From Blues to BBQs to World Class Wines

By Gabrielle Tieman

Pleasing everyone on a wine tour is not an easy task. While some individuals may love a crisp, sweet white wine, others may favour a dark, earthy red. And though today most wineries grow hundreds of acres of diverse grapes and produce multiple varietals, it is rare to travel to a winery that not only appeals to the masses of wine appreciators, but those who may not favour the beverage at all. 13th Street Winery fills this industry void, providing a winery that appeals to both wine connoisseurs and the friends they brought along for the ride.

Committed to the creation of excellent wines and supporting local, 13th Street Winery serves as a well-rounded representation of Niagara wine country and the produce and artistic talent the peninsula has to offer. Blending modern sophistication with rustic country charm, the century old farm home turned contemporary winery has struck a perfect balance in the sometimes one sided industry, creating a welcoming atmosphere for a diverse array of visitors. Featuring four core lines of wine, the winery has the ability to appeal both to those in search of an elevated Niagara blend and families looking to pick up a dozen homemade butter tarts and sip a glass of chardonnay at a picnic table outside.

“We never strived to be everything to everybody,” said Peter Bodnar Rod, Director of Media Relations and Hospitality at 13th Street Winery. “We are just an authentic reflection of who we all are. And in turn we ended up with a very rich, very contemporary art gallery and high end dining experience in one end and then across 10 metres you’re at the heart of Niagara with the smells of fresh baked goods and real jams. We are okay being both these things – we know it may be different customers, but it is an authentic expression of who we are.”

Founded in 1998, 13th Street Winery began as a small estate winery specialized in producing small quantities of hand crafted estate grown table wines and traditional method sparkling. Though founded by four professionals whose expertise lay in fields far from winemaking, the successful amateur underground winemakers saw their 1,500 case productions quickly sell out season after season. In 2008, these partners sold the winery to new owners Doug and Karen Whitty alongside their business partners John and June Mann; both families who had been actively involved in the farming side of the wine industry for years and had decided it was their turn to try their hand at production.

“John owns vineyards and Doug had farmed them,” said Bodnar Rod. “Over the years they have always wondered if growing grapes and selling them to other wineries to use was the best way to go. So many people who own grapes at some point in their life are going to start weighing the benefits and costs of turning those grapes that they nurture and love so much into wine and realizing the benefits of that finished good. And after some conversation they decided that is what they should probably do.”

Under this new ownership the winery quickly grew –accumulating more acreage, growing production to 10,000 cases a year and relocating the winery to a state-of-the-art winemaking facility on 4th Avenue in St. Catharines having outgrown its namesake location at 13th Street.
“13th Street was a mystery to get to,” said Bodnar Rod. “If you didn’t know it already then you didn’t know it. When the Whitty’s and the Mann’s came on board the plan was to grow the business, which involved relocating the facility from the now dead end road. Both families came with significant vineyards as well. At that time the original owners were working with a five acre vineyard that surrounded the original 13th Street and a large vineyard called Sandstone.”

This move to west St. Catharines provided the winery with additional high quality vineyards, greenhouses and an on-site bakery and market for further expansion.

“100% of the vintages produced by 13th Street Winery are made from fruit sourced exclusively in the Niagara Peninsula with 85% or more coming from our own vineyards,” said Bodnar Rod. “Our very first vines were planted at the 13th Street Vineyard in 1976. In the years since, we’ve planted Gamay Noir, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Pinot Gris and now have amassed more than 40 acres of estate vineyards in the VQA Creek Shores appellation of Niagara.”

But despite all of the expansions and changes being made, the Mann’s and Whitty’s chose to stick close to the winery’s roots, bringing a world renowned winemaker on to continue the tradition of producing critically acclaimed wines – with a focus on Gamay and traditional method sparkling wine.

“We still specialize in traditional method sparkling wines,” said Bodnar Rod. “We still specialize in Gamay Noir and we are still very focused on Riesling and Chardonnay. Those are the varietals we have always grown both on our property and others. This is who we are and there was no reason to change that – it’s what we think is right for Niagara and we have had great success.”

Jean-Pierre Colas joined 13th Street in early 2009, working alongside original winemaker Herb Jacobson up until his retirement in late 2010. Bringing with him a thorough knowledge of winemaking along with an artistic flare, Colas is known to mix his experiences from his native Chablis, France along with his ten years in Niagara to create unique cold weather wines.

“Jean Pierre is a very traditional Frenchman, very hands off and a firm believer in doing everything possible to extract the maximum complexity and maximum character from the varietals from the site where they are picked,” said Bodnar Rod. “He harvests very late in the season to give the grapes maximum amount of time to mature.

