“We can say there’s a handful of wines that we have a handle on. Riesling is at the top of that list.” Angelo Pavan, winemaker, Cave Spring Cellars (VINES Magazine, April/May 2011)
When Charles Baker launched his eponymous Riesling in 2005, he was continuing a project started while working at Cave Spring Cellars. While at the Jordan winery, the sales executive made a Riesling he called Django, after noted jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt.
Baker felt adopting the gypsy musician’s name was fitting given he was making wine without owning vineyards or a winery. When he took a job at Stratus Vineyards in Niagara-on-the-Lake, that idea grew in scale and ambition. He was able to create a commercial wine, working in tandem with chef and vineyard owner Mark Picone and the winemaking team at Stratus.
The employees at Featherstone Estate Winery were all smiles as they welcomed new staff members. A flock of sheep, numbering some 40 in all, reported for duty today. They are the best kind of workers because they don’t complain, don’t make demands and are absolutely adorable.
These little lambs are charged with an important role. They are responsible for eating leaves on the vines, which permits more sunlight and airflow into canopy, which encourages ripening. Featherstone is so grateful for their services that they name their flagship wine, the Black Sheep Riesling, after them.
Given that the Black Sheep Riesling represents Featherstone’s largest production (they also produce a white blend primarily made out of Riesling), it’s not surprising that winemaker and co-owner David Johnson is passionate about the variety. He is devoted to making sure his wine is fresh, fruity and well balanced — everything Ontario Riesling should be.
Johnson feels Riesling has the potential to be Ontario’s signature grape. “We grow it well, it winters well, it ripens early. We can grow great Cabernet Sauvignon, but not every year and you can’t run an industry on that.”
As such, he believes Riesling should be the province’s shining star and be produced more than any other varietal. “It should be Ontario’s greatest white and can turn into the world’s greatest white…We keep on waiting for the ‘Riesling breakthrough.’ We are waiting for it to overtake Chardonnay.”
Richie Roberts loves Riesling. As winemaker at Fielding Estate Winery, it’s his favourite grape variety to work with and drink.
“It’s very versatile,” says the Beamsville based vintner, explaining that the grape is adaptable to a wide range of styles — everything from bone dry to sweet and sticky. “I especially love Riesling from here because you can keep that acidity in it… And using that acidity you can create very balanced wines. Very fresh wines.”
Riesling also offers versatility because of the different flavours derived from grapes grown at different sites, he added.
“It’s not a grape variety that requires a lot of manipulation in the cellar. It’s very pure,” says Roberts.
And the grape is well suited to growing in Niagara, flourishing in the region’s climate and mineral rich soils.
It consistently ripens, he says. “Every year in Niagara seems to be a great year for Riesling.” KELLY SCHWEITZER