A waiting game
What are the wineries up to in the winter months?
When the grapes are finally off the vines and into barrels, and those vines are then buried to ensure survival through the winter, what happens next? When the soil freezes, what are the wineries up to? Well, that depends on what kind of establishment you have.
For winemaker Dan Sullivan at Rosehall Run, January is when you spend some quality time with the new vintage. He explains how it is critical to make sure all the wines are constantly monitored through testing, tasting and smelling. At this stage things like microbial growths and stability are being looked at, as well as structuring flavour profile and aromatics.
“It’s about guiding the wine to a good place, aside from forcing it somewhere. I like the grapes to speak of what they are. Sometimes when a yeast is stressed, the aroma may not be what is desired for the wine, but adjusting that is a part of the winemaker’s process. Currently we’re focused on taking the wine out of barrel and getting them prepared to go into bottles, which will hopefully be in late February,” says Sullivan.
Sullivan points to an enormous new blending tank that he and his team had moved into the winery a few days previously. A winter project that was not easy for his team, considering the frigid temperatures. The tank barely fit through the winery’s massive bay doors and is already hooked up and ready to go. The tank stands two storeys high will be a big help in getting more wine from barrel to bottle at Rosehall Run. For a quick reference, Sullivan points to a section where large barrels are sitting and goes over some fun wine math.
“Every one of those larger barrels contain 670 bottles of wine. There are 12 barrels here, so that’s…8,000 bottles of wine in that section right there,” says Sullivan, who estimates that his cellar is currently holding around 10,000 cases in barrels and tanks. He then heads down to the cellar, where hundreds of barrels at different stages of fermentation are sitting and waiting. This past season ended up being a great one for winemaking in the County, with what Sullivan considered a perfect fall.
“Because of the amazing fall we had, this will end up being a building year for us inventory- wise. It will help us rebound from our crop-loss in 2015. A good chunk of time this January will also be going into choosing the barrels I want for specific blends.”
Like many others, Rosehall Run faces a major issue in the upcoming year with the minimum wage increase and does not know how the company will come up with the extra 21 per cent in labour costs. Sullivan says that he and his team will just have to come up with ways to make up the shortfall. Some through growth, and some through working smarter.
As for making the decision to stay open yearround, for Sullivan and his team, it comes with the territory.
“If you’re not open and you can’t be depended on as being a stop for somebody, then how are you going to build any sense of permanence” Establishments like Casa Dea, Norm Hardie, The Grange are difference-makers. They are creating anchors for tourists to come back to.”
Over at Hinterland/County Road Beer Co, it’s all about consistency. Staying open year-round in the County and running a food operation is not something for the faint of heart, but it’s a decision that owner Jonas Newman and his team made last year, and this season they are already seeing the dividends.
“We are busier than we were last winter and there’s no sign of it slowing down. It’s about being open for the tourists, but also for people that live in the County who are looking for a place to go. We love being the place that locals are coming to in the winter,” says Newman
Newman also adds that with the busy season extending further into winter every year, it won’t be long before it’s busy all year round. Like Rosehall Run, Hinterland/County Road (HCR) keep a full-time staff, but in addition HCR keeps a kitchen going year round under the guidance of chef Neil Dowson, who creates his menu with the weather in mind.
“For the winter, it’s based on cozy food that will warm you up. Our brunch on Sundays is also a great time to stop by,” says Dowson
In order for HCR and Rosehall Run to succeed in their attempts to operate through the winter, there are certain infrastructure commitments that must be met by the County by way of road maintenance and winter snow removal. Establishments like County Road, Trail Estate and Rosehall Run rely on the roads being clear so that tourists can easily access their businesses.
Newman and his wife, co-owner Vicki Samaras, are proud that Hinterland is one of the first establishments in the County to embrace the season and promote a winter event. “Hinterlude” is in its fifth year, and it brings chefs from top restaurants in Ontario together to compete for “best comfort food”. The winner is chosen by the people. There will also be outdoor activities for the kids and plenty of oysters. By hosting their event in a slower time of year, Newman and Samaras are not only bringing people into their establishment, but into the local B&Bs and shops as well. They are leading the charge and trailblazing for other establishments to do the same.
For wineries and breweries, January is about getting ready for a busy upcoming season, making sure your product is the best it can be, and finding ways to bring people to your establishment at times of the year when they may not usually come. With the help of the County and some solid marketing plans, it’s become possible to run a successful operation yearround. Companies that take the leap and commit to hiring a staff full time are also making a commitment to the community around them. It’s saying that the County is never closed, just harder to explore, sometimes.