“You hear stories about rainy seasons in Bordeaux and how it came down to which winemakers were going to pick and which were going to wait for the rain to go away in hopes that there will be sunshine on the other side. Well Jean Pierre was always the guy who waited. He believed we could handle a bit of rain. ‘Let’s get the sunshine, we need more sunshine, we need more ripeness and it’s not worth making wines from grapes that are only three quarters of the way there’.”

Colas continues to uphold 13th Street’s reputation for producing great Gamay and table wines, but the winery has since expanded to simultaneously showcase Colas’ unique talents for understanding diverse grapes. Showcasing four core lines of wine – the 13th Street Cream Label, 13th Street Black Label, Essence and Blended Series – each are distinguished by different flavours, level of development and Colas’ creative flare.

Priced in the mid to high teens, 13th Street’s Cream Label is known as the workhorse of the series. 80 per cent developed from their estate fruit, these labels are known to continually bring wine consumers back for another bottle of exceptional table wine. The Black Label series, their reserve line, both elevates the traditional table wine flavours and includes a few special bottles – including Colas’ favourite wine Syrah.

“It is the type of wine people expect to see when they come to 13th Street,” said Bodnar Rod. “They always expect to see a cream label Gamay, the June’s Vineyard Chardonnay, June’s Vineyard Reisling, and so on.”

Though the traditional cream and black label wines have the crowds flowing in, the Essence Line, a creative collection by Colas and the winery’s most expensive collection, has slowly been growing more popular and drawing more crowds.

“[Colas] is extremely creative,” said Bodnar Rod. “We always want Jean Pierre to produce what inspires him and what is unexpected and exceptional – that doesn’t necessarily have a customer yet. These are Jean Pierre’s finest art form. Completely hands off. No pressure to do or be anything. We just let the master create his masterpieces.”

And last their Palette Series is a series of blended entry level wines that have become a core series. Featuring a white, red and rose, the wines are blends of different varietals grown on 13th Street’s property.

“I believe in the past we were known as a great varietal vineyard, other than sparkling wine which tends to be a blended variety,” said Bodnar Rod. “Now I think we are known for both; some interesting blends and some traditional blends. Jean Pierre loves to have all of his raw materials ferment individually, and then assess them individually – picking blocks that can stand on their own as varietal wines and then taking others to make some interesting blends.”

And though wine is what put them on the map, the butter tarts are one component that is helping to keep 13th Street Winery on top. Conveniently located across from the wine store and tasting bar is the year round 13th Street Bakery and Marketplace. The recently renovated barn was built to feature both seasonal produce from the Whitty farm and other local producers from the Niagara Peninsula when the outdoor market was closed during the colder months. They feature farm fresh fruits, vegetables and flowers, baked goods made on site, including the famous butter tarts, an assortment of jams, jellies and preserves and even an assortment of artisan merchandise such as jewelry, books, kitchen gadgets, scarves and more.

“The bakery was always part of the outdoor market,” said Bodnar Rod. “We realized [the old barn] was a good spot to expand on the very successful outdoor market because it is closed from November to May. So what do you do the rest of the year to get them their butter tarts and their Thanksgiving pies and their Christmas goods and anything else? Well you do an indoor version of it and where better to do it then at the winery.”

Included are a few accessible lunch options like flatbread pizzas, cheese boards and country accoutrements that make the winery a wonderful spot for a quick bite to eat.

“Fast, delicious, local, affordable; that is the idea with our lunch,” said Bodnar Rod.

Alongside the Marketplace, the winery and tasting rooms play host to a rotating collection of Canadian art that is available for purchase. These pieces compliment the permanent sculptures and paintings that can be found surrounding the grounds and adorning the walls – again adding to the clientele that the winery attracts year after year.

13th Street Winery also hosts seasonal wine, food and cultural events to showcase the extraordinary talents of top chefs, artists and musicians from the region – paying homage to the area and supporting local talent in every possible way.

It is this diverse array of attractions that keeps the winery not only busy, but buzzing with a positive energy that you can still feel heavy in the air after the doors have closed for the day.

“It’s not that we try to be everything for everyone, but we can be everything to everyone,” said Bodnar Rod. “We aren’t trying to be but we can’t be one thing. We have become a really comprehensive experience. In all of the years we have been together and with this move from very small to slightly bigger, we couldn’t just stick to one style – there are too many personalities. It’s about blues and barbecues, and the country market and 75 dollar multi course menus with top chefs, 60 dollar sparkling wines and 15 dollar every day picnic lights. It is about making people happy and hoping they will want to come back and further enjoy the experience.”

13th Street Winery is located at
1776 Fourth Avenue in St. Catharines.

Wine Shop Hours:
Monday to Saturday 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. June to October
11 a.m. – 5 p.m. November to May

Bakery Hours:
Tuesday to Saturday 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. January to May
Monday to Saturday 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. June to December