty big fan of the wines Lighthall makes. Winemaker Glenn Symons has created something very special in his corner of Prince Edward County – even his own Lighthall brand cheese – and I am thrilled he agreed to be the next winemaker profiled in my ongoing interview series.

Why did you decide to become a winemaker? How did you study winemaking?
I’ve been passionate about wine since I was “legally” allowed to drink it, and have been a home winemaker for 25 years now.  I’d always wanted to get into winemaking on a larger scale, and when I divested from pharmacy operations, I finally had the opportunity to do so.

In terms of formal academic training, I didn’t have any at the outset. However, when I purchased the vineyard from Alice and Peter Menacher early in the 2008 growing season, they agreed to stay the remainder of the season to allow me to learn how they had been looking after the vineyard.  In exchange, they kept the harvest from that year, which they sold to Huff Estates (as in previous years).  At harvest time, I went to Huff along with the fruit, and worked the entire harvest with Frédéric Picard, the winemaker at Huff, where I learned to adapt my knowledge from small-scale to more commercial-scale winemaking.  Since that time, I have been studying and working towards a winemaking certificate through distance education at UC Davis.

Was it hard to change careers and take on this new challenge?
It had always been my ultimate dream to end up at an estate winery, so I was quite motivated from the beginning with the career change.  It has been a tremendous challenge keeping up with a huge learning curve, as well as the variation in vintages and growing seasons.  From a lifestyle perspective, it’s entailed many more hours than I expected as well.  Overall though, I have no regrets whatsoever!

What have been the biggest challenges of winemaking in PEC and what have been the biggest successes? 
The winters in PEC are most definitely the most difficult challenge.  The protection of the vines through burial was difficult to get a handle on, but after six winters I’ve learned a lot.  The cold in winter can be variable, and seems to have the single greatest impact on potential yields–if they are not ALL perfectly buried, the yields in the following vintage can be next to negligible.  Add to that the year-to-year variation in climate, rainfall, humidity, disease management, it’s all a very delicate juggling act.

Personally, my biggest success is the 2014 vintage – after the coldest winter since I’ve been here, we had a very slow start to the season, but the stars aligned in the spring when we avoided the dreaded late frost as well as rain during flowering, and we had a record-breaking fruit set.  Although the summer itself was not quite warm enough, we had a perfect fall – hot and dry weather brought the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir through to the fullest ripeness I’ve experienced, with the best yields to date.  The final hurdle will be to bring the 2014 wines to bottling without messing them up – I think my seven years’ experiences at Lighthall Vineyards (LHV) have taught me what works and what doesn’t work in the winery, and I’m confident the 2014 wines will be my best since the beginning.

The Muté fortified dessert wine is so unique – how did that come about? 
The Muté arose from a bumper Vidal crop in 2011.  The yields were more than expected, and after regular harvest for the Progression that year, I still had 30% of the fruit left on the vines.  Unsure of what to do with it, it stayed on the vines through to the end of December.  Over the Christmas holidays, my kids were struggling with keeping busy, and I decided New Year’s Eve to put them to work in the vineyard.  We harvested what was left, with a few friends, and the resulting juice I had destined for a late harvest product.

Once in tank, I felt the juice tasted very familiar, but I couldn’t put my finger on what it reminded me of until I got home that night. I had some Pineau des Charentes as an apéritif before dinner, and it hit me – that’s what the Vidal juice tasted like. So rather than fermenting the newly pressed juice, I had some old wine that I didn’t want to market which I got distilled by my friends at Still Waters Distillery in Toronto. I used the distillate to fortify the Vidal juice, turning the juice into “Pineau du County” as it were, aged it in old Chardonnay barrels for a year, then released it.  Although it is significantly different from authentic Pineau des Charentes, there are striking similarities.  Every glass I have brings me back to that day!

What should people be most excited for in the coming vintage?
From LHV’s perspective, although the 2014 vintage was slow to start, and almost stalled mid-to-late season due to lack of heat units, the fall caught us up, and led to what I would consider the ripest as well as most voluminous harvest to date.  The Chardonnay and Pinot Noir have developed never before seen depth and expression of varietal and terroir characteristics.  At harvest, the sugar and acidity levels were in perfect balance.  I think that after proper aging, the 2014 wines should be the most PEC-terroir-driven, classic examples of what Chardonnay and Pinot Noir can give us, with unequaled balance.  And the prices should not increase, as the yields were superior as well.  2014 should be the best value-for-money vintage on record.

Want to learn more about Lighthall Vineyards wine? Stay tuned for an upcoming post on how Glenn’s Progression sparkling wine came to be.