Graham Rennie is on a quest to make the best red wine in Ontario and to do so, he’s reaching back into an age-old drying technique.
His Rennie Estates Winery produces four wines in small, artisanal batches of about 600 cases a year. Grapes are handpicked from Rennie’s 20-hectare sloping vineyard, Heron Pond Benchland, on the Beamsville Bench.
“Our vineyard produces super premium fruit and our wines win many awards. The Pinot and Chardonnay are amazing but in my heart I want to make a rich, powerful, complex red wine that improves with age and is luxurious and full-bodied.”
That takes long, hot summers and while those come along every few years, Rennie says the real answer is appassimento. The Old World method concentrates flavours by drying the grapes.
“It’s unique in Niagara. We do it very slowly,” said Rennie. The technique is used in northern Italy where they make rich reds called amarones.
“Ontario is one of the biggest markets for Italian amarone wines,” said Rennie.
There are about half a dozen Niagara producers making appassimento wines, each with their own methods, says Rennie. A few use quick-drying techniques, but Rennie and Foreign Affair and Cave Spring use a slow-drying method.
Rennie dries his grapes for 80 to 100 days in a chamber developed through a partnership with Vineland Research Centre. The fruit loses about 35 to 45 per cent of its volume while sugars and flavours are concentrated.
Rennie has his wine made to his specifications at Malivoire Winery, where it’s aged in French oak barrels for 18 to 20 months. The first vintage using the chamber was released in 2011.
Rennie sells to about 35 restaurants and directly to wine lovers. The most expensive is G, a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, at $55 a bottle.
Like many in the wine business, he came to the vineyards after making his money elsewhere. Rennie owns an investment firm in Oakville and bought his vineyard in 1997.
At the time, he paid more per acre than anyone ever had for a vineyard and plenty of people told him he was crazy.
“Now, 15 years later, it looks like such a bargain.”
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