Ontario Winemaker’s Harvest 2023 Interview

This is my sixth year interviewing winemakers or winery principals in Ontario about their latest grape harvest and wine production.  I visited the Niagara-on-the-Lake area in September and heard many positive comments from winemakers about the upcoming harvest season. 

Now that it is early December and the wines are all in tanks or barrels, how did the Ontario grape growing season and harvest fare?  I interviewed two winemakers/winery principals this year:

Where Are These Wineries?

Here is a google map showing the location of the 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 2023 grape harvest.

1. Where your vineyards and winery are located?

William: We have two estate vineyard sites we farm:
              1. Renaceau Vineyard – planted in 2003/2004, located on the Beamsville Bench where the winery is located.
              2. Blackjack Vineyard – planted in 2008/2009, located on the Jordan Bench.

Lee: Our winery is located just outside the town of Wellington, in Prince Edward County. PEC is on a peninsula on the North shore of Lake Ontario, in South-Eastern Ontario.

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?

William: First pick – Sept 16, 2023 (for sparkling), and last pick will be Nov 23rd (cab sauv, table wine). This year is considered a bit delayed to normal years, last year (2022) we began Sept 7th and finished Nov 4.

Grape harvest 2023 at Rosehall Run Vineyards
Grape harvest 2023 at Rosehall Run Vineyards

Lee: Our season started substantially later than usual for us. We had a really cool and wet August with record amounts of precipitation and a lack of sunshine. This led to harvest being delayed because the grapes were waiting for the sun that was to come in September – Which luckily came in abundance. Harvest started in the last half of September with the grapes to be used for our sparkling wine, and we would normally be picking these grapes 3-4 weeks earlier.

3. What surprised you about this year’s harvest? Did you have a bigger or smaller volume of grapes compared to last year?

William: Slightly higher tonnage than average with vintage 2023, good quality but delayed ripeness overall slowed things down. Quality is good overall considering the amount of precipitation we experienced during the growing season (rained almost every week).

Lee: The yields this year were generally pretty average. In some varieties, they were above last year, but more tender varieties didn’t fare as well during the heavy late summer rains. The most surprising thing this year was all the sun in September. We remained hopeful in August, but we weren’t sure what to expect. The disease pressure was high, veraison was late, and the soil was saturated with moisture. If the rain had continued and if we didn’t get the sun we needed, it could have ended up being a totally different story. We went from the wettest season on record to one of the driest, hottest September’s we have had! There is an old saying in the wine industry – “The harvest is made in September” – and this year proved this saying to me. It appeared that the grapes and vines were just sitting there, waiting for the sun that was to come, and as soon as the sun hit the canopy the vines started working to ripen the berries. We saw sugar levels climb faster, colour develop deeper, and flavour comes on faster than we could remember. This led to some really exceptional grapes for our 2023 wines. They are very unique because the skins are tough and thick from all the rain, the acids are beautifully piercing because of the cool summer, the flavours are deep and complex because of the long maturation time and the characters are ripe because of all the late season heat and sun. I think this 2023 season is going to be responsible for some very interesting, unique and delicious wines.

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

William: Gamay Noir and Cabernet Franc always excite us. We always enjoy farming and fermenting these varietals.

Lee: We are ALWAYS excited for our estate Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays. The wines that we make from these vines, varietals and this place are incredibly special. It may sound cliche but we really love the way that these wines in particular really demonstrate this place and the time that they are grown in. The winemaking of these wines remains very consistent from year to year, so maintaining and developing our house style allows the vintage to show itself in the glass. I truly believe that these wines are incredibly unique to this place and are of world-class quality. I’m always especially excited to see how these two develop from grapes to ferments, into barrels and then follow them to the bottle.

That being said, we do have a few fun and different things happening in the cellar. We are making the full gamut of traditional method sparkling wines. The bases for our Ceremony (Chardonnay), Rosebud (Pinot Noir Rose) and Stardust (Chard and Pinot blend) were all produced this year. They are 100% barrel fermented, estate fruit and traditional method sparkling wines, which is always a labour of love. We also made a yet to be named Skin Contact wine made from Muscat Ottenel grapes from our farm. The wine was fermented much like our red wine grapes and stayed on skins for 14 days before pressing. This created an incredibly aromatic, fun wine that will be great with food.

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

William: The growing season was average at best overall. Seasonal rainfall was higher than anticipated and was very, very regular throughout the growing season. Temperatures were fairly moderated throughout the summer, with some peaks but were not overtly intense as in some prior years.

Lee: See question 3.

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

William: We are constantly experimenting with our expressions and always use a healthy mix of neutral oak, larger format oak (500L, 2000L, 5200L oak vats) alongside our unlined amphora. Every year we produce skin contact wine or two, a lot of barrel fermented and aged whites and do have a sparkling program in the cellar. Our sparkling program is a solera system, where we make a new base wine to add to the solera and then in the spring, we bottle a new “non-vintage” batch of sparkling, split between a fresher style Charmat and a bottle fermented, traditional method, sparkler that will sit sur lie for many years prior to release.

Lee: See question 4.

7. If you could write anything on the back label of the wines for this harvest, what would you say?

William: “It was a long one, but a good one. Best served with friends.”

Lee: Taste the September Sun…….

8. What is your favourite thing about harvest time?

With the wine barrels at Rosehall Run Vineyards at harvest
With the wine barrels at Rosehall Run Vineyards at harvest

William: The entire process. It’s a unqiue mix of effort from start to finish that really requires the entire to complete. It’s a process of patience and turbidity, it’s a process that one must be fluid in as the best laid harvest plan can quickly deteriorate in a moment’s notice. It’s a very stressful, yet rewarding process as we finish one life/death cycle (growing season) and begin another (cellar elevage).

Lee: Harvest time is always exciting. So much happens so quickly! You really get to find out if your predictions of the season come true. The smell of everything fermenting is intoxicating, and the team is full of energy – Everything about it is awesome.

9. How does your team de-stress during harvest and any party after harvest is over?

William: Music, laughter and good food are the best de-stressors during harvest. Ensuring the team has all three is critically important to the success of harvest. We call it… “Rosebowl” – a themed post-harvest and holiday gathering for the team where in we go bowling.

Lee: Our team tries not to get overly stressed. We listen to music constantly, tell jokes, and share meals. After harvest we all take time to reconnect with our families. Harvest is demanding on our time and this means there is plenty of time away from home, after harvest is our time to share a glass with our partners and relax.

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.