One of our region’s greatest vinous treasures and a source of endless expertise, churned out every year in the form of students and great local wine, is the Niagara College Teaching Winery.
Not only do the graduates of this incredible teaching-working winery populate the wineries of Niagara and the world, but it also makes some top-quality wine for consumers to enjoy — all made by the students and staff at the college.
In 2000, the Niagara-on-the-Lake campus of Niagara College established the winery and viticulture technician program.
It was the first of its kind in Canada in that the teaching winery facilitates the learning enterprise of the program. The winery and hospitality/tasting room sits amid 38 acres of college vineyards. The winery allows the students to have immediate access to a hands-on experience in a real-time working environment to produce wines.
Students can obtain skills in three specialty areas; winemaking, viticulture and sales/marketing, that will provide diverse opportunities upon graduation.
The practical training students receive in that unique environment makes them desirable candidates for top jobs in the wine industry, whether it’s right here in Niagara or any other wine region in the world.
At the heart of the wine program is the teaching winery, where a top-notch portfolio of wines is produced each vintage, primarily, but not exclusively, from estate vineyards.
The wines have proven over the years to stand with the best produced in the region under the guidance of winemaker and professor Terence Van Rooyen.
In the fall of 2009, the Niagara College Teaching Winery moved into new facilities in Niagara College’s Wine Visitor + Education Centre after a grand opening attended by Prince Charles. The facility serves as a living laboratory for the College’s wine, culinary and tourism students and celebrates the Ontario and Canadian grape and wine industry through informative displays and an information centre to assist visitors in their exploration of wines and wine country.
I recently revisited the College to taste the new wine releases with Steve Gill, who manages the wine and viticulture program at Niagara College.
Our three WIN wines of the week are all from the Niagara College wine program.
NC Teaching Winery Unoaked Chardonnay 2011
($15, 88 points)
A lovely nose of tropical fruit, pear and grapefruit that highlights fresh and clean aromas.
In the mouth look for passion fruit, lemon-lime and tropical notes against a background of fresh citrus acidity.
NC Teaching College Dean’s List Pinot Noir 2009
($28, 90 points)
Quite a savoury-earthy nose with black cherry, beet root, black currant and vanilla spice on the nose.
It has good structure on the palate with bramble, currants, raspberry and vanilla flavours on a bed of supple tannins.
Such a perfect match with cedar-plank salmon.
NC Teaching College Cabernet Franc Dessicato 2010
($48, 92 points)
This is the college’s newest experimental wine that Gill is pretty excited about: “I think it’s the best wine we have made yet,” he tells me.
It’s the first appassimento wine the college has made with grapes dried in a tiny room at the winery for 30 days.
Only one barrel, 44 cases, was made. It’s aged in French oak for 18 months and the name “Dessicato” is made up by Van Rooyen that loosely means “desiccating on the vine.” What a beauty!
Sweet maraschino cherry, cassis, raspberry, blueberry, saddle leather, cedar and a pantry full of baking spices rock the nose. It’s rich, lush and intense on the palate with a full-bodied attack of blueberry and red fruits to go with tar, licorice and sweet spices that all lead to a persistent and long finish.
Wonderful stuff. Try with blue cheese crusted sirloin steak with a creamy mushroom sauce and caramelized onions.
Rick Vansickle is a veteran journalist, wine reviewer and publisher of Wines in Niagara. His reviews appear each Friday in Bullet News. Previous reviews are archived under “Grapevine” tab on the Bullet News home page, under Wines in Niagara. Rick can be found on the web at www.winesinniagara.com.
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