Stratus Vineyards: A Canadian Gem From Niagara on the Lake
Posted: 10/01/2014 10:24 am EDT Updated: 1 hour ago
Sometimes you just have to follow your gut. I was invited to a tasting in the mid-winter in Manhattan to taste Canadian wine — not exactly my idea of a fun day to risk the freezing commute for a lunch, tasting, and return trip. What I tasted made the freezing trip very worthwhile. Actually, what I tasted was so good, that I vowed to make sure to take a trip from the New York metro area up to Ontario in the summer to visit the winery.
So, this August I packed up the car, drove up to Niagara on the Lake in Ontario, and got to witness the beginning stages of a great local food and wine scene that is poised to grow. I felt the pride in the local restaurants, that were using seasonal local ingredients in their food, and were serving some very good local wines. Once again, I got to taste the beautifully crafted wines of Stratus, made by winegrower J-L Groux. J-L is a native of the Loire Valley in France, and I asked him what lured him to Niagara on the Lake.
He mentioned three important points; First was a great future for a new growing region with Vinifera grapes. Second, there was great possibility for creativity in the vineyard and the winery. Third, he was in contact with an enthusiastic consumer open to changes.
What do you think people should know about Niagara on the Lake, as a wine producing region?
You can see it as Napa of the north, with many other local large cities and attractions and a grape growing region well adapted to grow European varietals in a European climate and flair.
One of the most promising features of Niagara on the Lake, in addition to the high quality of the local wine, was the incredible support of the local farms. Every menu, and every server spoke of the local sources of farms, that dotted the menus. The foods were local and great seasonal ingredients.
Within the region, speak about the vineyard you have, and what you feel grows best. Why?
The Stratus vineyard is in a warm growing location allowing us many Bordeaux, Rhone and southern European varieties. We pay a lot of attention to our vineyard to be able to make wines in the vineyard and have a minimal work to do in the winery. We have a great stratified soil allowing a great rooting system development.
Talk about your vineyard as opposed to other parts of the region.
Our vineyard is well adapted to grow warm cool continental climate varieties previously described. It is not well adapted to grow the Pinot family or Riesling that are better grown on cooler area on the Beamsville bench strip. (The Beamsville Bench is a narrow plateau that begins from the cliffs of the escarpment running north)
What are your blending methods, and what the process you go through is from year to year.
We blend at the end of a 21 month aging in French oak barrels. About 80% of our wines are assemblage.
We make 100% of our wines of blind tastings to find out where the synergies are for a given vintage.
We use what our vineyard can make best regardless of the variety. It is a very European philosophy.
From the origin, we have been sustainable with a LEED certified building (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design). We use geothermal energy, deliver wine in a Prius, use recycled oil in our tractor, do not use any herbicide and so on and so forth.
What do you foresee as the wine future for Niagara on the Lake?
We will grow more and more red varieties as the climate warms up significantly, and water supply will never be an issue here. We will grow on the international map, and particularly in the USA.
The Wines: (These are the notes from my tasting in August)
Stratus White 2011 (48% Sauvignon Blanc, 48% Semillon, 4% Viognier) Alc: 12.2%
Great mineral and grass from the Sauv Blanc, Semillon adds some weight, and a little floral element from the Viognier. Classy, food friendly white blend.
Stratus Chardonnay 2012 Alc. 13.5%
Well crafted New World styled Chardonnay, with the necessary balancing acidity to counteract the apple and melon fruit.
Stratus Red 2009 (42% Cabernet Franc, 22% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Syrah, 13% Petit Verdot, 4% Tannat, 1% Merlot) Alc.13%
This was an absolute favorite of the tasting. The Cab Franc lead, with a secondary back up of Cab Sauv, was incredibly voluptuous, and spicy. The other elements helped to add complexity, and in truth, I thought the more Cabernet Sauvignon driven 2010 was also a terrific wine, I was just floored by the 2009. I think they are both fantastic, but there is more weight to the 2010, and naturally a year more of bottle development with the 2009.
Stratus Cabernet Franc 2010 Alc.13.5%
This also was a terrific effort, and I believe Cabernet Franc will be important to this winery, and to this region. I love the gutsy, slightly rustic quality, and length and grace. This is a very well crafted Cab Franc.
Stratus Riesling Icewine 2013 (85% Riesling, 15% Semillon) Alc. 14.3%
The Niagara Peninsula has been at the forefront of Canadian Icewine, and this stuff is absolutely phenomenal. Floral, and takes the palate to sweet, then is counteracted by balancing acidity, and floral and mineral, and….,and.. and…and if this weren’t great enough, the 2008, with more maturity, and more elements of mineral unwound, showed off this wine in an even more flattering way.
These wines are great!!!
The wines are imported to the U.S. by Paul Hobbs Imports…yes that Paul Hobbs, but that is a story for a different blog.