Browsing Tag

Ontario’s Southwest

Winemaker Profiles

North 42 Degrees Winery

September 27, 2016
The award-winning wines of North 42 Degrees are worth a visit to Lake Erie North Shore.

When we rolled into North 42 Degrees Winery on our recent trip to Lake Erie North Shore, it was obvious that things were growing here – not only on the vines, but on the construction site right beside the current winery space. Workers were busily working on a new building, which will house the winery’s new restaurant and tasting room (slated to open in November, 2016).

North 42 Degrees winemaker Martin Gorski.

Photo by Doug Lowson – supplied by winery.

Inside the current building, the production area is big and clean, with a lovely lavender shop tucked into the corner and a small tasting bar just on the other side. Serenity Lavender helped support the owner’s winery dreams while the vines matured and is still a major business consideration for owners Martin Gorski and wife Suzanne Dajczak. They have big plans for their winery and the new building is the next big step.

They planted their vines in 2007 and have been working tirelessly to develop these European varietals into great Ontario wines. Martin believes the soils of Lake Erie North Shore, which have a lot of sand and hold moisture well, are a key driver to the regions grape-growing prowess and he’s been very pleased with their crops thus far.

They have six varietals planted now and he’s considering others. When he and Suzanne started looking into planting a vineyard, they travelled extensively and did extensive research into what would grow well in the region. His attention to detail shouldn’t be surprising, as Martin has a background in biology and worked both in science and the industrial sector before deciding to go back to his roots (he’s a third-generation farmer from Harrow) and become a winemaker. He studied winemaking at Washington State University when he set upon his new path and looked at how he could combine his background in science and farming into making great wine.

Lavender soap from Serenity Lavender.And while he’s certainly on the right track with that, he says he still considers himself a grape grower first and foremost. “I do whatever the grapes dictate, he says. “Whatever the year is yielding, is how I make the wine.” This decision to be terroir-driven and really listen to the grapes mean that soil, weather and all the elements that affect the region really have an impact on the wines – so one year he will have a very New Zealand style Sauvignon Blanc (2013) and another a very French style (2012). It’s the magic of vintage variation that can be both exciting and stressful for every winemaker, but being able to go where the grapes take you is an important winemaking skill.

Choosing the right vines for the region was also critical, and Martin looked for aromatic clones and open clusters based on his research of the area. He felt cluster openness would be key given the concerns in the region about disease resistance and the need to battle the humidity (rot and mold are common issues local winemakers cite, though most, like Martin, have developed strategies to counter this). He has also been looking at different ways to fertilize his crops, using liquid fish to add more nutrients to the soil and experimenting with liquid kelp. I ask if using liquid fish means his wines aren’t vegan, and we both ponder this – given that it’s in the fertilizer, we decide it’s likely still technically vegan, but I have to smile later when I recall the conversation – this is truly the stuff wine nerds like us revel in.

When it comes to making the wine, Martin uses traditional fermentation techniques as much as possible and designed the winery for gravity flow. He’s also embraced micro-oxidation over barrel aging, which is a unique decision. He hasn’t had much to work from in developing his technique, save for a PhD dissertation he found on how to do it, but it’s come together nicely so far and he’s looking forward to further experimentation.

Grape vines at North 42 Degrees Winery.Right now, he has his hands full as he prepares for the upcoming harvest while managing the construction of his new building. The restaurant will be a nice addition to the winery and will have beautiful views of the vineyards. Martin shows us the plans and he talks excitedly about how it will improve the property. It will certainly make it a destination – the lavender shop will remain, but will be more separated from the tasting room and the restaurant will give tourists a great new option in the region.

Well-situated along the wine route in Lake Erie North Shore, North 42 Degrees is perfectly located for wine touring and the wines are very good. This is clearly a winery where craft is a factor and Martin’s attention to detail, his passion for growing good grapes and his willingness to experiment with new techniques all combine to make this a must-visit for wine-lovers. I’m excited to see how North 42 Degrees and their wines develop in the years to come.

