Three New Wineries Coming to Area

Monday, January 2, 2012

Industry Continues to Grow Locally

By Ted Whipp, The Windsor Star

ESSEX COUNTY, Ont. -- The numbers are adding up for the Windsor region's growing wine industry: 1,300 acres of vineyards, 300 employees, dozens of awards and counting.

Three new wineries are preparing to open to the public within two years. They join Cooper's Hawk, which opened in July between Kingsville and Harrow, and 14 existing area wineries stretching from Amherstburg to Blenheim.

Area wineries continue to win awards, attracting acclaim and attention. Colio Estate Wines' wildly popular Girl's Night Out label has enjoyed strong sales - both the Chardonnay and rose were category leaders in LCBO stores in 2011.

"It was a challenging season," said Tom O'Brien, president of the area industry association, the Southwestern Ontario Vintners Association.

What looked like a good growing season ended with a finale of rain, including four-inch torrent Sept. 8 that drenched the beginning of the harvest and the region's largest wine event, Amherstburg's Shores of Erie International Wine Festival.

"We got a lot of good grapes, but it was a lot of hard work," O'Brien said. "I think our wineries had a decent year for quality and quantity."

Walter Schmoranz, president of Pelee Island Winery, is also upbeat about industry prospects despite the late rain, a sluggish economy and low economic expectations in the months ahead.

"We had enormously heavy rains. It was not easy, I admit," he said. "But I think it's a sound, large volume vintage. I'm actually quite, quite happy. I think it was a great year."

"Wine sales are proving difficult," Schmoranz said. But with more marketing and sales effort, he expects a modest sales increase in 2012.

He's looking forward to the leadership for the local wine industry with O'Brien as the industry association president. He brings confidence, sound business knowledge and access to key contacts in business and government for the area industry, Schmoranz said.

He expects a major expansion of the winery production operations will be underway, proceeding with approvals and construction in the new year.

Tourism and economic development planners are paying more attention to an industry that harvests 1,300 acres of vineyards, employs about 300 and can attract visitors, attention and awards.

Spinoffs include more bed and breakfast accommodations in recent years and enhanced employment opportunities for chefs and other staff needed for more winery events.

"People have to eat and they need the attractions," said Doug Beatty, Colio's vice-president of marketing.

Colio has just hired a new winemaker, Lawrence Buhler, who brings skills, talent and expertise from working with the large Niagara-based winery company, Andrew Peller Limited, whose brands include Peller Estates.

On a sad note, the industry mourned the passing in 2011 of Gord Mitchell, who founded the family winery Sprucewood Shores. Beatty said he was impressed with and proud of the efforts of the industry to rally around and support the family during the harvest.

O'Brien said efforts continue to rebrand the industry here and increase its profile. He expects more gateway signs promoting the area and also sees more events in Windsor to raise the industry's profile among residents on the industry's doorstep.

O'Brien said the industry association has expanded to include area grape growers along with wineries with vineyards and retail store operations.

He also sees the industry offering more training and research opportunities and developing a closer relationship to work with research scientists, government and universities.

O'Brien added he was particularly impressed with the opportunities following the opening of his winery. He noticed that two-thirds of the visitors who dropped by came from outside Windsor and Essex County.

"I think there's a huge potential," he said of the industry and its tourism.

Besides three new wineries in the months ahead, O'Brien has heard talk of prospects for more in the future.

For now, he said he's looking to terrific weather in the new year.

"I'd love to predict we're going to have a hot, dry growing season in 2012."

twhipp@windsorstar.com
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