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At the very top echelon of Canada’s most revered wineries, Cave Spring and the Pennachetti family are true pioneers of Ontario wine country. In 1973 John Pennachetti Sr. purchased an abandoned fruit orchard draped across the Niagara Escarpment. John immediately knew what he was going to do with the land, remembering how his father Giuseppe, who immigrated from Fermo, Italy in the 1920s, worked to revive a local vineyard the decade prior. Five years later, Pennachetti planted his first vines. He had the foresight to plant the vinifera varieties Riesling and Chardonnay at a time in which - in the 1970s - they were hardly planted in a country whose climate was believed too cold and inhospitable. Today, Riesling and Chardonnay are Canada’s most highly regarded white grape varieties, with much thanks owed to the Pennachetti family’s proof of their potential.
Winemaker Angelo Pavan was tapped to vinify Cave Spring’s inaugural vintage in 1986. Pavan continues his work at Cave Spring, today joined by fellow winemaker Gabe Demarco. The rest of wine operations remain all in the Pennachetti family with John Sr.’s sons Len and Tom. In 1988, Len co-spearheaded the formation of the Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA), a voluntary association of leading Canadian winegrowers that largely governs the country’s formal wine industry. Instrumental in developing Ontario’s appellation system, Len’s work helped partition the Niagara Peninsula into the several sub-appellations recognized today, including Cave Spring’s home on the Beamsville Bench. Tom, with his wife Anne (who herself hails from the Weis family of the revered St. Urbans-Hof winery in Germany’s Mosel region, and the donors of the initial Riesling cuttings planted by John Sr.), heads the estate’s sales and marketing departments.
Cave Spring is among the finest interpreters of the cool climate grapes of which Ontario excels, including, beyond Riesling and Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Franc. The winery also bottles a sparkling wine, and an especially cherished icewine—the regional delicacy. Longtime conservational leaders on the Niagara Peninsula, Cave Spring was the first winery to achieve their provincial environmental credential, Sustainable Winegrowing Ontario, for both their vineyards and cellars. Cave Spring’s commitments to reducing their carbon footprint, however, extend far beyond the certification. Among these initiatives are the surplus-generating solar panels that line their storage facility and powers production, or their fostering of endangered species, such as Little Brown Bats and Barn Swallows—important cogs in the local ecosystem that manage various insect pests that can afflict the vineyards.
If there were ever to be a consensus among the global wine trade as to what is the greatest white grape variety, Riesling would most likely earn that distinction. The crown jewel of German vineyards, Riesling is also celebrated across Austria and in France’s Alsace. In the New World, Riesling has found extraordinary (mostly) cooler-climate homes in New Zealand, Australia’s Clare and Eden Valleys, California, Washington, Oregon, and, of course, Canada. Riesling wines are well-documented since the Middle Ages, and, by the 19th century, yielded some of the world’s most sought-after bottlings, cherished at the tables of the great courts of Europe.
Perhaps Riesling’s most common misconception is that it is universally sweet. Indeed, Riesling is behind many of the greatest dessert wines, as well as a whole spectrum of off-dry styles. But, no grape is inherently sweet (you can just as easily, and some people will, make a sweet Cabernet Sauvignon). Rather, sweetness is a choice of the winemaker, and many bracing, bone-dry, and extraordinarily high-quality Rieslings exist across winegrowing regions.
Riesling is recognized for its remarkable longevity, with myriad examples more than a half-century in age or even older still drinkable today and with life left in them. Much of Riesling’s cellar-worthiness can be attributed to its exceptionally high acidity, which both provides the wine structure and effectively acts as a preservative. Riesling is also enjoyed for its profound transparency into the vineyard in which it is grown, communicating with nuance a sense of place in its wines.
The history of viticulture in Ontario can be traced back to 1811, when Johann Schiller planted the province’s first vineyard, just outside of Toronto. Much of Ontario’s early winegrowing was similar to Schiller’s, cultivated from native American vine species or hybrids. This began to change in the early 1950s when Brights, one of Ontario’s largest wineries, planted Chardonnay, a variety of the predominant Eurasian vine species Vitis vinifera. Until then, winegrowers feared vinifera would suffer in Canada’s cold, northerly climes, unable to survive the harsh winters. By the late 1970s, a number of new winegrowers, including Cave Spring, would follow in Brights’ footsteps and plant their own vineyards with vinifera varieties. Today, Ontario and its largest wine region, the Niagara Peninsula, is a global leader in cool climate winegrowing, with a bustling wine and hospitality industry celebrating its world class wines.
