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2012 Winery of the Year

A Pioneering Niagara Winery Surges Forward

Reports by Kelly Schweitzer and Christopher Waters

  Southbrook Vineyards

Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario
Established: 2005
Owner: Bill and Marilyn Redelmeier
Winemaker: Ann Sperling

Though grapes were used in the first vintage back in 1992, many people assume it was fruit wine that Bill and Marilyn Redelmeier originally produced from their boutique winery in Richmond Hill, Ontario. At the time, they were operating a thriving familyowned farm market, lush with fresh, local products, and were growing a lot of fruit, including strawberries and raspberries. For 17 consecutive weekends it rained and at the end of it all, the Redelmeiers found themselves with a bounty of raspberries. "We picked all these raspberries thinking we were going to make pie or jam or something and then we had too much to do either of that with," says Bill Redelmeier. "So we came up with the idea of making a fortified wine from raspberries. And that's where the Framboise came from." It turned out to be a rewarding idea, as the Framboise has garnered accolades over the years on both a national and international level. This year, it helped bring Southbrook to the top of our Wineries of the Year list, receiving not only a gold medal, but the highest score in the competition. Southbrook's three other golds belong to the Whimsy label — a series that Redelmeier describes as the place "where the winemaker goes to play." It's an opportunity for the winemakers to experiment. "Whimsy wines are our mini universe of expression of vines and winemakers' craft," says chief winemaker, Ann Sperling, who was brought on in 2005 when Southbrook took root in Niagara-on-the-Lake. "The selection process allows the winemaking team to emphasize certain aspects in each wine, delivering variety, nuance and quality in the lineup." Since Southbrook began making wine, Bill Redelmeier says the aim has always been the same: to prove what is possible when it comes to Ontario winemaking and to always create the best wine possible — to never use the words almost as good. "In addition to our dedication to organics and biodynamics, we are pragmatic," says Sperling, "working every aspect of the vineyard and winemaking, selecting the highest quality grapes, methods and not shying away from an extra effort." One of the values that Southbrook holds, and what is perhaps bringing them continual success, is that intent is equally as important as terroir. "If somebody intends to make great wine, they can make great wine," says Redelmeier.

2   Konzelmann Estate Winery

Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario
Established: 1984
Owner: Herbert Konzelmann
Winemaker: Herbert Konzelmann

The Konzelmann history dates back to near the turn of the 20th century when Friedrich Konzelmann of Uhlbach founded a winery in his home in Stuttgart, Germany. He was an entrepreneur and produced wines not only for himself but the restaurants he owned. Demand led him to expand his operations and in 1893 he established a full-scale version of the eponymous winery. In 1958, Friedrich's descendant, Herbert Konzelmann, joined the winery, but by the late '70s, the region's grape growers were aging and not continuing farming, making it harder for winemakers to obtain fruit. Population growth also meant land was being converted to residential properties. In 1984, nearly a century after his grandfather established Konzelmann Estate Winery, Konzelmann brought the business to Canada, where land was affordable and grapes were more accessible. He chose the site near Lake Ontario because of its similar climate to the Alsace region in France, where the balance of sun, soil, air flow and moisture conditions is ideal for making distinctive wines. Like his family that preceded him, Konzelmann prides himself on ensuring tradition and quality goes into every bottle. The cool climate enhances the soft, fruity character of his wines. Konzelmann's philosophy is to produce low yield, high quality premium wines, which he exemplifies through the Winemaster's Collection series. This collection is made using hand-picked grapes from the estate's oldest vines, sorted for quality three times over. While this series is only available for tasting at the winery itself, InterVin judges felt the 2010 Family Reserve Cabernet Merlot and the 2010 Late Harvest Gewürztraminer in this collection were worthy of gold medals and the 2010 Heritage red blend a silver. In fact, all of the winery's winners were from the 2010 vintage, with the exception of the 2011 Riesling, which took a silver medal. The 2010 growing season was unusually warm, with an early spring and long, warm summer days, which carried well into autumn, leading to a later harvest period that offered generous reds and delicate, fruity whites. Now with a repertoire of more than 30 different selections, Konzelmann continually plants new varieties and experiments with making new wines, while always trying to improve the quality of all vintages.

