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Excellence by Design

Report  on Business – The Globe and Mail –

For a new winery, Niagara-on-the-Lake’s Stratus Vineyards has garnered an impressive reputation.  Their flagship Stratus Red and Stratus White wines have received rave reviews from many including celebrity chefs Susur Lee and Jamie Kennedy.  Unfortunately, you’re going to have to wait until Spring 2008 for winemaker J.L. Groux’s next signature assemblage.  Their 2004 Stratus Red and White have been sold out for months.

Stratus also draws accolades for its commitment to environmental sustainability.  The winery is the first building in Canada to achieve LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification and the first winery in the world to fully achieve this designation.

We sat down with J.L. to discuss assemblage, gravity and great wine.

TELL ME ABOUT THE PRINCIPLES OF ASSEMBLAGE…

Well, assemblage is a very old way of making wine.  The concept of varietal wine as we know it.  Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and so on is really something which is very North American and relatively new.  A hundred years ago – you would bnever see Riesling or Cabernet Sauvignon or a Chardonnay.  You always would see where it’s grown, where the vineyard is – that’s still the way it is done in Europe.

TELL ME A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THE VINEYARD HERE…

We have 55 acres planted now with 18 different varieties.  The reason we do that is because we want to have diversity.  We try to promote diversity in all we do in the winery and in the vineyard.  The reason is because with assmblage you are looking into complexity.  That’s why we have an unusual vineyard, with varieties from Spain, from Italy, Germany and many different parts of France.  That gives us a palette of taste, of aromatics that contributes to the overall picture, if you will.

IT SOUNDS LIKE YOU’VE GOT A WONDERFUL JOB…

It is a wonderful job.  It’s very challenging because it’s never repetitive.  Nature has this beautiful thing called climate.  It’s changing all the time and it’s an ongong challenge that we have to live with and be philosophical about…otherwise you’d never sleep at night.  It’s changing and doing tricks all the time and you have to accept that there is huge variability from year to year.  But, at the end of the day, assemblage gives you the ability to make great wines every year.

TELL ME A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOUR GRAVITY FLOW SYSTEM…

Well, it’s all to do with respect.  We get these beautiful grapes and we want to be as gentle as possible.  So yes, the winery uses gravity – we do not use a pump.  Some people say that’s very innovative.  If you think about it, 200 years ago there was not much of a pump to talk about.  Everybody was making wine without one.   This is a very gentle way to make wine.

DAVID FELDBERG, THE FOUNDER OF STRATUS HAS TAKEN A FEW RISKS HERE…

There were a number of risks in building this winery.  Everybody talks about the fact that the winery is friendly to the environment – now.  Back then, even four years ago this was not a very hot topic.  The decision to heat and cool everything with geothermic technology – using the earth’s energy to heat or cool the building – was a difficult one.  Still, the winery was built with one objective – to make superior wine!

DOES EXCELLENCE INVOLVE SOME RISK…

I would say so – yes.  It starts with ideas that might not be usual, not doing everything the way it has been done.  For example, we decided not to build an agri-tourism centre.  We decided to make assemblage – which is contrary to what most practice here.  That’s another risk, but when the result is wonderful – well, that is excellence.

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