Wine Travel

The Wineries of Ontario’s Southwest

June 25, 2016
Oxley Estate Winery from Ontario's Southwest

The second annual OSW in the City event was a great success this year. The iYellow Wine Club produced bash brings together the best of the wine, food and beer from Ontario’s Southwest. Shawn and I very much enjoyed trying some fantastic food (the perch taco from The Combine restaurant in Norfolk is the best fish taco either of us has ever had) and tasting through some of the region’s wineries. We chatted with three different wineries during the afternoon session and what we learned gave us three more reasons to visit the area again soon.

Oxley Estate Winery Wowza White BlendOxley Estate Winery

Located in the Lake Erie North Shore (LENS) region, Oxley is a labour of love for Murray and Ann Wilson, who turned their farming backgrounds into wine success after transitioning from corporate careers. They did copious amounts of research before choosing LENS and have loved the process of turning their passion into a bustling business. While Murray still works part time in his hockey business, they have both dived into winery life, experimenting with different grapes and spending time chatting with customers in their tasting room. Ann runs the winery, while Murray handles the cellar and field, where he has grown to love the process. “You can manage the vision from conception to implementation,” he says with a smile, noting that they have a hand in every aspect of the production from grape to consumer.

Both of the Wilsons’ love interacting with people who are passionate about wine and who share their interest in viticulture, so Oxley is perfect for them. They have had their share of struggles with the weather, as have most winemakers in the region, and they have been experimenting with hearty hybrids and outside the box vinifera to grow alongside their more traditional grapes.

One such grape is Regent, which Murray explains is considered vitis vinifera and is more disease-resistant and more amenable to the weather there. Even after a recent polar vortex, their Regent survived. While he didn’t have any for us to try, he says the unique flavour and texture isn’t perfect for a single varietal wine, but they are having good results with blending it with Merlot. “It’s a fun grape to work with,” he says. “It has an inky, dark colour… it looks like Barolo and when you put it in your mouth it’s a bit thinner.”

Oxley did have four wines on hand to try, including their light and refreshing Wowza while blend, their rosé (lots of apple on the nose and palate), the earthy Cabernet Franc and the Cabernet Franc/Pinot Noir blend and the flavourful Cabernet Merlot blend. Visit Oxley Estate Winery at 533 County Road 50, Harrow, Ontario.

Burning Kiln Wines from Ontario's Southwest.Burning Kiln Winery

Shawn and I have been looking forward to visiting Burning Kiln for a few years now and we enjoyed this opportunity to taste through a few of their wines and chat with representative Emily Shoff. The winery, which is housed in an old tobacco farm, is well-known for their popular and well-priced wines, as well as their unique and beautiful space. They have taken their tobacco heritage and infused that history into the name of the winery and the wines, while developing into a hot spot for tourists and locals alike. Their partnership with neighbouring Long Point Eco-Adventures has led to several unique wine touring options, like their “Zip and Sip” tours.

Emily explains that when the owners were transitioning away from tobacco, they went to Brock University to see if the land was viable for grape vines. They area is known as “Ontario’s Garden,” so they knew that there was lots of potential for agriculture, but weren’t sure wine grapes would work in the region. After studying the land, Brock assured them that grapes were a viable option and the Burning Kiln team set about planting several acres of vines.

A boutique winery working in an artisan style, Emily explains that Burning Kiln is focused on reflecting the story and history of the land in the wines they make in order to honour the tobacco farmers that came before them. Visit Burning Kiln Winery at 1709 Front Rd, Saint Williams, Ontario.

Muscedere Vineyards Riesling from Ontario's Southwest.Muscedere Vineyards

I fully admit to butchering Muscedere Vineyards name every time it slips off my tongue, but given how good their 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon is, I will have to practice pronouncing it. The family-run vineyard, located in Essex County, was planted in 2002 and opened in 2006. They have 12 acres planted and produce 2500 cases a year of primarily vinifera (they also make a Baco Noir). The wines are all hand-harvested and reflect the region’s unique terroir.

Chatting with Melissa Muscedere, it’s hard to believe she wasn’t initially interested in working in the wine industry. The youngest child in the family, she was too young to really care much about wine when her brothers talked their father into opening a winery upon his retirement. Her dad works harder than ever now, she says with a chuckle, and after finishing her degree, she felt the pull to return to become a part of the family business. Chatting with her as we taste through the family’s Riesling, Merlot and that delicious Cabernet Sauvignon, it’s easy to see that she has become a passionate and dedicated spokesperson for the family business.