Cassini Cellars

Okanagan Valley, British Columbia
Established: 2007
Owner: Adrian Cassini
Winemaker: Adrian Cassini

If you were to ask Adrian Cassini what he loves most about being in the wine business, he would tell you it's the challenge. "Every year is different," he says. "Every year you've got to work with Mother Nature and you've got to be consistent and try to achieve goals. You've got to try to be better." Cassini believes that the vineyard must come above everything else in terms of winemaking, because only by truly understanding and working with nature can the winemaker achieve the desired results. "Learn the vineyard, learn the fruit and learn the weather," he says. "The rest is a walk in the park." Acquiring as much knowledge as possible and working with nature rather than against it will mean less processing in the cellar. Backed by the gentle mountains of the Okanagan Valley, Cassini Cellars is located just south of Oliver in the Golden Mile Bench. While most of the southern part of the valley's vineyards are made up of deep, sandy soils — in contrast to the north's clay and gravel — Cassini is nestled on a property that offers the best of both worlds, with a mix of sand, clay and well-drained gravel. Having successfully transformed the former lavender farm into a premium vineyard, Cassini refers to it as "the perfect spot." One estate variety that seems to be growing well is Syrah. Their 2009 — and the one Cassini is most proud of — claimed a gold medal, while the 2008 Collector's Series Syrah brought in a bronze. "The Syrah: it's got the richness," says Cassini, elaborating with a nod to the fact that it's been a good varietal for the region as a whole. "Syrah's starting to shine in the Okanagan Valley a little bit more every year, so that's got to tell you something. We've had good results, but it's not just me. Quite a few other wineries are doing very well with it." His current focus, however, is on Cabernet Franc, one of his preferred varietals to work with at the moment. "The finesse of a Cab Franc is not as bold as the Cabernet Sauvignon, but it's got the elegance, it's got the body and it can shine on its own," says Cassini. We didn't see any of his Cab Francs in the competition this year, but he says we can be sure to expect them next year. "I'd like to see us going in more competitions to show the world what we can do here. This is the second time in three years we ended up in the (InterVin) top three."

  Sandhill Wines

Kelowna, British Columbia
Established: 1997
Owner: Andrew Peller Ltd.
Winemaker: Howard Soon

If anyone ever thought that B.C. couldn't make red wine, Sandhill has repeatedly demonstrated otherwise. "Most of the wines we make are reds," says winemaker Howard Soon, who's been making wine in the Okanagan for more than 20 years. "There was a time in B.C. when people said, 'Oh, British Columbia can't make very good red wine.' And the fact is, we've proven them wrong." While the single-vineyard-only producer is clearly well-rounded when it comes to creating great wines — having garnered 14 awards at this year's competition for 11 different varietals, half of them whites — all of their top performers were reds. And though it was the 2010 Phantom Creek Vineyard Syrah that took top marks, Soon was also happy to hear that the 2010 Estate Vineyard Gamay Noir won a silver. "It's not a big heavyweight like some of the other reds," he explains. "Sometimes people think that to impress people you have to make big, heavyweight red wines, and the Gamay's not. I like red wines that have subtlety and are rich, but also soft and smooth. I think that's more engaging. Gamay's a little gutsier than a Pinot Noir and yet it's a lovely wine, and I think the judges recognized that." Sandhill has six different vineyards to its name, each possessing a distinctly different combination of soil composition, slope, sun exposure and drainage, which allows for the unique character of each vineyard to come through. But Soon enjoys taking it a step further and experimenting with various elements when creating the estate's Small Lot wines, which nabbed many of the winery's medals. "As a winemaker, you can sort of mess around, try to be progressive, do something different, do something better," says Soon. "You know, explore. The fact that they're winning silvers and golds tells me that we're doing something that's perhaps different from other people, and that's a good thing."

5   Henry of Pelham Family Estate

Niagara Peninsula, Ontario
Established: 1988
Owner: Paul, Matthew & Daniel Speck
Winemaker: Ron Giesbrecht

Niagara vintners Paul, Matthew and Daniel Speck, who planted the family vineyard in 1984 with their parents, are naturalists, grape-hoeing when they can instead of spraying for weeds, and egg-white fining rather than pad filtering. They aim to allow nature to take its course in the making of great wine. Rather than viewing the winemaker as the master, they think of him more as an assistant, there to gently coax the best characteristics out of the grapes rather than force it. Two years ago, winemaker Ron Giesbrecht and Mother Nature were quite obviously working in tandem as the 2010 vintage helped them reap several medals at this year's competition. "Every year has its strengths and weaknesses," says vice president of sales and marketing Daniel Speck. "Consistency and quality matter, so we focus on what we can do at a high level every year and avoid the rest." He admitted, however, that 2010's warm weather throughout the entire season led to some generous reds — like the Cabernet used to create the silver medal winner 2010 Family Tree Red. While the winery has several labels that they make wine under, the focus of the estate series is on grape varietals, including Chardonnay, Riesling and Baco Noir. Their Rieslings showed strength in the competition, winning a gold for the 2009 Speck Family Reserve. "Old World suggests a classical style with bright flavours, structure and a refreshing crispness to balance the ripeness of the fruit," says Speck, "while the New World suggests jammy wines that are higher in alcohol and, perhaps, even sweet." Speck explains that dividing wine into Old World and New World is a bit like dividing the globe into East and West: it's only half the story. To understand wine, we must consider the entire spectrum — east and west, north and south, and even cool climate and hot climate.

