Magnotta Winery is a winery of firsts: first sparkling ice wine; first iced grappa; first Amarone-inspired wine; first company of its kind in Ontario licensed to produce and sell wine, beer and distilled products; and first Ontario winery to partner with Canada Post for direct home delivery. Magnotta has been one of the most innovative and philanthropic Ontario wineries; it has the number one selling ice wine in the world, and with Head Enologist Peter Rotar, Magnotta it has gone on to win over 4,500 international wine awards.
What was the defining moment in your life that made you want to make a career in the wine industry? Do those reasons still resonate with you today?
Being born and raised in a rural area in my country, Romania, I had the chance to spend most of my summer breaks on a farm with my father, and I got to enjoy farming. But the defining moment came when I was in a high school co-op in the winery. I was assigned to wine fermentation during harvest, and was fascinated to see the transformation of juice into wine. That was the moment when I knew what I would like to do in my life, and today after 35 years of doing it, I can proudly say that I made the right decision.
What aspect of wine making is most important to you?
Wine making for me means the entire activity from the vineyard to the bottle. In order to achieve the best result, I stay involved in each aspect. I am very excited to go in the vineyard and supervise the pruning and tying and later the harvesting as well as crushing the grapes, clarifying the juice or blending it or aging it in different types of oak. Being involved in each aspect of wine making brings me the enjoyment of the final result.
You have maintained vineyards in Maipo Valley, Chile as well as in Niagara. What would you say are the defining characteristics of your Niagara Wines?
Having the privilege to make wine in Chile and Niagara and previously in Romania helped me to understand that each country has specific qualities that are reflected in their wines. In our Niagara wines I am trying to put some of the hot climate characteristics in the red wines which means lower acidity and softness on the palette, and yet full bodied with sweet tannins. The cool climate characteristics in the white wines are fruitiness. I still like to combine the hot-cool climate experience in some varietals like Chardonnay or Pinot Noir by combining the acidity with the full body, and the fruit and light oak as well.
Which of your wines are you most excited about right now?
If I started talking about which wines I am the most excited about, I would need a week to talk about it, but I could say that in general all our wines are in some way the result of all our team together, and each harvest has something fantastic and exciting in it.
What should Ontario wine consumers know about your wines and your “style” of wine making?
As I was mentioning before, my wine making style brings most of my entire experience of 35 years. I like wines for everyday drinking that are complex with ripe tannins and soft on the palette, and then I have wines that are loaded with full body, nice ripe fruit extraction, and well balanced with French or French-American oak. The whites will be well balanced with fruit, acidity and sweetness. As I am very much focused on the Ontario wines, we are offering over 50 VQA Ontario wines in our own retail stores or in the LCBO. It is very important to dedicate all of our effort as winemakers to put the quality of Ontario wines at the highest level possible. We know how to do it and we are dedicated to do so.
If you were stranded on a desert island, and could have only one bottle of your wine with you, what would that wine be and how would you want to pair it?
This is a very hard question for me as I am in love with all of my wines and, as I always say, a wine has to be treated like your own child. But, of course, if I had to choose one it would definitely be our Magnotta Enotrium, our appassimento style wine. We were proud to be the first to make appassimento in Ontario in 2001, and we’ve been making it each harvest ever since. This wine is a very robust wine with full body, sweet tannins, very ripe fruit and well balanced with one year aging in new hybrid barrels (French-American oak), and then finished for one more year in brand new French oak. Being on a desert island, I don’t know if I would be able to have access to a nice cut of rib eye steak but that’s what I would pair this wine with. (What makes this premium wine even more special is the passionate story behind it. Gabe Magnotta loved full-bodied reds, and he sought to prove that Ontario could create a full throttle red to rival Italy’s Amarone reds. The result was Enotrium, Canada’s very first Amarone-style, VQA red wine that was produced using the exact methods employed in Italy. A red wine doesn’t get any bigger than this!)
Peter Rotar has been a professional oenologist for over 35 years. A graduate of the Minis Viticulture and Vinification College and of viticulture and oenology at Western University of Oenology in Romania, Rotar traveled to Canada in 1996 where he became Head Oenologist for Magnotta Winery, and one of the most respected winemakers in Ontario.