Long before they sell a single bottle, wine producers can often spend at least five income-free years planning, planting, picking, processing and, let's not forget, praying that someday the name of their winery (and the wine itself) will be on the lips of consumers. Here are four of the newest Canadian contenders. With luck and hard work, they, too, may celebrate a 25th anniversary, as British Columbia's first estate winery, Sumac Ridge, did this past July.
Closson Chase Vineyards
Prince Edward County, Ont., 888-210-2300; Hillier, Ont., 613-399-1418; clossonchase.com
Set on the massive glacial deposit that formed the peninsula of Lake Ontario, just a few hundred kilometres east of Toronto, a century-old barn painted purple and surrounded by a small field of grapes tells you you've arrived. Actress Sonja Smits, her husband, filmmaker Seaton McLean, and entertainment-industry executives have put up the cash. The winery's rapidly growing reputation, however, is built solidly on the winemaking wizardry of co-owner Deborah Paskus, Canada's Chardonnay diva. Paskus ensures that every bottling clearly reflects the vineyard soil and sunny exposure of its origin, with warm, ripe fruit flavours, mineral-laden structure and lingering complexity. At $23 per bottle, these powerful, distinctive and elegant wines easily stand up to the great French Burgundies that cost two to four times as much.
Le Clos Jordanne
Jordan Station, Ont., 905-562-9404
In 2000, two corporate visionaries, Donald L. Triggs, founder of Canada's largest wine company, Vincor International, and Jean-Claude Boisset, head of Burgundy's largest wine company, shook hands on a joint venture to produce the best Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in the Niagara region. They scoured the area until they found four suitable vineyard sites on the escarpment. Then, they applied traditional organic grape-growing practices with classic Burgundian winemaking techniques, which focus on reduced yields to give greater concentration, careful selection of grapes to eliminate under- and overripe berries, minimal intervention in the cellar, bottling without filtration in order to avoid the elimination of flavour nuances, and respect for the individuality of each site. Winemaker Thomas Bachelder has been working in a temporary facility; however, the business plan calls for the building of a stunning $40-million winery to be designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry.
This month, the winery debuts its first wines, which range in price from $25 to $55. I tasted them with exceedingly high expectations. Happily, I was not disappointed. In fact, I was taken aback by their sheer brilliance.
Sanson Estate Winery
Amherstberg, Ont., 519-726-9609; sansonestatewinery.com
Dennis Sanson's dream of a winery started in the middle of a nightmare. Sanson was nearly killed in a head-on crash 15 years ago. During his long, slow and painful recovery, the trained chef was determined to return to a normal life and began to visualize a future in food, wine and nature. Nearly 10 years after planting his first grapes, Sanson and his family run a new winery with growing production from seven acres of estate-grown hybrids, as well as from locally purchased vinifera grapes. They also operate a small hospitality centre for weddings and corporate events, and a market garden and vegetable stand. Sanson's 2002 Cabernet Franc and 2004 Chardonnay are quite good, but his 2003 Baco Noir Reserve scored a gold medal at the 2005 All Canadian Wine Championships, and his 2002 Bird Dog Red won the gold at the 2006 event.
Dirty Laundry Vineyard
Summerland, B.C., 250-494-8815; dirtylaundry.ca
The former Scherzinger Vineyard already had a reputation for having some of the oldest and tastiest European grapes in the valley. New owners Ron and Cher Watkins discovered an even older reputation dating back to the days of railroad building and the gold rush, when a Chinese immigrant fled the railways in 1890 and set up the first laundry. Soon after, the first and only bordello and gambling hall opened upstairs. Hence, the new name Dirty Laundry. The Watkinses are slowly improving and expanding the portfolio of the seven-acre vineyard, which also features a winery and retail shop. Current releases include three stunning Gewürztraminers -- Threadbare, Woo Woo and Madam's -- as well as a Riesling, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay, all from $16, and a Pinot Noir priced at $24.