My Ontario Wine Makers Harvest 2022 Interview

This is my fifth year interviewing winemakers in Ontario about their latest grape harvest and wine production.  To get a more complete picture of the harvest I asked the following questions to three winemakers in three different grape-growing regions of southern Ontario, which should have some differences in climate and harvest.  

The three winemakers I interviewed this year are:

Where Are These Wineries?

Here is a google map showing the location of the three wineries, colour coded to the winemaker names above.

My Interview with the Ontario Winemakers

Thank you to these winemakers for taking the time to answer my interview questions and let my readers find out more about their wineries and the progress of their 2022 grape harvest.

1. Where your vineyards and winery are located?
Dan: Hillier, Prince Edward County, Ont.

Ilya: Our winery and vineyard (Senchuk Vineyard) is at 1491 Highway 8 in Winona, Ontario. Lincoln Lakeshore sub-appellation for VQA, at the very west-end of Niagara. 

Rob: We have two vineyards and wineries in Niagara. Creekside is in the Creek Shores appellation, near the village of Jordan. Queenston Mile is on the St. David’s Bench, up on the escarpment in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Harvest at Rosehall Run
Harvest at Rosehall Run

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?

Dan: We began harvest here on Sept 24th with our estate Pinot Gris followed by our Pinot Noir about a week later.

Ilya: We started picking grapes on Sept 21 which is about average, but we finished picking very early. Last grapes came in to the winery on October 24th, which is a good 10-14 days early. 

Rob: The vintage was pretty much “normal” in terms of timing. We picked chardonnay for sparkling base in the first week of September and finished cab sauv on October 28.

3. What surprised you about this year’s harvest? Did you have a bigger or smaller volume of grapes compared to last year?
Dan: Like many vintages we tend to underestmate long crops and overestimate short crops. Our 2022 pick fell into the latter category. It was a small, high quality vintage.

Ilya: Definitely much smaller than average harvest, and especially compared to last year. Last year was one of our biggest harvests, and this year we only made about half of what we did last year. 

Rob: The vinifera crop in Niagara as a whole and our own sites in particular was significantly reduced by a couple of very cold nights last January.  But fruit quality was very high, so there will be some great 2022s.

Harvest at Creekside Estate Winery
Harvest at Creekside Estate Winery

4. This is the first harvest without COVID restrictions since 2019. Did that make this harvest easier? Was finding pickers and other winery staff an issue for harvest?

Dan: We typically hand harvest and sort here at Rosehall Run. I have an awesome fulltime seasonal crew of between 4-8 that come from Mexico here to Canada every year under the federally regulated FARMS program. They are my extended fam-jam and I know most of their families. We augment harvest with a crew that comes from the Niagara region on a by the day basis to help with heavy lifting we sometimes need in the field at crush, they are an invaluable resource. One of the things that is increasingly concerning is cost.

Ilya: It did make it a bit easier without many of the COVID restrictions. We didn’t have anyone out sick really at all this harvest which is the first time since 2019 that has happened. Staffing has been a challenge for sure, however because of the very light crop this year the labour shortage did not feel as acute. 

Rob: It was certainly less stressful than the last few years. Vintage is difficult enough without the constant threat of someone getting seriously ill – like most wineries we’re stretched pretty thin. We were ok for labour this year because of the reduced tonnage, but I will say that the supply of eager vintage hands from overseas seems to have dried up.

5. Is there a grape or style of wine you are producing this year that you are very excited about?

Dan: We are super stoked about making Riesling again for the first time in five years. It is a single vineya9rd small lot from my pal Bob Nedelko’s vineyard on the Twenty Mile Bench. We’re also really bullish on the estate Chardonnay this year. There is a lot we are currently fermenting in a 2000 L oval oak foudre that should interest many folks, including yours truly.

Ilya: The Pinot Noir from our Senchuk Vineyard is again the star, with amazing ripeness and intensity but also acidity and freshness. Just about the perfect balance.

Rob: Syrah from our Queenston Mile vineyard came in kinda-sorta perfect. It’s in barrel now, and we’re hoping for great things in a couple of years.

6. How do you grow your grapes, e.g. using organic or biodynamic methods?

: We grow using sustainable vineyard practices. There are no herbicides and pesticides are used as sparingly as the weather patterns permit. Close attention is paid to vineyard scouting for pests and beneficials.

Ilya: Our vineyard and winery are certified sustainable. And many of the vineyards we work with are also certified sustainable, or in the process of receiving their certification.

Rob: Like most of Niagara, we farm sustainably. Completely organic farming of vinifera is very difficult in Niagara’s humid climate.

7. How was the growing season? Did you have overly harsh temperatures or lack/or too much rain this year? Other factors?

Dan: This growing season was generally excellent with a few timely rains that helped alleviate the potential excessive drought stress. The humidity seemed pretty typical for PEC this year with some short humid stretches. A rain in mid Sept proved not to precipitate any panic as we were on our game leaf pulling in the fruit zone.

Ilya: It was a slightly late and cool spring. However, once the heat showed up it remained hot and dry throughout the growing season. Even during harvest it was warm and sunny basically throughout. To be honest, there were points where it was a very dry. But we did get a few strategic rains that helped.

Rob: Overall, we had a great growing season. Timely rain and not too much of it; warm dry ripening weather in September and October. The only issue was winter bud damage that reduced our 2022 crop.

8. Are you experimenting with anything new with this harvest, like making sparkling wine, using amphora or skin-fermented white wines?

Dan: We have a surprise or two coming. But if I said what, it wouldn’t be a surprise! 😉

Ilya: Although not new, we continue to make a bunch of fun and interesting natural and experimental wines. For example, our Clockwork is a skin-fermented Sauvignon Blanc that is fermented in concrete and aged in amphora. Another example is The Freak Pinot Noir is a 70% whole-cluster, natural Pinot from our vineyard that is fermented and aged in amphora. 

Rob: We’re always trying something at Creekside, whether it’s pet-nat <with Viognier>, skin-ferment <with Gewurz this year, first time using that variety>, or different roses from cab sauv and Pinot noir, plus one barrel-fermented with Syrah. Fun stuff.

9. What did you or your team do to celebrate the Harvest?

Dan: We have a big BBQ here at Rosehall but it was especially nice that a local group of artists (I will find the name and forward it) here in Hillier threw an amazing bash for our Mexican fellas. Full on cocina y musica authentico. Our friends at Closson Chase Vineyards hosted. It was lovely and very loving of them to do that.

Ilya: We usually celebrate with some bubbles. This year we opened our 2018 Traditional Method – Blanc de Blanc.

Rob: Industry parties pop up everywhere in November to share war stories over a beer. And we always have a crush crew “family meal” together after harvest with lots of good wines, usually with spouses to thank them for their sacrifices as well.

Thank you to all three winemakers for sharing their 2022 harvest experiences.

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.