Southbrook Vineyards Tour – More Than Just Wine
“The wine has to be delicious, which is the reason people come back,” said Paul DeCampo, director of marketing and sales for Southbrook Vineyards, during a flavourful wine tasting at its pristine Niagara-on-the-Lake location.
It’s also the reason wineries win awards. Among its many accolades for wine, Southbrook is Canada’s first vineyard to be certified by Demeter, the international organization that oversees Biodynamic Agriculture. It’s a fancy description for a geographic region that holds a large number, variety and genetic variation of different organisms.
This means Southbrook surpasses the “organic” designation. “We are beyond the proper example to other wineries. There are other organic growers, but we exceed the basic threshold,” noted Ann Sperling, director of viticulture for Southbrook. Southbrook’s owners and staff interconnect with other local farmers and growers, who she believes recognize Southbrook’s value and contribution to the community and to the planet. “We enter a relationship where we are a co-producer and not just a passive consumer,” added Sperling.
Out of 150 acres, only a half of it is used to grow grapes, while the remaining property is strewn with plants that replenish the soil, cleanse the air and serve as a source of pollination for insects, which is important to the eco-system. Free-ranging goats and pigs occupy the farm and are used for producing compost for the grapes. When they are butchered for meat, they become available as a part of the food service. The meat is free from hormones and pesticides as well as pesticide residues as is their main commodity – wine.
During a tour of the inauspicious LEED-certified property, Sperling and DeCampo discuss recent European studies indicating how pesticide residues are co-related to incidents of leukemia in children. Growing organically and letting nature regulate itself more is much healthier for humans. Southbrook even treats its own wastewater and uses it to water their crops.
The first stop on our highly educational tour are milkweed plants, which are sprouting pods that attract Monarch butterflies, a species that is in danger of extinction. In between the many rows of grapes, clover, alfalfa and other weeds and herbs are grown to maintain nutrients like nitrogen in the soil, and enhance pollination. “Organic soil holds moisture better,” said Sperling, which sounded particularly significant under the beating hot sun. Southbrook also grows other vegetables, which are used for its food service, as lunch and dinners are offered during the weekends at its Farmers’ Table.
THE SUN AND THE MOON
“The underlying philosophy is that the sun is fuelling biodiversity,” said Sperling.
While that sounds self-explanatory and simple enough, Sperling continues to explain how the moon also influences farming. Since the moon has a gravitational pull that affects tides and movement on the planet, when the moon is full, its energy will draw water into its upper stems and leaves. So during the full moon, the agriculturalists will avoid pruning these areas until this energy reverses and the moisture returns to its roots. Now that’s deep!
Even incorporating simple changes like letting weeds grow by the roadway to help clean the pollutants in the air from traffic, and help reduce our carbon footprint. From an industry standpoint, these are also ways to improve the health of farmers and farmhands. For those who have suffered from asthmas and allergies, as well as other breathing problems, the concept of clean air and water is important.
While many food scientists are experimenting with genetically modified foods, it is not an idea that’s on the table for organic grape growers like Southbrook. “With organic, we have to declare non-GMO’s in everything, including food for the sheep,” she said.
Other stops on this tour include a crop of tomatoes, where the seeds originated from the University of Florida, a group of beehives and a herd of lambs. This is not your customary wine tour, but DeCampo isn’t apologizing and smirks when he said: “We can show you our wine kilns, but they look like everyone else’s wine kilns.” Products at Southbrook also include blankets and other natural wool products, as well as several blends of honey. They also carry a product titled: Bioflavia, which is a powder derived from red grape skins guaranteed to flood the body with anti-oxidants. There is a recipe section on Southbrook’s website for readers to learn how to prepare a wide variety of dishes for everyone’s palate.
(photos by Gloria)
BREATH, SWIRL, AND SPIT
The relaxing and rewarding part of the tour is, of course, the breathing in of the aromatic bouquets and thirst quenching sampling of the tasty libations. Organically grown wines are more likely to be vitamin-rich and healthier. Sulfites, which are a by-product of the yeast, can often cause headaches, but Southbrook avoids this by using an organically grown yeast. Sperling also said they use more lees than other growers, which is the substance left after the fermentation process at the bottom of the barrel. These are flavour crystals that help the wine maintain its freshness.
My personal favorite from the latest offerings is the 2013 Wild Ferment Chardonnay. This Chardonnay ferments for 20 months in French Oak barrels and has a clean, yet full-bodied taste. The fruit and mineral qualities are well-balanced.
Clusters of stems, skins, and juice, were used to create the 2015 Orange Wine, named for its amber-tinged color. It is a more densely flavoured dry wine with a hint of herbs that pairs well with cream sauces, herbs omelets, and smoked fish.
The 2013 Cabernet Franc “101” is an aromatic red wine, with its richness derived from tannins and a delicate hint of oak. The 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon contains 12 percent of Cabernet Franc grapes creating a smooth blend of red wine. All of their beverages are suitable for vegans, vegetarians, and health-conscious consumers. These four are from Southbrook’s latest harvest. They carry several more varieties, including fruit wines, The Canadian Framboise or raspberry wine was the first Ontario fruit wine ever sold to Harrods in the U.K. It pairs well with chocolate, as well as added to cake and pie recipes, or swirled on top of ice cream. The Small Lot Cabernet Rose and Ice Wines top off the list.
Since Southbrook Winery’s grapes are hand-picked, production yield at Southbrook is significantly lower than other wineries. However, Sperling and DeCampo seem genuinely more focused on the quality of their produce. When speaking of imports and the wine industry overall, Sperling believes there are too many large producers that only view wine as a commodity. The cheap land taxes and labour rates negatively effect and undercut Canadian grape growers.
When asked what’s exciting in the wine-making business, the last thing one would expect to hear is “birds.” Specifically, Kestrels, which are birds of prey. Apparently, when they are nesting nearby, they help stave off other birds, like robins and starlings that feed on the grapes, as well as rid the area of rodents.
Southbrook Vineyards’ tour appeals on many levels. Surprisingly, and to summarize, the winemaking tour taught me most about caring for the birds and the bees, the plants, and the trees. Quality wine becomes an earthy, tasty end product.