Yes, you read that right. “Vineyards” and “Ottawa Valley” uttered in the same title. Could it be? Is it truly possible?
The answer is: yes and yes.
For the past three years, right across the road from the Diefenbunker, a 47-acre plot of land has housed 10 acres of Burgundian grape varietals pinot noir and chardonnay. Down the road in Kinburn, another 6 acres of both vinifera and hybrid varieties are planted on Chris van Barr’s property. Chris is the proprietor of KIN Vineyards, a winery that prides itself on hard work and community. Being a word nerd, I appreciate the name, a tribute to the original vineyard in Kinburn as well as a play on words highlighting the winery’s core values of family, community and connectivity.
While it is much further north than the other wine-producing regions in Ontario, such as Niagara or Prince Edward County, it is on a similar latitude to the Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia and actually further south than both the Loire Valley and Bourgogne in France.
So how is it possible that the Ottawa Valley, land of endless cold winter months and snow that buries cars overnight (see proof below), can produce wine?
According to the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, there are certain climatological factors to consider when growing wine grapes:
Avoid extreme winter temperatures colder than -24°C
While during the interminable winter it may feel like there are lots of days colder than -24°C (that’s -11 °F for those of you south of the border), the truth is that there are on average only 17 days where temperatures will fall below -20°C. To counteract this, KIN buries the vines in the fall to protect them from this frigid winter cold.
Sunshine exceeding 1250 hours
While Ottawa may be cold and snowy, it still has a remarkable number of sunny days all year long. In fact, it is in the top 10 sunniest cities in Canada, and in the top 3 in Ontario. And this is an important factor, particularly during the growing season.
A visit to KIN
We arrived at the Carp site on a gloomy day. But the weather didn’t seem to be dampening the spirits of KIN Vineyards winemaker Brian Hamilton. He had just seen off a busload of agriculture students who had all volunteered to help out with the harvest.When you have a small team to start with, you can’t turn down helping hands (especially when all the picking, destemming and sorting is done by hand)! He cheerily showed us around the vineyard, which contains three blocks of vines, each with different soil composition that lends different qualities to the grapes. The chardonnay grapes were only days away from being ready for harvest, while the pinot still had another 10 days to go. They were already super sweet and their stems, canes and stems were brown, sure signs of physiological ripeness. Brian boasted that they had experienced great growth this season considering the intense drought in the region, which likely only strengthened the vines’ roots by making them extend deeper into the ground to find water.
A *very* brief intro to biodynamics
Brian has loads of experience working in wineries in New Zealand, California, and Niagara, particularly in the domain of organic and biodynamic growing and winemaking methods. His last gig was at Southbrook Vineyards, famed for being Canada’s biodynamic winery (and whose Wild Ferment Chardonnay I raved about here). Biodynamics, the first organic farming movement developed by Dr. Rudolf Steiner in the 1920s, is a holistic agricultural approach that uses a self-sustaining farm to produce an ideal crop. It is perhaps a bit hippy dippy, considering it was originally based on sun and moon cycles, and involves promoting fertile soil by making “preparations” with various dried herbs and flowers which are stuffed into deer bladders or cow horns before being buried in the ground. Basically, it’s going above and beyond organic grape growing. That means no synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, fungicides, pesticides, etc. You can only put into the Earth what came from the Earth. And that’s what’s really great about biodynamics: it is all natural, and actually gives back to the land, sustaining it for a long life (now that’s a concept I can really get behind).
While its agricultural practices are for the most part biodynamic, the team at KIN decided against going for organic or biodynamic certification for the winery. Why? Some things just can’t be dealt with naturally, such as black rot. And there are certain situations where sticking to biodynamic practices could mean losing an entire year’s worth of grapes, and from a business perspective, it’s not necessarily worth the risk (not to mention the exorbitant cost of obtaining the certification).
Kin offers three different tiers of wines:
Comes in vidal blanc and marechal foch, two hybrid varietals grown at the Kinburn site. 2% of profits go to local arts initiatives (yay!). The marechal foch is delicious with dark berries, toasty components after 7 months on oak, and good acidity on the palate.
2. Civil Grit
A chardonnay fermented in stainless steel. Currently made from grapes sourced from organic growers in Niagara, the 2016 vintage will potentially use this year’s grapes from Carp.
The flagship line, available in chardonnay and pinot noir. 2% of profits from this line go towards land stewardship and environmental initiatives in the area. We tasted the 2015 chardonnay, which had just been bottled the month before, while we were at the winery. The wine was aged in a mix of new and used French barrels, with a light (or blond) toast, so that the toasty oakiness on the palate is not too overwhelming. The alcohol (%), acidity and structure of the wine mean it could be potentially aged for up to 10 years.
Like its chardonnay counterpart, the 2015 pinot noir was sourced from Niagara, hence the “Lincoln Lakeshore” indication on its label. It could be made from Carp grapes as early as next year! This is a lovely wine – elegant – with cherry, earthy, minerally and floral aspects.
This past summer, KIN also released a small batch of pinot noir rosé that sold out so quickly I didn’t even get to taste it. Brian, please make more than 100 bottles next year, will ya?
Word is getting out that KIN is making great wines against all odds. Brian mentioned that after adding KIN to the wine list at Ottawa’s famed molecular gastronomy restaurant Atelier, chef Marc Lepine volunteered to pick grapes at harvest-time, which was only days away at the time of our mid-September visit. Lepine wanted to get his hands dirty. That’s the thing about exciting local ventures: once you see its potential, you want to be part of it. The winery’s promise of kinship is spreading, and everyone wants to get involved. Things are looking good for the Ottawa Valley’s first local wine.
Where to find KIN wines