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Canada's Top Wineries (April 25, 2002)


Cave Spring Cellars
Situated in the historic old town of Jordan (with a fine restaurant and inn), Cave Spring has been a leader in the quality revolution under owners Len Pennachetti and winemaker Angelo Pavan. Angelo's strength is in his white wines, particularly Chardonnay and Riesling. His dessert wines (Indian Summer and Riesling Icewine) are some of the best in Canada.

Creekside Estate Winery
The winemaking is under the watchful eye of a 26-year-old Australian immigrant, Marcus Ansems, who, in his teenage years, worked the crush at his uncle's estate Mount Langi Ghiran back in Oz. Dealing with cool climate fruit he shows a deft hand at elegant Bordeaux-style blends, Pinot Noir, a lovely grassy Sauvignon and a rich Chardonnay. Fans look forward to his first Shiraz.

Daniel Lenko Estate
The Lenko family have been grape growers since 1959 and boast the oldest Chardonnay vineyard in the province. In a mere three years since the winery was founded Daniel Lenko has won more medals in competition than most wineries can muster in fifteen – thanks to the consulting skills of commuting winemaker Jim Warren. Jim is a small-batch enthusiast who thinks nothing of producing 50 wines in a vintage, all in extrovert, flavour-driven style.

Henry of Pelham Family Estate
The three young Speck brothers with winemaker Ron Giesbrecht have found the ideal formula for a medium-sized family winery. Chardonnay is their forte, both unoaked and barrel-fermented. Ron has actually made a cult wine of the hybrid Baco Noir; devotees look forward to each vintage. His best red is a Cabernet/Merlot blend.

Malivoire Wine Company
Ann Sperling is one of the brightest stars on the Ontario winemaking scene. Given her head by owner Martin Malivoire (whose original idea was to produce an Ontario rosé to rival Marsannay), she produces some of the richest, most fully extracted wines on the market. Her Moira Vineyard Chardonnay and Gewurztraminer are expensive but worth it and nobody makes a better red hybrid than her Old Vines (Marechal) Foch goosed with a touch of Cabernet Franc.

Inniskillin Wines
The Ontario winery that spearheaded the quality revolution sat back on its laurels for a few years when taken over by Vincor but with the arrival of Australian winemaker Philip Dowell, of Yarra Valley fame, the energy is back. The world's largest single producer of Icewine also does a great job with its single vineyard Chardonnays and the winery's concentration on Pinot Noir will result in Ontario's best if the 1999 Montague Vineyard Pinot Noir is any indication.

Hillebrand Estates
Owned by the giant Andrés, Hillebrand continues to operate as an independent large winery with a decided emphasis on quality at the top end. Winemaker J-L Groulx with his predilection for Bordeaux makes a top flight claret-style Trius Red. An advocate of unfiltered reds and single vineyard Chardonnays that express their terroir, he also makes one of the driest Mosel-like Rieslings in the Niagara Peninsula.

Peninsula Ridge
Norman Beal went to Chablis to hire a "name" winemaker for his new estate winery. Jean-Pierre Colas, formerly with Domaine Laroche, has not only brought a sense of style to Peninsula Ridge Chardonnay, a variety Jean-Pierre has had much experience with, but has also produced a seamless, exciting Sauvignon Blanc.

Château des Charmes
Paul Bosc Sr. is a fifth-generation winemaker whose studies in Burgundy and winegrowing experience in Algeria have been a blessing to the Ontario wine industry. Along with Inniskillin, he can take credit for the quality of Ontario wines today. His Bordeaux red blends and his single-vineyard Chardonnays speak to his training in France (passed down to his winemaker son) and he has gone out on a limb to plant Auxerrois, Savagnin and Viognier.

Vineland Estates
The most beautifully sited winery in the province. The property was formerly owned by the Mosel's Hermann Weis (St. Urbans-Hof), who planted the vineyard with vines from his own nursery. John Howard purchased a going concern ten years ago and expanded the vineyards, making Vineland Estates the destination for agri-tourism (great restaurant, tasting facilities and a vineyard B&B.). Winemaker Brian Schmidt is a Riesling specialist (from bone dry to Icewine) and produces one of the best Gewurztraminers, as well as the most expensive red Meritage blend in Canada.

