Interviewing Wine Maker Bruce Nicholson from Inniskillin at VanWineFest 2017

Who is Bruce Nicholson?

Bruce Nicholson joined Inniskillin Wines, Niagara-on-the-Lake as Wine maker on January 1, 2007, after working for 20 years in the Okanagan where he was the first wine maker, and then became the Senior Winemaker for Jackson-Triggs Okanagan Estate in British Columbia.

Half of Bruce’s awards in 2012 were for ice wine.  Does he want to be known as the best ice wine maker in world?  We shall find out.

My Interview with Bruce Nicholson

Bruce Nicholson wine maker from Inniskillin Niagara
Bruce Nicholson wine maker from Inniskillin Niagara with a bottle of his Riesling ice wine

MyWinePal: Do you like attending wine festivals?

Bruce:  It’s great for consumers.  We are a growing wine region with so many wineries.  People can come to the table, ask questions, and learn. Wine makers love to talk about what they do. I like to talk about varietals. What is it about Riesling that makes it so great? It’s versatility.  You can have a dry Riesling to ice wine, to sparkling wine.  It’s maybe the best white for foods.

<With a glass of Riesling poured for each of us.> This wine in the glass, you want it to be varietal. You want people to taste the minerality in the wine. I don’t want people coming to me and saying, is that Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio.  It’s Riesling. I like wines that show off their character.  They all have their terroir and identify. Sauvignon Blanc has green, grassy, and asparagus flavours, and tropical fruit if riper. Chard has pear, fig, and toasty vanilla. That’s Chardonnay.  I like our new consumers to pick out these varieties.

MyWinePal: You make ice wine and have many awards. Do you want to be known as the best ice wine maker in Canada or the World?

Bruce: Laughs. It’s something you strive to be.  You don’t make ice wine to be anything but great.  It’s an iconic product for Inniskillin Niagara.  In 1991 it won the Grand Prix d’Honneur at Vinexpo, France, and did an amazing thing for the Canadian wine industry.  Our ice wine is in 74 different countries. It is the top retail wine product wine worldwide.  It is in all airport duty-free shops.  It’s a unique product.  We are the biggest producers of ice wine and the most successful. When I came to Inniskillin Niagara, I was nervous about making their ice wine as it is a worldwide known product. I have been fortunate to win awards for Inniskillin.

MyWinePal: Do you have a house style?

Bruce: If house style means quality and excellence, then yes.  Our ice wine shows great intensity of fruit, great acidity and longevity. That is what ice wine should be.

MyWinePal: What is the oldest ice wine you tried?

Bruce: The one that won in Vinexpo.  I’ve tried the 1997-98 ice wines. Take one thing away from ice wine, it’s two words: Balanced Acidity. Something this concentrated needs acidity.  I probably say this 1000 times. I want the acidity to dance on you tongue. It’s crucial and the backbone. Rip the acidic spine out and your wine will fall apart.  That’s the key to ice wine.

MyWinePal: Do you have Riesling as well as Vidal ice wine?

Bruce: Yes we do.  I describe Riesling as more elegant.  Vidal can be very aromatic and in your face.  But, 70% of all ice wine in Canada is Vidal.  Wine makers and pundits seem to like Riesling better.

MyWinePal: That is what happens when you are trying more wines and learning more.  A new person doesn’t know the difference between Vidal and Riesling.  If they first try Vidal and like it, they will keep buying it. Do you also make a sparkling wine?

Bruce:  My biggest wow factor is sparkling wine.  I make both a sparkling Cabernet Franc and a Vidal. If I had one wine you have to try, it would be the sparkling Cabernet Franc.  I wish I had it here for you to try.  The Cab Franc has the effervescence, that makes the flavours explode out of the glass.

MyWinePal:  I read you like natural components, starting in the vineyards.  Do you undertake organic practices?

Bruce: I’m not a viticulturist.  Our viticulturist been around 40 years.  They do sustainable practices.  If there is an issue, he treats that issue; a spot treatment.  I think that is pretty popular now.  I think organic has its challenges but I respect those wineries’ efforts.  We are responsible in how we water and manage the vineyard.

MyWinePal: As a wine maker do you do any wild ferments?

Bruce: I used cultured yeasts.  The yeasts I use in the winery are probably the same as the indigenous yeasts in the vineyards.  Cultured yeasts also help me sleep at night.  The yeasts used now are so good, with so many out there.  The alcohol in wines are now higher.  You want a complete fermentation. You want to know what you will expect.  There are so many yeasts that will do different things.  There are also hybrid yeasts. It’s getting more complicated with more choices, but that can be good for the wine maker.

MyWinePalInniskillin is a large winery.  Do you need to stick to stainless steel tanks, large-scale things, or do you try small-scale things?

Bruce: I’ve cut off the heads off of barrels and fermented.  I try many things.  I ferment cool and warm. I have the freedom to find the expression of the fruit.  I try what I think will work to make the best product.

MyWinePal: How does Riesling like to be treated in Niagara?

Bruce: I like to make sure the grapes are clean by picking earlier if appropriate, rather than picking later at higher sugar level. If there is damage, get the skins off quickly.  We are not making an orange wine.  It’s becoming popular, and maybe someday I will try. I like to ferment the must cool over longer time.  I taste it daily, to check how the flavours are developing and if I’m getting good aromatics.

MyWinePal:  Going back to ice wine, with global warming, do you see any problems with us <Canada> getting to -8 degrees in the winter?

Bruce: We have been making ice wine since 1984. Last year, I received a call on Christmas eve.  I like it colder than -8 degrees Celsius. You get less volume but better quality.  I don’t think there is a time we have to worry in Niagara.  There is no deadline to pick.  The latest pick I had was the 3rd week of February in 2002.

MyWinePal: Thanks to Bruce for the time to speak, and for being one of the wine making pioneers in Canada.


Author: mywinepal
Drink Good Wine. That is my motto and I really want to help you drink good wine. What is good wine? That can be a different thing for each people. Food also loves wine so I also cover food and wine pairings, restaurant reviews, and world travel. Enjoy life with me. MyWinePal was started by Karl Kliparchuk, WSET. I spent many years with the South World Wine Society as the President and then cellar master. I love to travel around the world, visiting wine regions and sharing my passion for food & wine with you. Come live vicariously through me, and enjoy all my recommended wines.