  Colaneri Estate Winery

Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario
Established: 2010
Owner: The Colaneri family
Winemaker: Andrzej Lipinski

Since its inception, Colaneri Estate Winery has been steeped in the values of tradition and family. From the time Joseph Colaneri met Maria in Frosolone, Italy to their labour of love in tending to a 40-acre vineyard after they moved to Canada in 1967 with their two sons, Mike and Nick, a united family has existed as the core of the business they built their dreams on. Even when the brothers married and had children of their own, the extended family continued to live on the vineyard and teach the importance of hard work and dedication to the new generation. Mike's concept for the shape of the winery, curved in a C, stands to not only represent the family name, but to honour their parents and the hard-working ancestors who preceded them. Situated in Niagara's St. David's Bench, the building has been designed in a Romanesque style and sits in the heart of the vineyard, surrounded by a lush view of the vines. Their wines are crafted in several styles, but Colaneri's winemaker, Andrzej Lipinski, mainly produces wines using the appassimento style — a process that involves partially drying the grapes before turning them into wine. This method leads to a higher concentration of the juice, which brings out interesting expressions and gives the wine more body and structure. Colaneri's top appassimento style wines at this year's competition were the 2010 Insieme and the Profondo Mistera and Profondo Fumoso Bianco of the same vintage, though several others, like the 2011 Allegria were awarded bronze. The Insieme, though, is like a symbol of the love and devotion that lives on in the family, as the name denotes the togetherness of Joseph and Maria — their relationship as spouses, parents and best friends — and their practiced belief that family is always top priority.

7   Nk'Mip Cellars

(Osoyoos) Okanagan, British Columbia
Established: 2002
Owner: Osoyoos Indian Band / Constellation Brands Canada
Winemaker: Randy Picton

Having emerged in 2002 as North America's first Aboriginal owned and operated winery, Nk'Mip (pronounced in-ka-meep) makes wine exclusively using grapes grown on Osoyoos Indian Band land. "We're also committed to not using any genetically modified products in the production of our wines," says winemaker Randy Picton, "and are trying to operate as much as possible in an environmentally sustainable manner." But the winery isn't the only means by which the Band is trying to protect the environment. Located in the southern Okanagan, where Canada's only pocket desert can be found, the semi-arid region contains many endangered animals and plant species, such as the Western rattlesnake, that Nk'Mip Cellars aims to help protect. In 2006, the estate began donating one dollar from every bottle sold of their Qwam Qwmt wine series to the Nk'Mip Desert Cultural Centre Legacy Fund — a non-profit organization whose aim is cultural education and environmental stewardship of the surrounding fragile ecosystem. Coincidentally, the premium Qwam Qwmt label swept up several medals at this year's competition, including two golds for the 2009 vintage of Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon. When asked what it is about this series of wines that makes them stand out, Picton says: "Our focus with this tier is all about quality. We have designated our best blocks within our vineyards that we farm specifically for the purposes of the Qwam Qwmt series." He says special attention is given to the development of these vines, such as cropping fairly low, following monitored watering regimes and performing leaf removal where and when necessary. "We then bring this attention to detail into the winery where we try to make texturally elegant wines that reflect the vineyards, are approachable upon release and have the ability to age if properly cellared."

  Trius Winery at Hillebrand

Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario
Established: 1979
Owner: Andrew Peller Ltd.
Winemaker: Craig McDonald

The Trius label has lived under the wing of Hillebrand Winery in Niagara-on-the- Lake for more than two decades, gradually, but loudly, building a name for itself and earning multiple awards on an international level. In 1989, nearly a decade after Hillebrand opened its doors, the Trius label was launched, presenting with a blended red wine called Trius Red. As the winery evolved and the Trius label became increasingly popular, the team at Hillebrand began to realize that the connection of Trius to Hillebrand wasn't necessarily understood by consumers, despite its longstanding connection to the winery, and decided this year to streamline and rebrand as Trius Winery at Hillebrand. As such, the more contemporary label has taken centre stage while the time-honoured Hillebrand name focuses on making small-batch, hand-crafted wines — labelled as Showcase — from estate vineyards. At this year's competition, the 2010 Showcase Clark Farm Pinot Noir stole top rank in the winery's lineup of winners and landed as the top-scoring Pinot in the compeition. The grapes from the Four Mile Creek sub-appellation of Niagara-on-the- Lake are hand-picked and hand sorted. In addition to silver awards for another two Hillebrand Showcase wines, the Trius label earned three medals — a silver for the Trius Brut and two bronze for the Brut Rosé and the 2011 Rosé. Chief winemaker Craig McDonald believes in fundamentality being in tune with the vineyard and being able to adapt to the nuances in the growing seasons. The new single vineyard focus of the Hillebrand Showcase series wines allows him to do that to the nth degree. The Australiaborn McDonald, who has been perfecting his talent for over 28 years, 16 of which have been in Niagara, says he is enjoying redefining the Trius portfolio and furthering the winery's award-winning reputation.