With a wood-fired pizza oven operating on their patio over the weekends, Shawn and I hope to have the opportunity to visit this summer and enjoy a glass of wine while overlooking their vines. Visit Muscedere Vineyards at 7457 County Rd 18, Harrow, Ontario.

Have you spent any time in Ontario’s Southwest? What were your favourite wine and food adventures? Share them in the comments or on social.

Winemaker Profiles

Quai du Vin Winery’s Jamie Quai – Winemaker Profile

November 2, 2015

On our recent visit to Ontario’s Southwest, Shawn and I had the pleasure of stopping in at Quai du Vin Estate Winery, where we were impressed with the beautiful grounds and the enthusiasm of winemaker Jamie Quai. It was hard not to be taken in by his sheer passion for making wines in the region.

And the wines he makes are quite interesting – a mix of vinifera and hybrids that are very expressive of the region and tailored to meet the needs of his clientele. I was happy to pick Jamie’s brain a little further about why he makes wine and what influences his winemaking choices. I hope you’ll enjoy my latest winemaker profile.

Why did you decide to become a winemaker? What do you think drew you to the profession?

I’m at the beginning of what I hope will be a trend of second generation winemakers, grape growers and vignerons. The Ontario industry is so young that quite a few of the pioneers of the modern industry are still active. I had the good fortune of actually growing up in the vineyards. This was not a career I came to after too much searching.

Quai du Vin Estate Winery in Ontario

To be more specific; I decided this was the career direction I was going to take somewhere around grade 11 or 12. As it turned out, language classes were not my strong suit, I had no talent for music or art, and several wise guidance counselors pointed out that there was “little future in history.” It turned out that I loved and thrived in mathematics and the sciences. Ultimately, it was the realization that a job in wine would let me be a working scientist that drew me into the family business.

Truth be told, I disliked this industry as a young person. To me a winery was where my allowance came from, summer jobs, etc. On top of that, I saw the daily challenges, not the romance. Imagine being a child in a world that doesn’t deal with children (under 19 at least). Imagine not being able to wear your family business shirt at school because it promotes alcohol, or not being able to go with your parents to “take your kid to work day.” I really had to near adulthood before I felt drawn to the industry.

Quai du Vin Estate Winery

How have you found making wine in Ontario’s Southwest? What unique challenges do you face because of the terroir?

I love making wine in the North Shore of Lake Erie and Ontario`s Southwest. I describe it to students I’ve taught at CCOVI (Brock University) as “frontier winemaking.” After over a decade of vintages in a frontier region, I have a difficult time imagining what I would do with the relative comfort of being in an established region. Not to minimize all the hard work of those vignerons in an established region, but there is a whole different level of challenges that one faces as a frontier winemaker.

Here’s a relatively benign example of what I mean to illustrate my point: There are no major winery supply companies within a two hour drive of my farm. That means harvest needs must be planned out thoroughly when you are frontier winemaking. One cannot simply pick up that replacement part, or yeast or aid on the way from home to the winery.

When it comes to challenges of terroir, the biggest issue we in Ontario’s Southwest contend with is our own expectations of what is “normal” for Ontario. What we, as an industry, take as terroir gospel, is based on the whims of Lake Ontario (makes sense since that’s where the action is). Both Niagara and Prince Edward County terroir are driven by Lake Ontario. Despite both being Great Lakes, and the relative proximity of our regions to each other we must always remember that Lake Erie is not Lake Ontario.

Our season tends to start later than Niagara, our autumns tend to be warmer (on average). We’ve, anecdotally, had less issues with spring frost. There tends to be much greater seasonal variability from one vintage to another (our highs are high and our lows can be low). If we based our grape growing tasks around what Niagara growers are doing that day, we would fail miserably. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been on Twitter or Instagram and seen colleagues doing tasks weeks ahead of where our vines are developmentally. None of our challenges are unique – it’s just about perspective.

One great thing about our terroir, relative to Niagara, is that because of our similar continental climates and our delayed start to the season, Niagara tends to see disease outbreak first. They are my canary in the coal mine for mildew and pest pressure.

Vineyards at Quai du Vin Estate Winery

What do you think has been your best vintage thus far?

