I knew nothing about Ontario’s Big Head Wines until it was suggested to me to visit by Talia Mendelsohn from the Bacchus Group Inc. in Toronto, but this winery in particular truly impressed me with their wines and their winemaking methods. If you ever get a chance to visit the Niagara region, do not miss visiting Big Head Wines. The winery has been in business for ten years.
Andrzej Lipinski is a self-trained winemaker, while his son, Jakub (a certified sommelier still going higher in his somm certification) and his sisters run the sales and marketing of the wine.
One of the different things about this tasting is that Jakub made me taste the wines blind, so I did not have any bias as to the type of grape(s) used in the wines presented to me. Jakub waited for me to write my notes before we discussed the wines. I put winemaker notes for most of the wines, as the methods they use to make the wines are not that common. Some methods that separate their wine-making are the extensive use of whole-cluster carbonic maceration for the initial fermentation, followed by destemming and traditional fermentation, and the extensive use of dried grapes, aka appassimento in Italy. They like to do a slow drying of their grapes under cool temperatures. All wines also undergo full malolactic fermentation. Their goal is to maximize both mouthfeel, flavour, and aromatics in their wines. They embrace botrytis and all their wines undergo wild fermentation. Jakub asserts that wild fermentation, botrytis and carbonic fermentation increase aromatics.
Each of the Italian-made concrete tanks you see in my photos of the winery costs $17,000 for the larger tanks, and $9,000 for the smaller tanks, so a big investment in concrete. The winery is only 35% built, so will grow in size in the next few years. Currently, for peak production, they produce 20,000 cases a year. The wines are not available at the LCBO. If you want to buy their wines they sell directly to consumers online and via restaurants.
Why Big Head?
You may wonder about the winery’s name. The Lipinski family moved to Canada from Poland and settled in Toronto. Jakub noted that he, and I assume his sisters, were teased in school by other students saying Polish people have big heads. So Jakub took this barb and turned it around to show he is proud of his heritage. Plus “B” shows up higher in the alphabet, and the name has lots of interesting graphics possibilities. Check out the Nebuchadnezzar bottle labels above. Jakub did mention that there will be a second label for the winery with the Lipinski name. Watch out for it.
My Wine Tasting Notes
Big Head Wines Big Bang Black 2.0, NV – this sparkling wine, made from Pinot Noir grapes, spent 7 years on lees before disgorgement. Upon disgorging, the winemaker added a Chardonnay Recioto dosage before bottling. It has a bright deep lemon colour. medium-intensity aromas of lemon, tropical fruits, ripe pears, and butterscotch. Dry and lean with high acidity. Small biting bubbles. Cider-like flavours. Citrus, pears and apple flavours. Longer length.
Big Head Wines Pinot Gris Select 2019 – Select is their terminology for Reserve. From the winery, “We used carbonic maceration for 7 days in stainless tanks and then pressed the grapes into one of our 2000L concrete diamonds, a 1500L clay pot and a 500L clay pot where it finished fermenting. The 2000L that was in the diamond was left there after fermentation and aged for an additional 7 months. The 2000L from the clay pots was transferred to two 1000L 8th fill French Oak vats and aged for 7 months as well. ” Underwent carbonic maceration before traditional fermentation. Light translucent bright peach skin colour. Light fresh stone fruit aromas. Light body, lean and dry. Light stone fruit flavour with a stony edge and a hint of tannins. Medium length.
Big Head Wines Chardonnay Stone 2022 – From the winery, “Hand-picked and whole cluster pressed on October 17, 2022. Juice was pumped to two 2000L concrete diamonds for fermentation. After 1 month, one diamond was pumped to a 1400L terracotta vessel. Both vessels continued to ferment until March 2023. Once dry, both vessels were blended, all lees reincorporated, and pumped to terracotta for another month of aging. The wine was pumped to stainless steel for cold stabilization and lightly filtered prior to bottling.” It has a medium-intensity bright lemon colour. Medium-plus intensity rich ripe tropical fruit with a touch of oak on the nose. Dry, medium-minus body with a semi-round mouthfeel. Ripe tropical fruits with a touch of sweet spices and pepperiness. A light tannic structure. Medium acidity. Medium length. –
Big Head Wines Chardonnay Select 2020 – From the winery, “After 7 days of carbonic maceration, we pressed into 1000L 3-year-old Slovenian oak vats. Ambient fermentation and malolactic conversion took around 4 months, then we transferred 50% to new 225L Moldovan oak barrels for an additional 6 months of maturation, while the rest stayed in the vats. We combined both lots before bottling.” This wine has a medium plus intensity bright lemon colour. Medium plus aroma of cedar. Medium plus body with a thicker, smooth and round mouthfeel. Tropical fruit, along with medium-intensity oak and a touch of sweet spices. Medium-plus length. Fresh flavours.
