Niagara-on-the-Lake wineries were winners in several of the most coveted categories at The Ontario Wine Awards 25th Anniversary competition, announced at Niagara College Thursday.
Trius Winery earned the Best Red Wine of the Year for its 2016 Showcase Red Shale Cabernet Franc Clark Farm Vineyard, and the White Wine of the Year award went to Peller Estates 2016 Andrew Peller Signature Series Riesling.
The Ontario Wine Awards competition recognizes VQA varietal quality in 25 different categories, and announced winners at the bronze, silver and gold medal levels. There were also awards of distinction to honour the Winemaker of the Year, which went to David Johnson, Featherstone Estate Winery, a popular choice judging by the crowd reaction.
The blind-taste judging took place in May, with accredited wine judges from the wine writing and teaching community. The criteria for judging the entries involves having an appreciation for wine and a knowledge and expertise of wines from the Ontario region.
For the first time, the Ontario Wine Awards included The Karl Kaiser Winemaker Emeritus Award, presented by his daughter Andrea Kaiser to Peter Gamble for his outstanding contribution to the Canadian wine industry.
There was a separate day of judging held for icewine, with the Vidal Icewine Award going to Sue-Ann Staff Estate, for its 2017 Howard’s Vidal Icewine. The Vinifera White Ice-wine Award gold went to The Lakeview Wine Company’s 2017 Lakeview Cellars Gewurztraminer Icewine.
There was a record number of entries — 542 wines from 78 wineries producing VQA wines in Ontario — in the competition founded by wine expert and writer Tony Aspler.
“The team at the Ontario Wine Awards is privileged to have witnessed the incredible growth of the Ontario wine industry over the past 25 years — not only in the number of wineries but more importantly in the impressive growth in the quality of their products,” said Aspler, who founded awards in 1995 to boost the reputation of VQA wines by recognizing and promoting Ontario wineries and their quality products.
Joe Pillitteri, local comic and owner of Lakeview Equipment, which specializes in grape harvesters, was master of ceremonies for the event, and did a great job entertaining the audience between award presentations. He also acknowledged the growth of the industry and the reputation of the area for producing top-quality wines.
Twenty-five years ago, a trip to Napa Valley would have revealed Niagara-on-the-Lake wasn’t even on the wine industry radar, he said.
Then, about 15 years later, NOTL had become recognized in the California wine region for its icewine.
But when he travels anywhere today, in Napa Valley or in Europe, everyone has heard about high-quality VQA wines, he said.
The Wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake association, made up of more than 20 NOTL wineries, had 15 of its member wineries win a total of 41 medals, including 11 gold, 14 silver and 14 bronze, at what is considered one of Canada’s most renowned and rigorous wine competitions.
Konzelmann Estate Winery, a long-standing member of the association, was the most awarded winery from Niagara-on-the-Lake with a total of six medals (including two gold).
The first ever Lifetime Achievement Award was bestowed on the winery’s founder and winemaker, Herbert Konzelmann, in recognition of his exceptional service and outstanding contribution to the Ontario wine industry.
After accepting gold for the winery’s 2016 Meritage Reserve, and for its 2017 Lakefront Series Pinot Blanc, Konzelmann received a standing ovation from his peers for his lifetime achievement recognition.
Andrew Niven, chair of The Wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake association, said, “it’s wonderful to see the achievements of our Niagara-on-the-Lake winemakers at the recent Ontario Wine Awards, including both red and white wine of the year, as well as the first ever lifetime achievement award. Together as an industry we celebrate the hard work, vision and passion that our winemakers exude on a daily basis. Complemented by our fine wines, unique terroir and unforgettable experiences, the Wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake have truly evolved into a world-class destination.”
For a full list of winners, go to https://www.ontariowineawards.ca/medals-history.