Thursday, March 21, 2013

Vineland Estate Winery - Great Pinot Meunier and Cab Franc (CA)

While in Ontario wine country, we decided to visit Vineland Estates Winery. The large parking lot was packed and hard to park in...which spoke volumes about its popularity. This was interesting to me since Vineland has a reputation for quality wines, not popular wines. It seems as though their quality wines are very popular. Vineland has both a fantastic tasting room as well as an incredibly well established restaurant. It’s a very popular destination…and a delicious one.
Inside the tasting room was packed, the result of a limousine of people and a small bus. The restaurant too was similarly jammed. The wait staff was being put to the test. It was nice to see the region with that kind of enthusiasm and excitement.
The Vineland Estates Winery team I led by brothers Allan and Brian Schmidt who have been working alongside each other since 1991. As President and Winemaker respectively, the Schmidts are third generation in the Canadian wine industry. Along with Justin Downes, Executive Chef of The Restaurant @ Vineland Estates Winery, and the addition of Roman Prydatkewycz, Vineyard Viticulturist, the Vineland team has four solid pillars. With consistent personalities at its helm over many years, the winery is well positioned to continue to evolve as it celebrates twenty-five years in the Niagara wine industry.

Allan Schmidt is president of Vineland Estates. Born and raised in the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia, Canada, Allan’s background in the world of grape growing and winemaking has stemmed from a long family connection. In 1980, Allan’s family became co-founders of Sumac Ridge Winery in the Okanagan Valley, and today Allan represents the third generation of his family to be involved in the development of this growing Canadian industry.

After oenological training in California at Heitz Cellars and viticulture training in the Nahe region of Germany, Allan moved to Ontario in 1987 to take up the position of Winemaker and General Manager at Vineland Estates Winery. 

Under Allan’s leadership, Vineland Estates was the first winery to open an on-site fine dining 4 Diamond Restaurant and Bed and Breakfast Cottage and sells more than 60,000 cases a year of premium wines.

Brother Brian Schmidt is vice-president and winemaker at Vineland Estates.  Brian Schmidt was born in Kelowna, British Columbia and was raised on a vineyard that had been in the family for three generations.  The Schmidt family was one of the founding families of the Okanagan wine industry and this was the foundation of Brian’s interest in winemaking.
Brian has traveled extensively throughout Europe studying winemaking and the winemaking process.  In 1991, Brian traveled to Ontario to train with his brother Allan, who was the original winemaker at Vineland Estates.  Brian took over this position at the winery in 1994. He is a highly acclaimed winemaker.
Justin Downes is the executive chef at The Restaurant @ Vineland Estates Winery. Justin grew up in the small town of Vineland. He began his career at Vineland Estates Winery in the summer of 1999, starting as a kitchen steward, watching the chefs around him. The following year, he enrolled at Niagara College in the Chef's Apprentice Program. In 2002, Mark Picone, the former executive chef at Vineland Estates Winery, gave Justin the opportunity to do a six month stage in Colle Di Val D'Elsa, Italy, at Arnolfo Ristorante, a two star Michelin rated restaurant. Shortly after his return to Canada, Justin attained his Red Seal Certification, and was promoted to Sous Chef at the winery. In April of 2011, Justin accepted the position of Executive Chef at Vineland Estates Winery.
The location of their vineyards in the designated viticultural area of the Niagara Escarpment. The much-heralded growing area of the Bench of the Niagara Escarpment experiences the warmth of the lake effect from nearby Lake Ontario and allows for natural drainage. The centerpiece of their Escarpment plantings is the 75 acre St. Urban Vineyard, located on the winery property. This vineyard showcases the Weis 21 Riesling clone, brought to Canada by the winery’s founder, Hermann Weis and planted in 1979, ‘80 and ‘81.  Hailing from the Mosel in Germany, Weis was an experienced grape grower who knew exactly what would grow successfully in the Niagara Region.
Their plantings also include the nearby 90-acre Bo-Teek Vineyard and 40-acre Greenlane Vineyard.  Forty percent of the winery’s production comes from single vineyards, and 80 percent from the estate grown fruit of our 170 acres under vine. The winery also works with a number of local independent growers with vineyards on the Niagara Escarpment.  Estate vineyards are overseen by their vineyard consultant, Roman Prydatkewycz, who has many years of experience growing his own grapes in Niagara.
Roman Prydatkewycz is the vineyard viticulturist at Vineland Estates. He is a pioneer in the Ontario wine industry. Born in the Ukraine, Roman's family immigrated to Brazil first, and then when he was a teenager Roman's family moved to Hamilton, Ontario. Roman and wife Sophie Prydatkewycz owned and operated their 26 acre vineyard on the Beamsville Bench, a preferred site for growing grapes nestled against the Niagara Escarpment, known as Rosomel Vineyard.  

The first wine we had was a lovely riesling which we both enjoyed very much, but the first real eye-popper was the 2011 Pinot Meunier. The wine was 100% Pinot Meunier. Pinot Meunier is Pinot Noir’s less fussy brother. The winery has been growing and making the varietal for more than a decade. Lots of stewed berries, dark raspberries, dark plums, and ripe cherries, meld with an earthiness that gives this wine a lovey flavor and texture. A soft vanilla rounds it out at the end. Nice acids keep the fruit alive, and soft tannins make it easy to drink. This was instantly one of my favorite wines of our entire trip.

Our next favorite was the 2007 Reserve Cabernet Merlot. It is a blend of 53% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Cabernet Franc, and 27% Merlot. It spent 22 months in oak. This is a lovely wine. The nose is a big berry cobbler, with cherry, raspberry, blackberry and a hint of cassis, with a whiff of cedar as promised. Good acidity as the flavor lasts a long, long time. The tannins are solid and keep the wine honest and give it its classical structure. Very, very nice!! An elegant wine. Very impressive!
100% Cabernet Franc. It spent 6 months in French oak. Strawberries, raspberries, and black berries come through on the nose as promised. On the palate the raspberry and blackberry come across as well as dark ripe plums. Hints of vanilla and spice. A long lingering fruit stays with you. Nice tannins but not overwhelming. A lovely, lovely medium bodied dry red wine. Very, very nice.

As we got to the end of our tasting, the limo and the bus had left, and the frantic staff was back to their normal pourings. We ended up having a very good time and were sorry we didn’t have enough time to sample some of the dishes there. But it gives us something to come back for. We are definitely going back!