On a stretch of land between Toronto and Niagara Falls, the Niagara Peninsula is defined by the Great Lakes. Lake Erie lies to the south, and the region’s vineyards crawl up against the shorelines of Lake Ontario to the north. The Niagara Escarpment slices through the vinescape and extends into New York. A long, north-facing slope, topped by a gentle plateau, the Niagara Escarpment is critical in creating the unique climatological patterns that allow grapes to thrive. Moderating breezes from Lake Ontario blow inland toward the Escarpment, which blockades the winds and forces them into a centrifugal motion. This “lakeshore effect” not only reduces disease pressure in the vineyards, it causes the skins of the berries to thicken, providing concentration to the wines.
Ontario’s appellation system is regulated by the Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA). The VQA generally divides the Niagara Peninsula into two areas: the flatter Niagara-on-the-Lake and the Niagara Escarpment. From the two areas the VQA has carved out a further ten sub-appellations. Among them is the Beamsville Bench VQA, which occupies prime real estate on the far western limestone soils of the Escarpment.
Ontario and the Niagara Peninsula specialize in cooler climate grape varieties, such as Riesling, Chardonnay, Gamay, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Franc. Hybrids and native American grape varieties still play an important role in the Ontario wine industry, and several varieties, such as Baco Noir and Vidal Blanc, produce wines of complexity and character. One notable specialty of Ontario is its icewines. A beloved (and expensive) dessert wine, most commonly crafted from Vidal Blanc, Riesling, or Cabernet Franc, icewine was first produced in Ontario in the 1980s, attracting international accolades the following decade. Icewine can only be harvested beneath -8˚ C. At this temperature, the berries are frozen, dramatically increasing the ratio of sugar to water in the juice when pressed. The resulting wines are not only decadently sweet, but also extremely pure, long, and nuanced.
While Cabernet Franc contributes to or in several cases leads some of the world’s most pedigreed red wines, it is all too often confused for the more ubiquitous Cabernet Sauvignon. In fact, in 1997, genetic testing revealed Cabernet Sauvignon to be the offspring of Cabernet Franc, a natural crossing with the white variety Sauvignon Blanc. Cabernet Franc commonly takes a backseat to its progeny, as well as to Merlot, as a blending partner in the famous reds of Bordeaux. It can act as a softening agent, offering pillowy tannins, contributing a delicate violet aroma and flavor, and enhancing the wines spicy pepperiness, deriving from a compound called pyrazine that it shares with Cabernet Sauvignon.
Still, Cabernet Franc shines alone in several locales around the globe. The best known is France’s Loire Valley, where Cardinal Richelieu selected the variety to be cultivated at the Abbaye de St-Nicholas-de Bourgueil. There, it was tended to by the abbott Breton, whose name is also a common alias for Cabernet Franc in the Loire, today. Beyond the Loire Valley (and particularly the appellations of Chinon, Bourgueil, and Saumur), critically acclaimed monvarietal Cabernet Franc can be found in Tuscany’s Bolgheri region, California’s Napa Valley, the Uco Valley of Argentina’s Mendoza, and
Canada’s Niagara Peninsula.
Cave Spring Vineyard's unwavering commitment to true sustainability is deeply rooted in their rigorous environmental stewardship. While they take immense pride in being the first winery in Ontario to achieve certification in both their vineyards and cellars, their journey towards excellence doesn't stop there. Cave Spring has gone above and beyond, delving even deeper into their practices to surpass these demanding standards.
In its unwavering commitment to continuous improvement, Cave Spring Vineyard has emerged as a pioneer in environmental sustainability. By embracing innovative wastewater treatment technology, Cave Spring became the first winery in the world to pave the way for others. Moreover, the installation of solar panels further solidifies their dedication to renewable energy. These panels not only power their main storage facility but also generate surplus electricity, offsetting a remarkable 30% of Cave Spring's total electricity demand.
As part of its commitment to preserving global forests, the winery demonstrates its dedication through its wine storage selection. Rather than utilizing oak derivatives, Cave Spring chooses to use old, neutral oak casks, thereby contributing to the protection of precious oak forests worldwide. Furthermore, the majority of their wine bottles are crafted with lightweight glass, reducing carbon emissions during transport. Additionally, they are sealed with natural cork, a completely renewable resource.
Cave Spring exemplifies its commitment to maintaining a balanced ecosystem by nurturing endangered species like Little Brown Bats and Barn Swallows. These creatures play a vital role in controlling insect populations within the vineyards. Additionally, Cave Spring's sustainability efforts extend beyond what meets the eye; they include actions like eliminating shrink-wrap during transportation and employing state-of-the-art, energy-efficient technology in label manufacturing.
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