I’ve been making wine professionally my whole adult life. I break vintages into two categories: vineyard vintages and cellar vintages.

I’m going to exclude the obvious vineyard vintages from my mind (2004, 2007, 2010, 2012). Those were tremendous years for us, but I’ve started to think that those wines were mine to (potentially) screw up. Absolutely anyone could make great wines in those years. They were too straightforward to be my best (it may be semantics, but I’m differentiating between THE best and MY best).

I’ve come to really respect the cellar vintages. One of the pillars of quality is consistency. And a winery that can make consistently great wines, even in off-years (because of their great team), is where consumers should put their money. Cellar vintages need extra coaxing, and more and more they need patience. Off years take longer to show their true potential.

After thinking about this question for a while, and I think my best vintage would be 2011 (It was a toss up with 2008).

What grapes do you think grow best in Ontario’s Southwest and why?

Being part of a multi-generational wine business has given me some great lessons on what potential Ontario’s Southwest has to offer. Odds are, we’ve tried it, or know someone who has.
I see my role in the timeline, to narrow down some of the varietals we grow and put energy into helping realize the grapes fullest potential.

Here are four grapes that I see as the foundation of our region, and three that I have difficulty imagining as cornerstones of Ontario’s Southwest – these are only in the order they occur to me, by no means ranked.

  • Riesling. This grape just has it all. It has shown itself to really thrive in our soils, with our winters, and in our growing seasons.
  • Chardonnay. Definitely on the leaner side. This grape has proven itself, though some work by vignerons is needed to help the wines best express themselves.
  • Cabernet Franc. It does very well in our winters, we get the heat to ripen it properly. Much like Chardonnay, this grape just needs a little coaxing to realize its fullest potential.
  • Hybrids (a cheat since its more than one grape). We have vines dating back to the early 1970s of Vidal, Seyval, and newer plantings of Foch and Baco Noir that are creating some truly fantastic every day wines. These wines are responsible for some of the strongest brand loyalty we enjoy. I lose more sleep over Vidal then I do over Chardonnay almost every year

On the con side:

  • Pinot Noir (blasphemy, I know). We’ve tried it here and I’ve had lots of examples throughout the region. Many were tasty, most were good, none were great, and the word exceptional isn’t even a descriptive consideration. I don’t think this area is the best place for Pinot Noir in the province. And that disheartens me as a Pinot lover.
  • Sauvignon Blanc. Our winters just get too cold.
  • Cabernet Sauvignon. This goes back to the highs and lows comment earlier. I only see great potential in Ontario’s Southwest Cabernet Sauvignon maybe three of every 10 years. Those three are amazing, but one really has a challenge building a brand on that level of success.


2014 Maple Dessert Wine at Quai du Vin Estate Winery

What advice do you have for those hoping to pursue winemaking in Ontario?

Be a well-rounded person. Having taught at Brock University for almost 10 years now, I can say almost without fail, those who have succeeded in this industry were well-rounded people. That means being: intelligent, practical, friendly, worldly, possessing strong communication skills, strong work and personal ethics, being literate, possessing some humility, having interests outside of wine, and being open to the possibility that you could be wrong.

Centuries ago, a general would lead their army into battle. The soldiers drew strength from seeing their leaders. It’s only a recent affectation of battle that the general is out of harm’s way behind the theater. Find a winery whose leaders rally their teams in person, and learn from them. Find leaders who are the first one there and the last one out, and learn from them. Find a winemaker who is willing to walk into their tasting room to answer even the simplest customer question, and learn from them. You learn more about winemaking by working alongside great leaders, than you ever do from a drop-in consultant, elusive boss, or detailed work order.

Thanks so much to Jamie for this open and candid remarks about what it’s like to be a winemaker in one of Ontario’s emerging regions. Want to try his wines? You should! You can visit him at Quai du Vin Estate Winery in Ontario’s Southwest.

