By Mike Peters; Staff Writer
The Niagara region has much to offer the average traveler but if one is to truly find the region's soul, it is to be located in the innumerable wineries located throughout. Stonechurch Vineyards is a great representative of the spirit represented within this region of the world. Located in the heart of Niagara, this quaint and tranquil winery has slowly been improving its stature as a consistent and quality-driven company. Although this is a medium sized winery, (Stonechurch Vineyards has approximately 140 active acres divided between four properties), it has a sincere dedication to productivity, knowledge and expertise typically present in larger winery syndicates. The wineries lack of size does not negatively affect the experience of the visitor but rather provides a unique and intimate encounter that is neither overbearing nor intimidating. This is essential to the overall importance of the business. However, Stonechurch Vineyards is not content with the status quo but rather seeks to excel by constantly progressing. At this very moment, the winery is in the process of renovation ranging from the retail store to the bottling lines to the fermenting tanks. In accordance with this as well, the vineyard is also pondering the idea of future investments into wind machines, netting, harvesters, compressors and so on. In order to rival the competition, upgrading is inevitable.
Wine is not the only source of intrigue at Stonechurch. They also host weddings, festivals, meetings and stargazing, the latter occurring four times a year. However, the wine is still the key attraction here and many accolades must be bestowed upon the winemaker, Terence Van Rooyen. Granted it is a team effort but when it comes down to the heart and soul of the wine itself, Terence must be recognized and congratulated. Since journeying from his South African homeland, Terence has been involved in numerous wine ventures in Ontario. Arriving in August 2004 at Stonechurch, Terence has attempted to perfect his gift as a craftsman in the world of wine. With over thirty years experience, Terence is very dedicated and with quality being one of his chief concerns, he prides himself on creating one great wine after another. In fact, Terence will not bottle a wine unless he has personally approved that there are no live organisms, such as bacteria, or yeast cells, present. All in all, Terence's overall vision is to produce great wine for great value which will hopefully result in positive feedback and continued support from neighboring communities.
A wine embodies much more than merely taste. It can be representative of a winery's identity and character. This is normally why many wineries pride themselves on differentiating their brand from the local competition. To separate themselves from the masses, the winery may be able to identify their heart and soul. With only 140 acres, Stonechurch attempts to diversify their grapes in hopes of creating numerous brands of wine. The varietals present at Stonechurch are strictly traditional in theme and consist of Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc in the reds and Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Riesling, Vidal, Pinot Grigio in the whites. Also, they have just planted Shiraz, Merlot and Gewurztraminer but it will take approximately three to four years for them to blossom into something special. Stonechurch would normally grow all of their own grapes but in the winter of 2004, Mother Nature had a devilish tone within her and decided to decimate the many crops situated throughout the Niagara Region. As a result, Stonechurch was forced to import outside grapes for many of their wines. With time and patience, the goal for Stonechurch is to be as self-sufficient within three to four years time. As the crops recuperate, the need for importation will no longer be needed.
Stonechurch also delves into reserve wines as well such as their Pinot noir. However, by the end of 2006 or by early 2007, the winery will attempt to go one step further and create their very own signature series. By incorporating their 2004 vintage, the company will strive to solidify their stature as an up and comer by releasing a Pinot Noir, a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Cabernet Franc. Stonechurch also hopes to double production within the next four years allowing for continuous prosperity both financially and artistically. Unfortunately, the winemaking process can be hindered in the smallest way and typically an entire season depends on a favorable climate for the grapes. If a season becomes detrimental to the crop then an entire year can be aborted which may lead to the decimation of the winery both financially and critically.
All in all, there is a promising outlook for Stonechurch Vineyards. The company is dedicated to continual production of quality wines like it has done so in the past. From the mid 90's and on, the wines have increased in stature and popularity. The dream is for this to progress with hopes that favorable climates will continue to arise. With any region that embarks on winemaking, many difficulties will always surface but according to Van Rooyen, this is not as negative as one might assume. He believes that difficulties in creation create a sense of allure for Niagara Wines in general. In retrospect, the Niagara Region already has an allure as being one of the most productive and satisfying regions in the world to produce wine. With Stonechurch Vineyards added to the mix, the excitement will more than likely continue to grow.
Our Featured Stonechurch Wines
Riesling 2003 VQA Stonechurch
This light bodied Riesling has strong pear and green apple aromatics that carry over to the palate. Zesty acidity help lengthen the wine's fresh citrus finish. Greek cuisine and strong cheeses are a great accompaniment to this Riesling.
Cabernet Franc 2004 VQA
Cabernet Franc is considered a showcase for the region and it truly comes to life here at Stonechurch, Intense blackberry fruit currant and vanilla aromas combined with an equally fruity palate give this wine a sheer elegance. Supple tannins are accompanied by a soft, peppery finish. It will not last long at this price! To accentuate the taste of the wine, pair it with hummus or roasted red peppers.
Pinot Grigio 2005 Stonechurch
Light and fresh in aroma and weight with a typical apple fruit sensation and a hint of ginger spice. Not overly crisp with a bit of lengthy softness on the palate. Good quality for the price! This is a fairly new release at Stonechurch but it has quickly become one of their best sellers. To truly experience it fully, it is recommended to be consumed alongside antipastos, salads and cheeses.
Pinot Noir 2004 Reserve
Considered one of the most important wines at Stonechurch, it attempts to tantalize the palate. For a fussy Pinot Noir, this wine was surprisingly elegant. Well balanced with medium body at best. It is quite a complex wine with raspberry, cherry and smokiness throughout. Interesting vegetal overtones combined with a ripe plum finish. It is good value for the money. Grilled salmon, lamb, pasta and vegetarian dishes are recommended alongside this reserve.