Big Head Wines Chenin Blanc 2021 – From the winery, “2021 was a difficult vintage, we picked the fruit late. We had plenty of botrytis, but the acid was high and we chose to ferment all the way down. The whole bunches were macerated under C02 for 7 days, then pressed and finished fermenting in clay and large old French oak for 6 months.” medium intensity clear lemon colour. Very light stone fruit aromas. Dry and smooth with a viscous mouthfeel. Cider-like flavours. Dried fruit flavours with air. Medium length.
Big Head Wines Chenin Blanc Select 2019 – From the winery, “This is from the older vines of the Smith vineyard and we sorted for the most botrytis affected fruit. Primary fermentation started as carbonic for 7 days, then pressed and finished fermenting after a year in concrete. This has roughly double the botrytis affected fruit than our white label Chenin.” A deeper golden colour with a touch of copper. Bright high-toned aromas, including dill. Dry and smooth with lower acidity. Dried stone fruit flavours plus some lanolin. This wine has a nice texture in your mouth. Medium length with lightly drying tannins.
Big Head Wines RAW Riesling 2019 – Their RAW series of wines are from free-run juice fermented in smaller concrete tanks and bottled unfiltered. From the winery, “The fruit was clean and an estimated 20% was botrytis affected. Fresh whole cluster carbonic maceration for 7 days in stainless tank and then we pressed into a 2000L concrete vessel. Alcoholic fermentation finished in concrete after 3 months and then spent an additional 9 months aging in same.” A deeper lemon colour with a touch of copper. Interesting aromas of cracked peppercorn and dried lime peel. These aromas continue to the palate, plus dill on the palate. This wine is dry and round with a thick mouthfeel. Medium-plus acidity. I also picked up touches of honey and apricot on the palate. Off-dry finish. A wow wine. –
Big Head Wines Savagnin 2021 – this is the parent of Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc. It is in fact, I was told, that Gewurztraminer is a clone/mutation of Savagnin. From the winery, “Whole cluster/carbonic in stainless-steel for 10 days. Whole clusters were transferred to press and the juice transferred to neutral 1000L French oak where both primary and secondary fermentations completed with ambient yeast and bacteria. We aged in the 1000L French oak vats for 8 months, filtered and then bottled.” This wine has a light bright lemon colour. Light Gewurztraminer-like aromas, sweet spices and floral. Medium-minus body, soft, smooth, and dry mouthfeel. Roses and sweet spices on the palate. Medium acidity.
Big Head Wines White 2019 – a blend of 40% Gewurztraminer, 30% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot Gris, and 10% Sauvignon Blanc. From the winery, “We kept these grapes separate as we weren’t planning on blending until after. Each variety was hand-harvested, then whole cluster fermented in stainless steel, concrete and clay before being pressed and left to finish ambient fermentation and malolactic conversion which took up to 2 months. We fermented each lot until fully dry. After fermentation and maturation, we blended and bottled. ” It has a medium minus lemon colour, but deeper than the Savagnin wine. A light rose petal aroma. Medium minus boy with a semi-round, thicker mouthfeel. Dry and soft. Floral and sweet spices flavours.
