It’s been said there are many ways to skin a cat. Within the proliferation of Niagara wineries, it seems, there are many ways to make wine—beautiful wine across the region made in a variety of styles, but with one common denominator—the degree of passion put into the bottle is reflected in what comes out. Appassimento is an old technique that has attracted wineries from all corners of the region, and vaulted their wines to the front of the peloton of winemakers that are moving Niagara in an exciting direction.
Enter Graham Rennie of Rennie Estate Winery. His passion for wine was his ticket in, but his determination to squeeze the optimal extraction from each grape has made his wines the new sensations that are attracting attention as outstanding examples of what’s world class in Niagara Wine Country.
Rennie Estate Winery is situated along the Beamsville Bench in the Twenty Valley region of the Niagara escarpment. The mineral texture and structure of the soil is obviously very different from Niagara-on-the-Lake. The Bench is a more clay-based soil, and it butts the escarpment, so it has much more of a calcareous lime component to give the wine backbone.
Given the climate and terroir it is difficult to maintain consistency from vintage to vintage. Some winemakers are perfectly content with each vintage being distinct from any other, while some are not. “Our clients want consistency”, Rennie tells me. “There is always going to be variability in your wine for all kinds of reasons, because every vintage is different, but there is a parameter in which clients expect some sense of consistency.” The appassimento method of drying and shriveling the grapes is an Italian technique that is used to maintain that consistency. It also enhances the finesse, balance and extraction of Rennie’s Bordeaux varietals.
“We’re involved in a project with Vineland Research and Innovation Centre in which we’ve tested different techniques for how we can create a long and slow drying process to increase all the phenolics and flavours of wine in the grape,” he shares. Having patented this process, the aim is to license the building of individual portable units that will be available for wineries in Niagara, Prince Edward County, Nova Scotia and British Columbia.
Essentially, the dehydration of the grape creates a metabolic change in the flavour and aroma compounds. “We’re not using science,” says Rennie, “we’re using our palates.” The result of all of this? Very high-end, full-bodied, rich red wine. Of the 500 cases of small-lot artisanal wines, my personal favourite is the “G” Assemblage of 50% Merlot, 25% Cab Sauv and 25% Cab Franc. Hand-harvested at 21.1 brix, the three varieties spend 70 days in a custom drying room to achieve a sweetness level of 28.9 brix. The berries are then fermented in small batches for two weeks, and the blended free run juice is aged 18 months in new French oak and finished at 16.5% alcohol.
What turns heads is how concentrated it is; the richness, depth and structure; and the layers of soft voluptuous tannins that are balanced with floral nuances and ripe plum-y fruit. I served this wine at a party, and much to the chagrin of my guests, they could not guess where it was from. “I didn’t know they could make wine like this in Niagara!?” they mused. Well…welcome to Niagara!