Southbrook Vineyards is easily one of the coolest wineries
you will ever visit. In some instances, like say, Opus One, it is as absolutely
unique as any I have ever seen. Firstly, there is a large, long blue wall that
cuts across the vineyard property like the giant blade of a knife. The front of
it says Southbrook Vineyards in simple, san-seraph type. The wall then extends
almost 1,000 feet, or roughly a quarter mile. It’s as much a bill board as a
statement. It states unequivocally, ‘we are like no one else.’
In the middle of this wall is the large face of the tasting
pavillion and offices. It’s all glass. In fact, the entire tasting is almost
surrounded by glass, and the ability to see through to the vineyards is visible
from almost everywhere in the building. Much like Philip Johnson’s Glass House,
everything seems visible from inside out as much as outside looking in. In
winter is has a very sort of strange affect. The barren landscape, usually lush
and green in summer, is cold and white, and adds to the sense of clean,
sparseness of the tasting room design and feel.
Established in the 1860s at the head of the Don River by the
Patterson family, Don Head Farms was purchased by William and Iska Redelmeier
(current owner Bill Redelmeier's grandfather) in 1941. At its peak, Don Head
Farms maintained the largest herd of Jersey cattle in Canada on hundreds of
acres of fertile land north of Toronto.
By 1980s the property is re-named Southbrook Farms. Bill and
partner/co-owner, Marilyn, evolved the family business from a roadside stand in
the 1980s to a thriving farm market. The market’s commitment to supporting
Ontario producers foreshadowed the locavore movement yet to come.
An appreciation of gourmet foods and wines lead the
Redelmeiers to create a boutique winery and unique special event location,
housed in the farm’s century-old barns. In 1991, having sourced some of the
Niagara region’s finest grape varietals, Southbrook produced the first 2,000
cases of wine. They were ably assisted by the craftsmanship of Derek Barnett
(who is now the winemaker at Lailey Vineyard….but more on them later….LOVED
The winery thrived. Annual production climbed to 5,000 cases
using VQA grapes from growers in the Niagara Peninsula. The combination of farm
market, winery and event location became a big success, regularly attracting
125,000 visitors per year, including pck-your-own operations and school pumpkin
In 2007, an Ontario versus Bordeaux contest was held, judged
by 12 respected wine writers. “A Niagara red few people have heard of edged out
an illustrious lineup of Bordeaux, including Château Lafite Rothschild 2001
($349) and Châteaux Margaux 2001 ($339), two trophy labels venerated the world
over by people with apparently more money than time to do comparison shopping.”
So writes Beppi Crosariol in the Globe and Mail on Feb. 24, 2007. The
little-known red he mentions is Southbrook’s 2002 Triomphus Cabernet Merlot
(later re-christened Poetica). The wine has since sold out, with only a few
library bottles being shared from time to time at Poetica tastings.
Southbrook has always sourced grapes from
Niagara-on-the-Lake, so Bill was excited about operating his own vineyard
there. Brought on as a winemaking consultant in 2005, Ann Sperling introduced
Bill and Marilyn to an excellent opportunity. A 74-acre parcel in the warm Four
Mile Creek sub-appellation of Niagara-on-the-Lake is on the market, complete
with 36 acres of ideally planted, well-selected varieties and top-notch clones.
The couple realized its potential, and decided on the new location to build the
winery of their dreams. They convince Ann Sperling to sign on as full-time
Director of Winemaking and Viticulture.
Expansion of the vineyard is planned and planting commenced.
The design of a winery with associated facilities and a hospitality building
were entrusted to Jack Diamond of Diamond and Schmitt Architects of Toronto.
The Redelmeiers commenced creation of a fully biodynamic, organic and
environmentally responsible winemaking operation.
