By Gabrielle Tieman

At Rancourt Winery, everything is about the finishing touches. From the diverse impactful wines produced from home grown grapes to the classic and elegant labels that envelope the finished bottles, this 25 acre Niagara-on-the-Lake boutique winery is as filled with passion as it is outstanding grapes.

Focused on producing small quantities of high-quality, Rancourt Winery is continually striving to innovate and improve on traditional wines. Although their doors may only have opened in 2006, today, Rancourt Winery has become an award winning winery and a destination stop along the Niagara wine trail.

Described as a man who exuded passion, Quebec native Lionel Rancourt and wife Lorraine moved to Niagara in hopes of improving their English and putting their farming hands to work. Having purchased a property with vigorous soil and drainage, Lionel set to work growing a peach orchard. But it was not long until a trip to Bordeaux, France had Lionel catching the wine bug.

“He came back and started to rip out his peaches to plant Bordeaux variety grapes,” said Eric Pearson, Rancourt’s resident winemaker. “He was selling his grapes to the local wineries in the area and he was producing beautiful crops. A lot of these wineries really enjoyed the wine he was producing from the grapes and finally he decided ‘You know what, I am going to use these grapes to make my own wine.”

But, there was one problem; wife Lorraine didn’t drink wine. With this first challenging customer, Lionel became determined to craft a diverse wine that would attract even the pickiest wine consumer. It was with this that he developed the signature blends that have placed Rancourt Winery on the map.

This tradition of crafting unique wines has continued with Pearson, a native to St. Catharines, who says he has always been passionate about wine. Attesting some of his earliest memories to squashing grapes with his grandfather and attempting to make wine in his friend’s garage, it wasn’t until he started biochemistry at Brock University that said he knew he could turn his passion into a career.

“I’ve always loved wine,” said Pearson. “I grew up surrounded by vineyards and one of my best friends that lived just down the street from me had about 60 acres of grapes. So growing up we were always playing in the grapes. When I first started university I didn’t know what I wanted to do. But when it came time to do a thesis I focused on oenology and viticulture through the wine program and looking at that process. And it was a stellar time.”

Since joining with Rancourt in 2012, Pearson has risen to prominence as one of the most renowned wine makers in Niagara.

“It is a third art, a third science and a third passion,” said Pearson. “Those all have to integrate together so you can make a stellar wine. It may be a lot of work, but it is fun work and at the end of the day you have something that’s euphoric to drink.”

Known for embracing a hybrid of old world tradition and new world innovation, Pearson continues to handcraft Rancourt’s signature blends of Meritage, Noble Blanc and Noble Rouge along with his own variations on the classics, like a pure varietal unoaked Malbec that has tourists driving from hours away just to purchase a bottle.

“It is a cold weather twist on the traditional Argentinian Malbec,” said Pearson. “I said ‘Let’s go with a young, light, vibrant wine instead of a dark bold red’. It is a nice representation of a cool climate wine from Niagara.”

It’s nickname? The liquid watermelon jolly rancher; another example of the loving quirkiness that is bottled with each wine.

“If you don’t like red wine, this is a really great wine,” said Sue Enrich, who joined the winery in early 2012 and has since helped run Rancourt Winery. “We nicknamed it the liquid watermelon jolly rancher because it is very unique, not like your typical Argentinian style Malbec. It has been very popular.”

In 2007, Lionel’s unexpected death left the winery and his family heartbroken during a pivotal year of award winning vintages. But under the new ownership of wine enthusiast Joe Enrich and his daughter Sue, the winery has continued to expand and grow.

“The winery was Lionel’s dream and a lot of people wanted to buy the business because of the soil,” said Pearson. “[Joe] was the only one who came in and wanted Lorraine to continue to be part of the story and keep the winery alive.”

Not only have they upheld the traditions set by Lionel, but the Enrich’s have developed a method to help it thrive, doubling sales over the past two years and increasing production annually to over 4,000 cases.

Included in this production is a unique Chardonnay Reserve coined liquid butter tarts that has won the winery their first awards in white wines and the Noble Blanc that originally helped Lionel win over his toughest critic.

“Lionel came up with this magical blend that was just meant for Lorraine – not meant for production,” said Sue. “But Lorraine shared it with friends and by the time we opened our doors in 2006, everyone wanted the Noble Blanc. We sell out of it every year.”

Pearson’s current Noble Blanc, a full bodied blend of Chardonnay and aromatic Gewürztraminer, was given its blessing by Lorraine before being put into production.

Along with purchasing the winery, Joe purchased the Harvest Barn Country Markets, wanting to marry both the local wine and food experience. Sue said the winery has been able to create a well-rounded tasting experience for people who not only want to experience the local wineries, but as well the local produce in our area that so well compliments the grapes.

“Wine tasting should be an experience and we really want to combine that experience with our Country Barn Market,” said Sue. “It’s all about local food and local wine pairings.”

Rancourt Winery now sells a portion of Harvest Barn’s cheeses and condiments alongside their wines. Sue said the long term goal is to combine both the winery and Harvest Barn into one building as a one stop shop offering the wine tasting experience along with being able to purchase local food and specialty products.

An upcoming event for wine lovers to look forward to is Rancourt’s Wine Maker’s Dinner this Thursday, September 25th. The evening plans to mirror Rancourt’s food and wine pairing mantra, featuring a meet and great with Pearson and a four-course dinner prepared by Niagara-on-the-Lake local chef Alain Levesque from Terrior La Cachette Restaurant. Tickets are $79.99 plus tax, and can be purchased by calling 905-468-2882.

Though it may be small in stature, Rancourt Winery’s bold wines, inventive flavours and emphasis on local produce continue to leave a large imprint on the Niagara wine community. With big plans for expansion on the horizon, Rancourt Winery is only looking bigger for years to come.