Big Head Wines Viognier 2021 – From the winery, “A difficult vintage, so we couldn’t get the same weight as 2020. There was plenty of botrytis to add character. A lot of sorting to keep only the healthy fruit. The wine was vinified using carbonic fermentation for 7 days before being pressed into clay to finish, including malolactic conversion. The wine was transferred to 1000L neutral French oak to mature for 6 months before bottling.” A medium lemon colour. Light aromas of lemon, black pepper, oranges, and roses. Dry, medium plus body with a smooth mouthfeel. Lower acidity. Roses, oranges and peppercorn flavours. Medium length with some bitterness on the finish. –
Big Head Wines Big Red #8 – One of the most popular red wines in the Niagara region. This is a blend of 49% Merlot (appassimento), 48% Cabernet Franc (fresh), and 3% Petit Verdot (appassimento). From the winery, “This is our second non-vintage Red Blend and a combination of the 2019 and 2021 harvests. We dried the Merlot and Petit Verdot for about 12 weeks. We processed each variety whole-cluster, carbonic fermentation for 2 weeks and then destemmed and fermented. The 2019 vintage aged for 3 years and the 2021 aged for about a year all in combination 2000L, 4000L French oak vats and 225L barrels.” It has a medium plus dull garnet colour. Medium-intensity aromas of red fruit and leather. Medium minus body, lean with medium tannins and acidity. Red berry flavour with touches of oak and sweet spices. Medium length finishing with sweet red fruit, cherries and sweet spice flavours. Lightly drying tannins. –
Big Head Wines Bigger Red Select 2019 – A blend of 51% Cabernet Sauvignon (appassimento) and 49% Merlot (appassimento). From the winery, “Vacuum-fan dried for 4-8 weeks. The wines were vinified separately. All fruit was carbonic macerated for 20 days then destemmed and fermented with skins for a few weeks longer. After pressing, each lot was put into a combination of Moldovan and French oak for 30 months before blending.” This wine has a medium-intensity dull garnet colour. Light aromas of cedar, red and black fruits. Fuller body, dry and round mouthfeel. Medium acidity. Black fruits with light cedar and sweet spices on the palate. Medium length with red fruit and cedar on the finish.
Big Head Wines Malbec Select 2020 – From the winery, “After hand harvesting we dried the grapes for 4 weeks, followed by putting them in a stainless-steel tank for carbonic and ambient fermentation for 20 days and then destemmed and returned to tank to macerate for 2 weeks before pressing. The free run went to the 2020 RAW Malbec, the remaining free run and press wine went into the Select. Fermentation finished after a month and the wine was aged for 24 months in new, 225L Moldovan oak barrels.” A deep dull ruby colour. Aromatic showing mace, berries and a touch of floral. Medium body and acidity. Blueberries and prominent mace. A tart edge to this wine. Medium length with a tart puckering finish. Light tannins. An acid-driven wine which will make this wine very ageable. –
Big Head Wines Cabernet Franc 2018 – From the winery, “The grapes were hand-harvested and dried for 10 weeks. We moved the bunches into tank and left under carbon dioxide for 20 days, then destemmed and put the skin back to macerate for 2 more weeks. Fermentation lasted 8 months. Aged a total of 32 months in a combination of 2nd fill French oak barrels and new Moldovan oak barrels.” A deep colour of ruby mixed with garnet. Medium-intensity aromas of red fruit, cherries, and leather. Medium plus body with a round mouthfeel. Berries, cherries, plums and leather flavours. Bright fruit flavours. Medium acidity and light fine-grained tannins. A touch of funk on the finish. Tart finish. Again, another acid-driven wine.
Big Head Wines RAW Suma 2020 – Suma means sum in Polish. This is a blend of 4% Merlot (appassimento), 27% Cabernet Franc (fresh), 15% Malbec (appassimento), and 14% Syrah (appassimento). From the winery, “All the varieties were vinified using carbonic fermentation. The Malbec, Merlot and Syrah were dried for a short period of time to lignify (brown) the stems. Merlot we used for body and structure. The Syrah, Malbec and Cabernet Franc were used for aroma and flavour. We bottled this unfiltered after 20 months of aging in concrete.” A deep garnet colour. Light aromas of dark fruit and cranberries. Fuller body, smooth with a light mouthfeel. Medium acidity and tannins. Light-intensity dark fruit flavours plus a touch of mace. Medium-minus length. Firmer tannins on the finish.
Where Can I Buy These Wines?
You can purchase these wines online through the Big Head Wines website.