By 2006 Ann was ready to make wine in Niagara-on-the-Lake
and the architects’ attentioned turn to the construction of the hospitality
pavilion. The wine shop move was undertaken in the fall of 2007, while the
family’s Richmond Hill presence lives on in the form of the Pumpkin Patch and
Country Store. An adjoining 75-acre parcel was purchased to provide an area for
pasture and for future vineyard expansion. The new enterprise was re-named
Southbrook Vineyards to reflect the Redelmeier’s new role as vineyard stewards.
The opening celebration of the Hospitality Pavilion took place on the Summer
Solstice of 2008.
Ann Sperling is Director of Winemaking and Viticulture. Ann
was integral to Southbrook's transition from winemaker to winegrower, having
introduced Marilyn and Bill Redelmeier to the property in Niagara-on-the-Lake
that has become our new home. Her commitment to managing Southbrook’s vineyard
organically and biodynamically is met with equal dedication by our Vineyard
Manager Scott Jones, our Winemaker Brian Hamilton and our Assistant Winemaker
Considered a leading force in the Canadian movement towards
organic and biodynamic fine winemaking, Ann has over two decades of experience
in winegrowing, winemaking and consulting for successful winery startups.
Ann prefers to think of herself as a “Winegrower,” instead
of a winemaker. This vineyard-centric ideology is passionately applied to every
facet of Southbrook’s winemaking philosophy, including its organic and
biodynamic grape-growing practices, and gentle handling in the winery.
Ann’s roots are deeply embedded in the terroir of
winegrowing. Raised on a family vineyard in Kelowna, BC, Ann began early on
recognizing, developing and appreciating the fine balance within the
characteristics of the fruit and its effects on wine. She completed her Food
Sciences degree at UBC and has continued her path of learning and exploration
since she entered the wine industry full-time in 1984.
Ann’s talents were recognized in the early nineties when her
1992 Merlot Okanagan Valley won the Gold medal at the International Wine and
Spirits Competition in the UK and Platinum at the Okanagan Wine Festival. Ann played pivotal roles in the start-ups of
both B.C.'s CedarCreek winery and Niagara's Malivoire Wine Company. In 2004,
Ann was awarded with Winemaker of the Year at the Ontario Wine Awards.
On to the tasting….first thing to say is that without
question, all the wines were Certified Organic and Biodynamic. That’s the kind
of commitment these folks are making. Impressive.
The first was the Southbrook 2010 Whimsy! Chardonnay Lot 20
VQA Apple and pear dominate the nose and
palate of the crisp, clean, elegant, and delicate Chardonnay. Mineral and lime
come across as promised. A touch of citrus at the end. A gorgeous long fresh
finish. Nice zippy acidity. Wonderful.
91 points - "Rich caramelized butterscotch nose from
the oak aging, with layers of delicious full-bodied flavour on the palate.
Aromas of fleshy, ripe peach. Long finish. Drink 2012-2015". - Natalie
**** - "Winemaker Ann Sperling calls this organic and
biodynamic white a New World style of Chardonnay. It certainly has the
fruit-forward character that this description generally refers to — though
maybe it's time to dispense with the Euro-centric New-Old World dichotomy, now
that winemakers are making wine in both styles everywhere. Here you'll find an
excellent synthesis of fruit and acid, with plush ripeness and a slightly edgy
juiciness to the texture". - Rod
Phillips, Vines Magazine
Next was Southbrook 2010 Triomphe Cabernet Franc. The
winemakers notes stated: Grapes were hand harvested from the estate vineyard
with a combination of both cluster and berry selection. 50% crushing following
destemming with fermentation in oak vat with a total maceration time of 4 weeks
prior to gentle pressing, settling and barrel aging for 12 months. At this
point barrel selection provided the final blend. No fining, sterile filtation
prior to bottling.
The wine was a deep red wine with tinges of purple. The nose was dark, dark stewed berries with
hints of black currant, rose petals and a tinge of tobacco as promised. A hint
of caramel? Blackberries and dark raspberries come through on the palate. This
is a very complex dry red, with big fruit, nice acidity and very solid tannins.
