The House that Riesling Built
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The House that Riesling Built

In the world of winemaking, Ontario is entering its adolescence.

Ontario wine

Many Ontario wineries are a short drive outside the city. Photo courtesy of Flickr user Karen Maraj from the Torontoist Flickr pool.

Cave Spring Cellars made their first vintage in 1986. It was a small 500-case batch of wine. This date is a reminder of how early we are in the history of wine in this province. It was one of the first eight wineries in the province and second on the Beamsville Bench.

I recently had a chance to speak with Len Pennachetti, the president and founder of Cave Spring Cellars (and brother of Toronto’s former city manager). He got his start in the wine industry when he was tasked with working vineyards that were purchased by his father.

Not all grapes are created equal; neither are Canadian wines. Prior to the founding of Inniskillin in 1974, Ontario wines were made using labrusca grapes—those Concord grapes found in farmers’ markets at the twilight of summer.

Today, the European grape, vinifera, is used to make most fine wines. Even by 1986, 10 years after Inniskillin had been founded, there were still only a handful of farmers who had made the switch. The challenge with growing vinifera in Ontario isn’t so much the summer but the punishing winters. When the temperature starts to dip below -15, frigid temperatures begin to cause damage or even kill vines.

As one of the founding members of VQA, Pennachetti had a hand in crafting the rules that determine the quality of Ontario wines. The VQA ensures not only that the grapes are 100 per cent Ontario grown, but also that the grapes are vinifera.


Len Pennachetti, the president and founder of Cave Spring Cellars. Photo by André Proulx for Torontoist.

Pennachetti refers to Cave Spring as the house that riesling built. He favours riesling because it’s a varietal that can handle our cold winters.

The Ontario wine industry is entering an adolescence. Pennachetti has told me that Cave Spring is moving on from varietals that don’t handle the winters properly. The portfolio at the winery focuses on varietals that can handle our climate year-round. He told me that Cave Spring does not want to be in the business of running “vine hospitals” and believes that Niagara should focus on riesling, chardonnay, pinot gris, cabernet franc, gamay, and pinot noir. These varietals are hearty enough to handle our cold winters, but, most importantly, ripen properly in any summer, whether hot like 2016 or cooler like 2013.

Pennachetti may refer to the winery as the house that riesling built, but I hold a soft spot in my heart for their sparkling wine.

Here is what you can taste this weekend, readily available at the LCBO:

• 2013 Cave Spring Indian Summer Select Late Harvest Riesling – Vintages 415901 – $24.95

• 2014 Cave Spring Estate Bottled Chardonnay Musqué – Vintages 246579 – $16.95

• Cave Spring Chardonnay – LCBO 228551 – $15.96

• Cave Spring Estate Bottled Riesling – Vintages 286377 – $18.95

• 2013 Cave Spring Cabernet Franc – Vintages 391995 – $19.95

• Cave Spring Cabernet Merlot – LCBO 407270 – $16.95

• Cave Spring Pinot Noir – LCBO 417642 – $18.95

• Cave Spring Sauvignon Blanc – LCBO 529933 – $16.95

• 2012 Cave Spring CSV Chardonnay – Vintages 529941 – $29.95

• 2014 Cave Spring Riesling Icewine – Vintages 447441 – $49.95

• Cave Spring Gamay – LCBO 228569 – $15.95

• Cave Spring Riesling Dry – LCBO 233635 – $15.95

• Cave Spring Riesling – LCBO 234583 – $15.95

• Cave Spring Blanc de Blancs Brut – Vintages 213983 – $27.95