Never a hero in your own country, so goes the old adage!
It is very interesting that Ontario wines are world-class, but a lot of people simply find this hard to believe. How can this happen?
A case in point is Windrush Estate Winery in the Hockley Valley! It produces only five wines, and every single one has been awarded Gold, Silver or Bronze in the big three international wine competitions in London, England. And this is against over 10,000 wines world-wide! Yet this winery is only four years old, having been founded in 2018.
Windrush’s Founding Story:
The Hockley hills are an emerging wine region and this winery was inspired by world travels of the founders J.C. Pennie and Marilyn Field, MSM, who set out to do that very thing: establish a world class winery. It takes its name from the beautiful Windrush River valley in the Cotswolds, England.
In 2003, John and Marilyn built Chateau Windrush, on a ridge one thousand feet in elevation, and its 360-degree view is spectacular! Initially it was designed for entertaining up to 100 persons enjoying the acoustically phenomenal music hall, and seating sixty for dinner in its Great Hall. Until 2017, friends, business associates and local community leaders came there to support Marilyn’s charity, DAREarts, which she had founded in 1994 for kids at risk. John was in the wind power business, in Grand Valley and Dundalk, and he had to raise millions from investors for these projects.
After the Province decided to end renewable energy contracts, and not wanting to retire, John decided to move into the wine sector after experiencing the nearby new Adamo Estate Winery. Encouraged by Nancy and Mario Adamo, the decision was made to produce great wines for high end restaurants.
After sixty years in business, they did not want to start afresh, so their ownership in a food distribution company lead by John’s son, Ryan Pennie was the key to reaching out to a new group of customers. After releasing their first three vintages of 42,000 bottles in June 2019, Windrush Estate Winery was in forty restaurants by December!
Then COVID reared its ugly head. The restaurant shut downs also shut down Windrush customers and the business model. The owners agilely pivoted to on-line sales, the on-site wine store and selling through farmers’ markets, keeping the lights on.
How to Make World-Class Wine:
According to J.C.Pennie, there are three things you need to make a world-class wine like Windrush.
First, you need good grapes. Windrush brings in grapes from established thirty to forty year old vines in Niagara vineyards. Why? It takes at least seven years for a new vineyard to produce grapes suitable for wine! Windrush has planted its own vineyard on its sixty eight acre property in Hockley, but the vines are not yet mature enough.
John explains the best grapes are from the “Niagara Bench”. “Bench” wines are of superior quality both in structure and character because of the geography where the grapes are grown. It involves water’s effect on shaping the landscape and rock, like Lake Ontario, the Niagara River and Niagara Escarpment, creating the strip of land with steep slopes above and below, for best grape growing conditions. The Rutherford Bench in the Napa Valley of California is another example.
The second thing needed to produce a world class wine is technology. Windrush Estate Winery has invested two million dollars on state-of-the-art wine making equipment on the property, from computer-controlled pump over vats to presses and a testing lab.
The third thing required is what J.C. Pennie refers to as the “magic”. That magic is the winemaker. At Windrush, that magic is Jonathan Boyle. He graduated from Ontario’s own Niagara College Winery & Viticulture program. This program was introduced by legendary Ontario vintner, Jim Warren, as founding professor of the program, and also founder of Stoney Ridge Winery in Jordan. Jim is a consultant to Windrush and is currently writing books about the history of wine in North America. Jonathan Boyle had been one of Jim Warren’s star students.
Jonathan got his experience around the world. He first worked for renowned Ontario wineries such as Chateau des Charmes in Niagara-on-the Lake, The Foreign Affair Winery in Vineland and others. Following a stint in the Okanagan Valley, in British Columbia, and then in Australia, he became chief winemaker at the major Tarara Winery in Virginia, USA.
His philosophy follows the classic, traditional European style of winemaking. It is elegant, friendly and pairs with just about everything: from chicken, seafood, lamb and pasta dishes, to cinnamon donuts! Windrush specializes in VQA dry wines, its wines ranging from only 2 to 5 grams of sugar per litre.
Windrush Estate Winery Today:
Today, with the “new normal”, wines from Windrush Estate Winery are offered in sixty restaurants! Locally, you can enjoy them in establishments like Mrs. Mitchell’s, Taste of Freedom, Millcroft Inn & Spa, Mono Cliffs Inn, Wine Spot, Beyond the Gate, Chez Michel, TIMO, Gourmandissimmo and The Vista restaurant at Mount Alverno Luxury Resorts, to mention a few.
After 25 years as Founder of DAREarts, where over 220,000 children at risk were helped across Canada via her pioneering arts education programs, Marilyn Field turned it over to others. However, not one to retire from giving hope to children, she formed the LEAD program as well as Windrush Foundation. Proceeds from the winery are used to support youthLEADarts, an acronym for Listen, Empathize, Act and Drive as a pathway for all leaders.
This season, Chateau Windrush has been the setting for a concert and speakers series in its magnificent concert space on the third floor, combining Marilyn’s love of the arts. Audiences have enjoyed such world-renowned talent as tenor Ben Heppner, pianist Daniel Vnukowski, Don Clancy from ‘Lighthouse’ and novelist Eva Stachniak, in an intimate setting with a glass of wine – as well as the Caledon Music Fest, Neil Donell from ‘Chicago’, architects Jan and Ivana Benda, tenor Romulo Delgada, soprano Sara Papini and many others. To check out the upcoming artist events, visit www.windrushestatewinery.com/local-events/
To order your own glasses of deliciousness and have a tour too, with tastings right out of the barrels, you can contact the winery website. To find out more about this amazing winery right on our own front doorstep, go to: windrushestatewinery.com
WRITTEN BY: DIANA JANOSIK-WRONSKI