This is a complex, elegant red, with nice long-lasting fruit. Nice bonus? No
fining agent was used, so it is suitable for vegans and vegetarians.
90 points - "Chocolate-mocha with blackberry.
Full-bodied with a good grip. This organic wine has just 6 mg/L of free
sulphur. Pair with grilled meats. Drink to 2015". - Natalie Maclean, The
"This serious, organically grown Cabernet Franc has a
cool, deep and ripe nose of raspberry, some earthy damp charcoal scent plus
chocolate fudge. Its medium weight, very smooth, fairly dense and lively with
fine edged tannin. There is good acidity and energy, with some minerality. And
the length is excellent. Put in the cellar, best 2014 to 2018". - David
"I also had a taste of the Triomphe Cabernet Franc 2010
(released in August). It is gorgeous, even now, with ripe cassis, spice and
plump juicy fruits through the finish. Another fine example of the Cab Francs
produced in the warm 2010 vintage". - Rick Vansickle, Vintages Magazine
Next was Southbrook 2008 Triomphe Cabernet Franc.
This wine is a blend of 46% Cabernet Sauvignon, 39% Cabernet
Franc, 15% Merlot. Like the 2010 lots of dark fruits, but here the seem more
concentrated. Dark fruits, cherries predominant, but dark raspberry and cassis
also seem to come into play This is a little earthier wine, with hints of
fallen leaves, dried figs, dates, and other spices. It’s a bigger, deeper wine
with a lot of flavor. Impressive!
Southbrook 2009 Whimsy! 'Renewed Vows' Cabernet Franc VQA is
a 7 barrel blend of 89% Cabernet Franc and 11% Cabernet Sauvignon, barrel aged
for 13 months in 100% French cooperage (42% new oak, 29% one year, & 29%
neutral barrels). The grapes were
handpicked, cluster sorted then destemmed and berry selected prior to 50%
crushing. Indigenous fermentation took place in oak vat for a total maceration
time of 4 weeks prior to gentle pressing, settling and racking to barrel for 13
months aging. Barrels were selected,
blended with no fining and only course filtration prior to bottling.
The wine had an incredible aromatic nose that was bursting
with dark cherry and strawberry compote as promised. Ecalyptus and a smokey also came
through. Dark stewed berries came across on the palate with hints of red
currant. The tannins were substantial but not over powering and the fruit staye
with you a very, very long time.
**** - "The vows refer to the 20th anniversary of
Southbrook’s getting its winery licence, and an endorsement of Cabernet Franc –
which Ann Sperling says is not her favourite variety. But she’s made a
seriously good Cab Franc, with impressive structure and supple tannins. It’s
dry, dry, dry, with a nice seam of acid keeping it fresh". - Rod Phillips
Next was Southbrook 2010 Triomphe Cabernet Franc. The winemakers notes stated: Grapes were hand harvested from the estate vineyard with a combination of both cluster and berry selection. 50% crushing following destemming with fermentation in oak vat with a total maceration time of 4 weeks prior to gentle pressing, settling and barrel aging for 12 months. At this point barrel selection provided the final blend. No fining, sterile filtation prior to bottling.
The wine was a deep red wine with tinges of purple. The nose was dark, dark stewed berries with hints of black currant, rose petals and a tinge of tobacco as promised. A hint of caramel? Blackberries and dark raspberries come through on the palate. This is a very complex dry red, with big fruit, nice acidity and very solid tannins. This is a complex, elegant red, with nice long-lasting fruit. Nice bonus? No fining agent was used, so it is suitable for vegans and vegetarians.
90 points - "Chocolate-mocha with blackberry. Full-bodied with a good grip. This organic wine has just 6 mg/L of free sulphur. Pair with grilled meats. Drink to 2015". - Natalie Maclean, The Windsor Star
Overall, this was an incredible experience. The wines were fantastic! The space was unreal in is beauty and design. And to cap it off, not only are the wines delicious...but they are organic and biodynamic. A wonderful time!