Wine Travel

Ontario’s Southwest – Exploring the Wine Trail

August 31, 2015

Shawn and I are walking through the grounds at Bonnieheath Estate Lavender and Winery on a beautiful August afternoon. We pass the regal old oak tree, meander past the prairie grass, the wetlands and the rows of grape vines and lavender plants. It’s hard to believe that not long ago, this beautiful oasis was a tobacco farm. For owners Anita and Steve Buehner, I sense relief that they have been able to move past those tough years, when the tobacco farm went out of business and they didn’t know what the future held. Now, with a retail store stocking their wines, cider and lavender products, with a beautiful patio overlooking the fields and a wedding-ready gazebo, Bonnieheath is bursting with potential.

Bonnieheath Estate Lavender
The vineyard at Bonnieheath

Potential is a word that comes to mind often as Shawn and I visit Ontario’s Southwest (as guests of their tourism association). The beauty of the area is undeniable – fields of green line the highways and the local produce is flush with flavour and freshness. Amidst those crops of corn and berries, winemakers have started to pop up, first making fruit wines and now many of them adding hybrids and vinifera to their crops. The wines of Ontario’s Southwest are still in the early stages, but the area is emerging as another viable area for winemaking in the province.

Bonnieheath Estate Marquette wine

We begin by tasting through the wines at Bonnieheath – the Marquette and lavender icewine are the most impressive and the Don’t Count Your Chickens white blend is a refreshing surprise. They are concentrating on hybrids, as their terroir suits it best.  I’ll hear a lot about the unusual May frost on this visit, which wiped out most of Bonnieheath’s apples and was a reminder of how challenging it is to grow vinifera in Ontario or other cool climate regions. They are also concentrating on cider—the last bottling is all sold out, so Shawn and I sip tank samples and can see why it’s so popular. It suits Bonnieheath and I suspect it will once again be a big seller.

Blueberry Hill Estates Winery
Outside the front door at Blueberry Hill

From Bonnieheath, we turn the car towards Blueberry Hill Estates, where we meet with Amanda Allison for a tour of this meandering blueberry farm. They grow 13 different types here, and sell them at their on-site farmers market. They also sell some of the best blueberry and butter tarts around. Their café is set to open soon and they continue to add animals to their growing farm. But it’s the wines that have brought us here and we’re excited to taste.

Blueberry Hill Blueberry Wine

Fruit wine has a bad reputation amongst the wine snobs of the world, but I’ve always felt it has its place.  Blueberry Hill has decided to turn that reputation on its head. Like Muskoka Lakes and its cranberry wine, Blueberry Hill has concentrated on what it does best – blueberries. And the blueberry wine is good. It’s drier than you’d expect, but still holds the character of the berry. They age it in oak barrels and it’s made with an abundance of love and care. We liked it. We also liked their late-harvest blueberry. A perfect addition to sparkling wine or as a dessert tipple, it’s just the right level of sweetness. Their other wines are flush with potential – the fruit wines taking things to another level and their excellent new cider, The Fighter, more than holding its own in the product line.

Quai du Vin Winery

From there, we head towards our final destination for the day, Port Stanley, with a stop at Quai Du Vin Estate Winery along the way. Here, winemaker Jamie Quai is walking a group through an hour-long tour of his winery. His enthusiasm for winemaking is infectious, as he goes through everything from the basics of wine to the details of his own grape-growing philosophy. Afterwards, he walks us through a private tasting on the winery’s lovely patio, as a wedding is set up on the beautiful grounds just beyond us. It’s hard not to fall in love with this landscape, and Shawn is won over by the lone frog holding court in the patio pond.


Quai du Vin Winery Vineyards
The vineyards at Quai Du Vin

The wines here are a mix of hybrid and vinifera. The hybrids grow (and sell) well, which allows Jamie to make the vinifera he enjoys. He has a wide range available, from a sweet and slightly carbonated 2013 Aurora Muscat Petillant to a refreshing and balanced Vidal (perfect for summer). He alternates between dry and off-dry Riesling, depending on the growing season, with good results. The reds are strong. While I have yet to develop a taste for most red hybrids (Baco Noir and Marquette being the exceptions thus far), I can see that great care went into all of these wines and why they work so well in this market. I’m impressed by how Jamie is making both side by side – he reminds me a bit of the winemakers of Prince Edward County, with his experimental nature and intense passion for making wine that is expressive of the region.