9   Mission Hill Family Estate

Okanagan Valley, British Columbia
Established: 1981
Owner: Anthony von Mandl
Winemaker: John Simes

The West Coast has always been known for its easygoing, relaxed approach to daily living, and the folks at Mission Hill are no different, hoping that guests of the winery will see the estate as a refuge from the fast pace of life. Having rooted himself in his native British Columbia, in the heart of the Okanagan Valley, proprietor Anthony von Mandl's dream-turned-reality has always been to make great wines, and offer a special spot where people can enjoy them. Before the Valley even became a well-recognized appellation, Mandl was convinced that the area was capable of producing wines that had the sophistication and elegance for an international audience. To be among the best in the world is a philosophy that guides everyone associated with the winery. "Innovation is a pillar of our business," says Mission Hill's director of wine education Ingo Grady, "but while technologies change, our passion for quality always remains." This likely explains the number of medals the winery took hold of this year — notably, across a wide range of price points. "There's a meticulous selection process that allows us to produce a family of wines that over deliver on their respective price points," says Grady. "In addition, it's the expertise of our chief winemaker, John Simes, with his global perspective, vision and experience to craft New World wines with an Old World sensibility." This proficiency is what earned them a string of awards at this year's competition, but their gold medal winner, the 2009 Quatrain, is the one that brings them pride. It's a stylish and inspired blend, crafted mainly from Merlot and Syrah, and includes Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. "This hallmark wine represents everything Mission Hill stands for," says Grady. "It's made of estate-grown grapes, chosen for their specific characteristics, blended to make a wine that is better than the sum of its parts, creating a signature wine."

10   Jackson-Triggs Niagara Estate

Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario
Established: 2001
Owner: Constellation Brands Canada
Winemaker: Marco Piccoli

Jackson-Triggs, which was named after cofounders Allan Jackson and Don Triggs in 1993, has branded itself as a household name over the years — a recognizable and iconic symbol of the range and greatness that Canadian wines are capable of. Recently, Jackson- Triggs has been focused on what they feel they can do best in the Niagara region, and right now that is Sauvignon Blanc. "As a table wine, it's an outstanding variety to grow," says winemaker Marco Piccoli. "It has very typical and distinct flavours that are inherent in cool climate wines like those made in Niagara." He says the appellation is also ideally suited for growing grapes used in sparkling wine, as the soil, climate and varietals come together to create the perfect storm for this style. The belief that Sauvignon Blanc and sparkling grapes were of great potential to showcase the region is what led Piccoli to the concept of a Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc in 2008, the wine that hit home with InterVin judges and scored the winery a gold medal. "Our pride extends equally to all our wines as they are the result of concerted effort and hard work," says Piccoli, "but the Entourage Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc is definitely a wine that we are particularly proud of, as it highlights two of our main focuses at Jackson-Triggs: the varietal Sauvignon Blanc and sparkling as a wine style." Focusing on varietals that have great potential to reflect the region's particular terroir and creating a unique style as the consequence of that terroir is what Piccoli says will put the Niagara wine region in a class of its own on the world wine map. The estate's viticulture team has directed their focus to understanding the winery's primary varietals and terroir, which Piccoli explains is part of the reason they're able to make great wines across a wide range of price points. "Clones, rootstocks and vineyard management are very important to achieve the best quality and consistency," he says.

Honourable Mentions

Peller Estates Winery Niagara-on-the-Lake

Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario
Established: 2001
Owner: Andrew Peller Ltd.
Senior Winemaker: Katie Dickieson
Two exotic and expressive Sauvignon Blancs made a big impact on InterVin judges

J. Garcia Carrion

Established: 1890
Owner: Jose Garcia-Carrión
Winemaker: Rafael Arevalo
Distinctive regional wines repeatedly landed J. Garcia Carrion in the winner's circle

Burrowing Owl Estate Winery

Okanagan Valley, British Columbia
Established: 1997
Owner: The Wyse family
Winemaker: Bertus Albertyn
Estate Grown Pinot Gris and Chardonnay proved to be tops with our tasters

Lailey Vineyard Wines

Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario
Established: 2000
Owner: The Lailey & Barnett families
Winemaker: Derek Barnett
Classically made estate wines captured the attention of our panel, particularly a polished Merlot and age-worthy red blend

Wolf Blass

Barossa Valley, Australia
Established: 1973
Owner: Treasury Wine Estates
Winemaker: Chris Hatcher
The iconic Australian winery built on winning at competitions hasn't lost its Midas touch