Special to The Lake Report
“Everything starts in the vineyard for me,” Fabian Reis says as he strides through a snowy row of his 21-acre vineyard.
Reis and his wife Stephanie, a sommelier, have been slowly settling into their Ferox Winery, in Niagara-on-the-Lake at Concession 4 and East and West Line.
All references to the original winery called “Vignoble Rancourt” are now gone and a stately new sign with a lion and “Ferox” glowing at night was put up this month.
“It’s a very heavy cropping vineyard. We’re on sandy soil, peach soil, there’s huge fertility in this soil,” he says of the vineyard which was once a peach orchard.
Later it was planted with predominately red grapes (90 per cent) by the owners of Rancourt. In mid-November, Riesling grapes remain, despite the early snow and the cold.
Reis, although a young man, is not new to the wine business. He was born into a vintner family in Stuttgart, Germany.
A sixth-generation winemaker, his family owns Konzelmann Estate Winery. “I always wanted my own thing. Winemakers have to paint their own canvas,” he says proudly.
Reis moved to Niagara-on-the-Lake in 1995, returning to Germany from 2006-2011, where he attended the country’s prestigious winemaking school, Staatsweingut Weinsberg.
“I wanted to go back to where my roots were,” says Reis of his return to Germany. “I wanted to study their climate because our spring and summers in Ontario are very similar to theirs.”
His work experience at wineries in Europe, especially in Austria, made an impression on him.
“I’m a huge Austrian wine fan,” he says from the Ferox tasting room.
“I love their wines and that’s where I started getting a glimpse into actually blending varietals together at the same time, not just one variety. It always stuck with me to do this.”
The Ferox Elements series may be his entry level wines but the Ferox white we are tasting is so beautiful, it halts the interview and demands total attention.
“With our Elements series, I’m doing something similar to Austria. We’re doing field blends,” he says as we swoon over the floral complexities of this sublime blend of five grapes: Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Gewürztraminer (the most dominate white grape planted on the Ferox estate), Chardonnay and Kerner.
This mixed set of grapes or “gemischter satz” in German is not typically how vintners make their wines. “A real assemblage, a real cuvée is actually made after the fermentation,” explains Reis.
The blends in wines usually occur after they are finished, but with “gemischter satz” Reis harvests different varietals of grapes destined for the same bottle, the same day, then presses and ferments these grapes together.
“I think when you are bringing in that kind of fruit together you have so many rich layers of different complexities and flavour profiles and there is such different aromatics because they are integrated better. It’s called integration when you do it early, as opposed to doing it late.”
This begins with Reis taking berry samples from the vineyard, followed by a sensory analysis, which means he tastes the berries and then heads to the lab where he analyzes the grapes to determine total acids, volatile acidity, brix, and amino acids.
“I can then determine what blocks I want to pick. I take that vineyard, say Sauvignon Blanc or the Riesling on Lakeshore, then I literally pick the grapes and press them together – and that’s what this Ferox white is,” he says.
Ferox white and red Elements wines sell for $25 a bottle and are available at the winery for purchase.
If Elements is Reis’s entry-level, wine enthusiasts should pay close attention to Fabian Reis in the future. His “Wild Reserve,” is all hand-picked grapes, and his top-tier wine, “Black Lion,” made up of exclusively estate grown grapes, will be launching in the coming months.
“Giving grapes the time and not rushing. Letting the vines tell you when they’re ready,” says Reis when asked what he brings to grape growing.
“I get it’s a business, but take your time, then it’s an art. Paint it wisely, paint it gently and paint it slowly.”
Ferox will host an open house Nov. 30 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.