Alsace Wine Information
If you're looking for an ideal first winery to begin your visit to the Niagara winery region, the Inniskillin Winery would be the place to start. Inniskillin is one of the founding wineries of this classic wine region, and their winery exhibits do a wonderful job of explaining the region, the history, the land and the wines in an easy to understand manner. There is a self guided tour that you can take at any hour, at your own pace, to learn exactly how a winery goes from vineyard to bottle. There is also a large, comfortable wood tasting room with extremely friendly staff available to help you sample the varieties offered.
We were very fortunate on our visit to have as our guide Debi Pratt, who has been with Inniskillin from its earliest days.
The History of Ininskillen
Back in the old days of Niagara, in the 1950s and 1960s, there were five large, bulk wineries which focussed on easy to grow grapes, such as concord. They made their packaging look European and were not at all promoting a special Niagara identity. Into this environment came Donald Ziraldo and Karl Kaiser. Donald ran a nursery, while Karl, an Austrian, had just moved here and wanted to make wine. They decided to give a try with vinifera grapes, the traditional grapes of Europe.
The vines went into the ground in 1974, and in 1975 they received their winery license - the first issued in the area since 1929! The grape vines took a few years to grow, and in 1977 they had their first harvest, of riesling, chardonnay and gamay. This was in many years the worst year ever as far as weather went - and even so, the wine was wonderful, showing the great potential of this region. Suddenly it was clear, as Debi explained that "We are not a bottling facility - we are a region, and a destination".
From this auspicious beginning came many more triumphs. In 1984 they began making ice wine, a wine uniquely well suited for this region. With ice wines they allow the grapes to stay on the wine through the winter, until the temperatures drop down to -8 to -12C. The grapes are picked as frozen marbles, and only a few drops of succulent nectar are yielded from each one. The wine is extremely labor intensive to make, but creates a stunningly rich dessert wine.
The Niagara region is at a perfect latitude for winemaking, in the same zone as northern California and central France. In addition, the lake bed provides rich nutrients in the soil as well as a warming effect. Everything from the shores up the escarpment to the "bench" is ideal for grape growing. The clay and sandy loam base are perfect for vines. Debi offered that "grapes do not like to have wet feet". The soil's strong mineral components add character to the wines, which varies from block to block. What grows "is site specific, and soil and climate."
At first there were no regulatory bodies controlling the wineries here, but France would not let in shipments of wine without an appelation system. It took six years to develop and create the VQA, or Vintners Quality Alliance system. As part of these agreements, Canada had to agree to phase out any wines which were labelled with France-specific names, such as Burgundy or Bordeaux. This helped to solidify what Inniskillin had always pressed for - pride in the regional achievements specific to Niagara, Canada.
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