For the past few years, I have been covering the BC harvest by interviewing winemakers and finding out how the weather affected this year, what they may be doing new, and other tidbits of information. But I had not interviewed Ontario winemakers, to find out about their harvest, until today. I used basically the same questions to the BC and Ontario winemakers so that you could read both sets of interviews and see what similarities and differences there may be in the harvest. Was the weather very different between both areas? When did harvest start and finish?
In my inaugural interview with Ontario winemakers, I have three winemakers that come from different regions within southern Ontario:
- David Sheppard, Winemaker at Flat Rock Cellars, located in the Niagara Peninsula
- Maggie Belcastro, Winemaker at the Grange of Prince Edward Winery in Prince Edward County
- Tanya Mitchell, Winemaker at Sprucewood Shores Estate Winery in Lake Erie North Shore
Where Are These 3 Wineries?
My Interview with the Ontario Winemakers
1. Where are your vineyards and winery located?
- David: Flat Rock has 92 acres perched on the slopes of the 20 Mile Bench in Jordan, Ontario.
- Maggie: We are in the heart of the wine region in Prince Edward County. On Closson Rd, in Hillier township.
- Tanya: Our Vineyard and Winery are located in the most southern tip of Canada in the Lake Erie North Shore region, directly on the shores of Lake Erie. We are Ontario’s only beachfront winery!
2. When did you start harvesting grapes and when did you finish picking? Was this year early, right on time, or a little later than usual?
- David: Harvest started quite early this year with grapes for sparkling wine harvested on the 6th of September and the all the rest commenced on the 13th of September (about 10 days – 2 weeks ahead of normal).
- Maggie: We started harvest on September 19th, which is early for Prince Edward County. With rain clouds looming this was not the year to wait for extreme concentration!
- Tanya: We started about 10 days earlier than usual this year on September 5th. Most varieties were picked earlier than usual this year.
3. Would you say that this harvest produced exceptionally well ripened, quality grapes for classic Ontario styled wines? What is a classic Ontario styled wine?
- David: This harvest did produce exceptionally well-ripened grapes as a result of the beautiful warm, dry and sunny summer that we enjoyed. Classic Ontario styled wines are typically very fruit forward with supportive natural acidity, and most varieties delivered just that.
- Maggie: I will focus my answers on Prince Edward County and what is typical here. I would say this season has produced more lean and delicate styles rather than the opulent and rich vintages such as 2012 or 2016. But I would say that delicate and lean is more classic for PEC than rich and concentrated.
- Tanya: We did have a fantastic summer with plenty of sunshine and perfectly timed rains, however come September the weather was a challenge, with abnormally high temperatures, humidity, and rain. In order to combat this, less skin and sediment contact helps to keep wines fresh and aromas clean, depending on the wine. Adjustments sometimes need to be made for the pH and acidity of the wine to ensure you have a stable and well-balanced wine. Choosing the right yeast and nutrients are very important and keeping a close eye on the product post fermentation to ensure your aromas are kept fresh and clean is critical to the wines’ longevity.
4. Were there any technical issues during harvest?
- David: Technical issues this year were the result of late-season rain and warm temperatures causing varieties such as Riesling to start to break down prematurely. To combat this, we went through the Riesling vineyard and cut off and dropped the rotting bunches ahead of the picking even though we were passing the subsequently picked grapes over the sorting table. We also changed direction mid-harvest and stopped picking Chardonnay to take the Riesling while there were still good grapes out there. It was the first time in my 36 vintages in Ontario that I ever finished picking Riesling before Chardonnay (all in September which is not at all common). The upside is that the Riesling that we ultimately used was beautiful…just not enough of it.
- Maggie: Rain would have been the main challenge. The skies opened up in October and we were dodging rainstorms.
- Tanya: Yes, the late rains certainly made for an interesting twist on our regular expectations. This year required the winemaker to stay on their toes and keep on top of quality control, which is critical in every vintage, but most importantly in a difficult one.
5. What surprised you about this year’s harvest?
- David: The big surprise of the 2018 harvest was the speed with which it came upon us and progressed. Once we started there was no stopping until everything was in. No breaks between varieties this year.
- Maggie: Every vintage is a surprise in one way or another! This year it was the fermentations that kept surprising me! We had these very slow very cool fermentations that have continued well into November!
- Tanya: How fast the grapes came! Many varieties that usually have a few weeks between picking were all coming at the same time, so it was a fast-paced harvest overall.
6. What’s the most exciting thing about harvest this year?
- David: Pinot Noirs were stellar this year, probably by virtue of their timing. They were beautifully ripe and expressive at the time of picking, which was before the weather took a turn.
- Maggie: I think the most exciting part of the harvest is seeing the rainbow of hues coming out of the press. When I see all the samples and they are all so unique it’s a really exciting time.
- Tanya: We are adding two new varieties to our appassimento program, Cabernet Franc and Baco Noir. Previously we had only worked with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
7. What’s the scariest thing about harvest?
- David: Managing the picking/sorting of the grapes suffering breakdown was the scariest thing from a production point of view. The associated reduced yields were scary for the sales side of the business as we try to manage demand.
- Maggie: Because we are 100% estate grown production, the harvest is always scary! Our own vineyards are our only source of wine so our estate harvest means everything to us!
- Tanya: How fast everything moves. You really need to stay on top of your quality control and raw material management.
8. Are you experimenting with anything new with this harvest, like making a sparkling wine or using amphora or acacia barrels?
- David: Flat Rock has been producing sparkling wine but is looking to expand our brands and styles in that regard this year.
- Maggie: We are always experimenting. New styles of rosé, skin contact on our whites, new grape blends we think might represent PEC well.
- Tanya: As above, we are adding two new varieties to our appassimento program, Cabernet Franc and Baco Noir. Previously we had only worked with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
9. What did you or your team do to celebrate the Harvest?
- David: The Flat Rock harvest team celebrated the end of harvest with a tour and tasting at the Shawn & Ed Brewing Company in a beautiful century-old building in Dundas, Ontario followed by dinner, drinks, and camaraderie at a local restaurant.
- Maggie: We celebrate harvest after our vineyards are buried and put to bed for the season so we are not quite there yet! But we always make sure to have a bit of a fete with the team!
- Tanya: We slept.
10. Will you be making late harvest or ice wine this year?
- David: Neither Late Harvest nor Icewine is in the cards for us this year.
- Maggie: Because we bury our vines for the winter we don’t get a chance to make ice wine on this farm.
- Tanya: No we will not, we just did ice wine last year, and it’s quite lovely!
I mentioned that I also interviewed BC winemakers for the 2018 harvest. Here is my BC harvest 2018 article for comparison.