Ten years in the making, another new winery has opened in Eastern Ontario, this one being Stone Crop Acres outside Morrisburg.
Great location, very scenic, country estate-ish, nice people running it and, as a bonus, decent wine! That’s not always the case with fledgling wineries whose product at least at first is often, shall we say, raw.
I dropped by on official opening day July 16, an event which was well prepared with informal tasting stations, tasteful entertainment, and tours.
Backed by family and friends, veterinarian turned sommelier and certified winemaker Norene Hyatt-Gervais welcomed a steady stream of curious connoisseurs who readily sampled five debut varieties, four whites and a “summery” Sabrevois red. There are five more reds aging in oak barrels in the constricted wine-making room for gradual release.
An informal survey of my tasting companion the Glengarry Bootmaker and other random guests decreed the 2016 Frontenac Gris Vidal the favourite offering. Described as “deliciously light and playful with aromas of peach, apricot and white flowers”, the wine was available for $12 a bottle, two dollars less than the other varieties.
I was impressed enough that I bought a Frontenac Gris Vidal to take to a wine shower for my niece Molly and betrothed Aaron who are getting married on Prince Edward Island in August.
A stone’s throw from Highway 401, future plans for the venture include a full, climate-controlled wine room and a bed and breakfast operation on site. Currently, Stone Crop is growing 5,000 well managed vines and last year harvested 8,000 pounds of grapes.
Other plans to help draw customers include regular concerts and an events centre in a former machine shed for general gatherings and wedding receptions. The most recent addition to the operation is an attractive wine-tasting room. All processes occur on site, from bottling and packing, to labelling; the label shows a cluster of grapes beside an equal-sized stack of stones.
As usual, when a new winery opens in the forbidden east end of the province where good grapes were deemed by Western Ontario experts to be impossible to grow and therefore good wine impossible to make, there’s immediate talk of a new VQA-recognized region similar to Prince Edward County.
The key ingredient that has made wineries in the frigid east possible and even successful, leading to VQA dreams that have so far failed to materialize, is cold-climate grape varieties developed at the University of Minnesota; Stone Crop gets its hearty stock through a Quebec breeder.
Over the past dozen years, it has mostly been a two-steps-forward, one-back process for the Eastern Ontario industry, with Stone Crop bringing to about 10 the number of working wineries located south and east of Ottawa to the Quebec border.
This year, Eastern Ontario’s unseasonal cold and rainy weather has made producing grapes as much of a challenge as growing other crops, Hyatt-Gervais says. However, while the fruit is susceptible to mold and fungus, it’s also resilient and is responding to limited sunlight that has shone through.
While it might appear like a dramatic turn in her career path, the former vet explained she grew up in a family that made its own wine and has always been interested in the science and art of it. While waiting for her opportunity, Hyatt-Gervais continued to research developments and tour vineyards and wineries.
When she learned of the existence of cold-climate vines able to resist up to minus 40-dregree weather with minimum protection or intervention, she decided the time was ripe. Backed by her husband Marc and four adult children, she began the groundwork about a decade ago.
Along the way to opening day, Hyatt-Gervais sought advice and moral support from forerunners in the regional wine industry, including some who purchased her grapes before she entered full production.
One of those is Denis Perrault of Navan, a dairy farmer doubling as a winemaker who long ago set aside the push to be recognized by the VQA as a certified region and concentrates on making the best product while serving an ever-expanding solo market.
New arrivals should follow Denis’ lead: Channel your time and energy into making the most drinkable varieties possible and don’t waste an ounce of that time and energy in trying to impress the VQA as a region.
When the time is deemed to be right – if ever – the Vintners Quality Alliance will come to you.