Thirty Bench
This small, uncompromising enterprise produces some of the biggest (sometimes over-the-top) wines in Canada. Rigorous bunch thinning and late harvesting are the secrets here. A winemaking team produces blockbuster Chardonnay, fleshy Riesling and concentrated Bordeaux varietals as well as a blended red.

Wineries to watch: Cilento,Thirteenth Street, Pillitteri

British Columbia:

Alderlea Vineyards
In a mere six years Roger Dosman has established an enviable record for his small portfolio of wines grown on his 10-acre vineyard in the Cowichan Valley of Vancouver Island. His strength is in Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir. The name Cowichan is an aboriginal place name meaning "the Warm Land".

Blue Mountain Vineyard
A picture-book winery set amid mountains and lakes, Blue Mountain produces some of the most sought-after wines in Canada. Maverick owner Ian Mavety refuses to join VQA but makes astonishingly good wines across the range – Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir as well as Chardonnay and traditional method sparklers.

Burrowing Owl Vineyards
Owner Jim Wyse wooed winemaker Bill Dyer away from Sterling Vineyards in Napa to help set up this new gravity-feed facility in 1997, built on the site of the former LeComte winery. The vineyard, a plateau on the side of a mountain, is in a spectacular setting. Burrowing Owl, a 10,000-case operation, concentrates on four varieties – Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris – with newer plantings of Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir and Syrah.

CedarCreek Estate
Formerly called Uniacke Cellars, one of the original cottage wineries in British Columbia, CedarCreek was purchased in 1986 by Senator Ross Fitzpatrick. Winemaker Kevin Willenbour, who spent 10 years at the Louis Martini Winery in Napa, put the winery on the high road high in 1998. His successor, Thomas di Bello from Washington State, continues the quest for quality. The best wines are the Platinum Reserve series, which includes Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Merlot. Their Estate Select label is not too shabby either.

Nichol Vineyard
Alex Nichol and his wife Kathleen run this bijou operation (1,200 cases) nestled below the granite cliffs of the Kettle Valley Railway and above the sweeping majesty of Okanagan Lake at Naramata. The wines, grown in a former alfalfa field, are hand-crafted and hard to get, especially the concentrated Syrah – a variety Alex introduced into the Okanagan Valley.

Vincor's flagship label in British Columbia has been reaping medals in local and international competitions, thanks to the talents of winemaker Bruce Nicholson – not only for their Icewines (still and sparkling) but for Red Meritage and Shiraz. A joint venture with Groupe Taillan will produce a Bordeaux blend in future, using all five varieties, called Osoyoos-Larose – an unwieldy combination of the local Indian name and Taillan's Château Gruaud-Larose.

Calona Vineyards
The Okanagan's oldest winery, dating back 70 years. Winemaker Howard Soon has spent 22 years there and in the last decade has been given his head to produce some impressive wines. His Artist Series line of wines features bargain-priced varietals of good quality, graced by the label paintings of quadruplegic artist Robb Dunfield, who holds the brush in his mouth. Soon's Sandhill Cabernet Franc is also worth tracking down.

Sumac Ridge
Harry McWatters founded B.C.'s largest estate winery (i.e., a winery allowed to produce up to 50,000 bottles of wine a year) in 1979. Owned by Vincor International, the winery is located in Summerland and is actually carved out of three holes of the former Sumac Ridge Golf & Country Club. Red and White Meritage are the best wines here, as well as the sparkling Steller's Jay and Pinot Blanc Icewine.

Mission Hill
The most dramatic winery in Canada in terms of architecture and innovation. A Mondavi look-alike with its own bell tower and cavernous barrel cellar, Mission Hill is the brainchild of entrepreneur Anthony von Mandl, who has ruffled feathers up and down the valley with his penchant for the extravagant gesture. But the wines, under the care of New Zealander John Simes, live up to the image, especially Chardonnay, Shiraz and the red Oculus blend.

Tinhorn Creek Vineyards
Winemaker Sandra Oldfield, a UC Davis graduate, takes an unrelentingly Californian approach to her wines, including the use of American oak barrels. The result is an engaging style of fruit-driven wines, especially in Merlot, although her best-balanced products are white – Pinot Gris and Chardonnay.

Wineries to watch: La Frenz, Poplar Grove, Black Hills, Fairview Cellars, Stag's Hollow.




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