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Sunday, September 24, 2023
Niagara-on-the-Lake is toast of the Ontario Wine Awards with 46 wins
Shantal Silverthorne, head winemaker at Konzelmann Estate Winery, holds a Chardonnay Barrel Aged 2022, which won gold at this years Ontario Wine Awards. (Somer Slobodian)

Niagara-on-the-Lake doesn’t mess around when it comes to wine. 

Sixteen NOTL wineries took home gold, silver and bronze at the Ontario Wine Awards this June — some winning multiple times. 

The awards, judged on May 6 at George Brown College and presented at Niagara College earlier this month, had 558 entries from more than 80 Ontario wineries. NOTL took home 46 awards. 

“We’re definitely doing something right over here,” said Shantal Silverthorne, who has been the head winemaker at Konzelmann Estate Winery since 2021.

Konzelmann Estate Winery won one bronze award, four silvers and two golds. 

The Niagara region, especially Niagara-on-the-Lake, could owe its success to its climate, its soil quality and how close wineries, like Konzelmann, are to Lake Ontario. 

It’s about “planting the right varietals in the right places,” said Katie Dickieson, who has been the head winemaker at Peller Estates Winery since 2012. 

She took home the head winemaker of the year award, along with four golds and one silver. 

Dickieson said there’s no such thing as a regular vintage wine in Ontario.

“Every season is a little bit different and we have to be able to adapt,” she said.

“2020 was a very warm, very ripe style and that’s the vintage we were awarded the gold for the Cabernet Franc,” she added. 

She said she’s fortunate to get to spend so much time in the vineyards.

“I do think that’s the place where we can have the greatest impact on the final product,” said Dickieson.

Peller won gold for its Private Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2021, Signature Series Cabernet Franc 2020, Private Reserve Late Harvest Vidal 2021 and its Andrew Peller Riesling Icewine 2019.

When it comes to winemaking, she always remembers a specific motto from Gordon Russell, a winemaker at Esk Valley Winery in New Zealand and one of her mentors.

Russell would say: Winemaking is about avoiding compromises. 

“If you want to pick at a certain time, you do everything you can to pick,” she said. 

Dickieson was honoured, and shocked, to win so many awards, but said it’s definitely a team effort.

From the vineyard to the bottle, there’s a lot of people involved in the process, she said. 

Just like Dickieson, Silverthorne was shocked when she found out she won not one, but two golds.

“Winemaking is really like an art,” said Silverthorne.

“To actually see the wine that you’ve created be successful and be enjoyed by others, it’s a really nice feeling,” she added. 

Konzelmann won gold for its Chardonnay Barrel Aged 2022 and for its Legacy Meritage 2020, a wine that hasn’t been released yet.

The Legacy Meritage 2020 holds a special place in the hearts and minds of employees at Konzelmann. 

It was made in 2021 in honour of Herbert Konzelmann, who died that year at 84 years old, said Silverthorne.

“It’s a nice wine because kind of everyone was involved with that wine,” she said. 

Konzelmann was a fourth-generation winemaker who came to Niagara from Germany in 1984 and founded Konzelmann Estate Winery.

When the winemaking team pulled the Legacy Meritage 2020 barrels out in 2022, they tasted all 45 barrels and narrowed it down to the top 15, then narrowed it down to the top 10. 

When they tasted the top 10, they involved the owners and even some members of the sales team who were close with Herbert.

“We involved everyone who was close to Herbert to together as a team pick the best barrels that we thought Herbert would be most proud of,” she said. 

She’s hoping it will be released sometime this year. 

Other NOTL wineries that took home awards include Bella Terra Vineyards, Chateau des Charmes, Hinterbrook Estate Winery, Inniskillin, Jackson-Triggs Winery, Niagara College Teaching Winery, Palatine Hills Estate Winery, Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery, Reif Estate Winery, Riverview Cellars Estate Winery, Strewn Winery, Trius Winery and Wayne Gretzky Estates. 

Silverthorne said the wine community plays a huge role in the success of its wine industry.

“It’s nice to see everyone as a whole doing so well and you know, everyone congratulates each other (and) helps everyone,” she said. 

“Niagara-on-the-Lake is really making itself a destination not just for tourism, but a wine destination as well.” 

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