It was a very dreary morning, within winter's last grasp (we hope) that I drove up to Colaneri Estate Winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake.
You are immediately struck by the influences of Tuscan architecture.
As wonderful as they were to look at on such a dreary day, I can only imagine what it must be like on a hot summer afternoon, the pastels of stucco and brick bringing a glimpse of Italy to the region.
Christopher Colaneri explains that, initially, his uncle wanted the building in the shape of a "C" for the family name and second, he wanted it to be very welcoming and approachable as you drive up.
"The ideas started to flow, you aren't who you are without where you came from," says Colaneri. "As you're walking along just like in Italy where every section is owned by a different person, different colours different bricks that old broken look.
"We took pictures and memories from father and uncle's hometowns and mother's hometown shoved it all together, and this is what came out of it."
The farm was bought in 1980, with existing Delaware, Niagara and Ventura grapes that were sold for grape juice in St. Catharines.
In 1989 they pulled everything out and did nothing with the land for 15 years.
"We came to a point where people knock on your door and ask what you're doing with the land."
"You sell it or do something with it, we didn't have the heart to sell it off, so we put the grapes into the ground." The family planted new varietals in 2004 and opened the winery on Labour Day weekend of 2010.
"Now have well-established vines, says Colaneri. "We're blessed with some rich clay soil, it's really nutrient-rich, it helped regenerate the soils."
While the winery is quite large physically, Colaneri says it is still quite small in terms of production, only making about 10,000 cases a year.
"We are not interested in being a big winery that pushes hundreds of thousands of cases through the LCBO. It's not what we got into it for."
"We got into it to put our name on a good quality product and be proud of it at the end of the day."
The name and the family behind it is paramount.
"I've always known that the biggest stamp of approval that you can put on something is your name."
He says the family was brought up with wine as an experience, more about the family and sitting down together to enjoy the fruits of their labour.
"You have to run your theme through everything right from the way the building looks, the way the tasting room looks to the labelling. And even just simply putting a cork in it versus a screw cap. Those are the little things that make you old world Italian family with a new world twist. You have to follow through with that.
"We needed a logo. We went back and forth on a few ideas to represent a family, mom said Italians are about passion about fire about love."
So, they decided to anchor the labelling with Vesta, goddess of the eternal flame.
"We're one family, but we're totally different members of that family," says Colaneri.
"We ended up picking the wines based on the labels. The wines almost had the personality to match with the person that picked the wine.
"People have loved those stories, when you open a bottle of wine people remember, Oh, I did this, and there's always a story that comes out of that bottle of wine.
"People remember how you made them feel."
While wines range in price from under $20, Colaneri chooses the winery's top wine, an Amarone style Cabernet Sauvignon from 2014. A hefty wine, sneaking in just under 16 per cent alcohol.
Colaneri describes the year as average for Niagara, and the grapes were hand harvested in late October, concentrating the flavours.
Six weeks worth of drying added more concentration before spending 30 months in French oak barrels.
Beautiful colour, deep and rich, the wine is big, silky, with notes of dark fruit, dark cherry with a nice acidity to back it.
It's good now, and to be honest, it screams to be paired with a nice thick charred filet or T-bone, but it will progress well for another five years.
We booked the photography tour, not because we’re all photographers, but because we felt it would ensure we saw the best views/sites in the area on our first day out. We planned the rest of our outings from there, and what our tour guide Harold Hutchings told us. He gave us great guide tips and, as a local, was super knowledgeable of the area.Kristy See More