Windjammer Inn Port Stanley

After a day of sipping and spitting, Shawn and I are ready to relax and enjoy a good meal, which our host for the evening, Windjammer Inn in Port Stanley, is well-equipped to provide. Our room, The Sheppard Suite, is spacious and comfortable, with a large en suite bathroom and a nice sitting area at the end of the bed. We have a reservation for dinner and I can’t wait to tuck into Chef Kim Saunder’s renowned cooking.


Windjammer Inn Port Stanley pork chop
Pork chop dinner

Dinner does not disappoint. While sipping Ontario wine, I enjoy flavourful crab cakes followed by summer ricotta gnocci with shrimp and scallops. Shawn is impressed with the melt-in-your mouth bison tenderloin carpaccio appetizer and his eyes widen when his large, succulent pork chop arrives. Finishing off with delicious desserts (a crepe for him, crème brule for me), we are more than satisfied as we set off for a much-needed evening walk of the area.


Port Stanley Beach
The beach in Port Stanley

Located on the shores of Lake Erie, Port Stanley has a wealth of sandy beaches and a bustling main street lined with cute shops and busy restaurants. We watch the sun set from the beach, then walk over to explore the main drag. Though the shops close somewhat early, the bars are wide open and many feature bands or singer songwriters, whose music fills the air around us. This is not a city that heads to bed early on a Saturday.

Winjammer Inn Port Stanley brunch
Huevos Mildred – so good.

Shawn and I, however, are ready to turn in and are grateful for our comfy bed at The Windjammer. We wake early and at 9 a.m. head downstairs to tuck into breakfast on the sunny patio, just as it opens. If possible, this meal is even better than dinner. There are fresh-baked scones to start and I enjoy the Huevos Mildred while Shawn devours the farmer’s breakfast. It’s a filling start to the day and the fuel we’ll need for the rest of our adventures.

Anything Used Sparta Historic Village

We start our day visiting The Historic Village of Sparta, which is full of artist’s galleries and antique shops. Exploring the seemingly endless rooms of Anything Used & Sparta Country Candles we can’t resist buying one of their popular candles and picking up a few odds and ends to bring home.

Bodhi Tree store in Port Stanley

From Sparta, we head back to Port Stanley, which is finally waking up. The shops are open now and we pick up local fudge and I find an adorable dress at The Bodhi Tree. We spend a few hours just wandering around exploring the stores and beaches. For lunch, we decide to split fried green tomatoes and local perch at The Kettle Creek Inn (all of which paired perfectly with a glass of Cooper’s Hawk unoaked Chardonnay). Eating in their pretty gazebo on a sunny Sunday is a pretty perfect way to end our visit to the city.

Kettle Creek Inn fried green tomatoes
Fried green tomatoes at The Kettle Creek Inn


Golden Leaf Winery in Ontario

On the way home, we pop by Rush Creek Wines (closed for a family emergency) and then set out to find Golden Leaf Estate Winery, where winemaker Andrew Shelswell is happy to show us around and let us taste through some of his recent releases. After making wine in Nova Scotia for many years, Andrew has had an interesting transition to Ontario. With a base of mostly sand and a very high water table, the conditions have been challenging, but the results are very promising. I particularly liked the Vidal and 2011 Merlot.

Golden Leaf also has a restaurant that plays frequent host to large dinners and events for the local area. We were too late to try any of their food, but we look forward to checking them out on our next visit.

Golden Leaf Winery rosé wine

And as we headed back to Toronto, we decided we would almost certainly be back. I’d like to visit Burning Kiln Winery, which we didn’t have time to include on our schedule, and there are so many hidden gems in the area that we didn’t get a chance to explore. In our room at the Windjammer, waiting for breakfast to start, we had flipped through a pamphlet for Ontario’s Southwest, picking out adventures we could tackle next – we definitely need to spend more time exploring all that our province has to offer.

Port Stanley Ontario
Port Stanley

Interested in visiting? Ontario’s Southwest is holding a contest where you can enter to win your own Dream Foodie Escape! Learn all about it here.

Shawn and I developed our trip via the Foodie 15 on – you can find your own Explore the Shore ideas there too, as well as additional information on the wineries.

Do you have a favourite destination in Ontario’s Southwest? Be sure to share it in the comments or on social.

Thanks to Ontario’s Southwest, who sponsored this trip. All opinions are, as always, our own.