Written by: Lauren Charley
Photographed by: AJ Harlond
Driving down the long driveway off Four Mile Creek Road, hearing the snow crunch between the tires of the SUV, the view as I approach the Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery is breathtaking. The buildings appear historic, yet kept in beautiful condition, and the view of the rows of vines from a descending hillside transforms the lifeless, bitter cold surroundings into a winter wonderland. Inside the Woodruff House I am greeted by Paul Harber, the Chef Proprietor and Brand Manager, who guides me through a tour of the recently renovated, and work-in progress facilities of the winery.
Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery, also known as The Upper Lowrey Farm, was first purchased by David Jackson Lowrey in 1867 when the family moved from Vanessa, Ontario to the property in St. David’s. The first grapes were planted on the farm in 1869, reported to have 500 vines, possibly making it the first commercial vineyard in the area. The modern winery we see today opened in 2004 when the 34-acre property was purchased by Blair and Norma Jane (Lowery) Harber. In 2008 it was opened to the public with its first restaurant and temporary tasting room, which is now permanently located inside the Woodruff House.
The Woodruff House, a beautiful, white, Georgian-style home is filled with a rich history of its own; from suffering destruction by the American troops during the War of 1812, to being moved to, and rebuilt in pieces in locations across Southern Ontario. It now forms a historic and integral part of the Ravine Vineyard Estate, as it returned to St. David’s to be rebuilt and restored in 2003. According to Georgian Architecture, “this house is considered to be one of the top 50 most significant houses in all of Canada because it represents such an excellent example of ‘Loyalist’ or ‘Wilderness’.”
Over the next several years, the Lowery family’s present generation, in the guise of the Harbers, plan to continue expanding Ravine to include many more business ventures and attractions on the property. The Harbers have made remarkable additions to the winery’s facilities and production. Two years ago the farm became the production site for wine making. The barrel cellar where the wines are stored also functions as a venue for private events. This cellar is decorated in a “Gothic style” and even has a space where DJs can set up and spin vinyl records to play music for a party!
Paul explained that the current wine production facility will be undergoing major renovations which he hopes will be completed by spring 2015. This will double the width of the current facility and introduce a mezzanine level for another event space, overlooking the production area. The North wall will face Lake Ontario, so guests will be able to enjoy a picturesque view of the vineyards through big windows as they enjoy a glass of wine. In three to five years, a second restaurant will join the Ravine culinary experience. It is intended to be a premium dining restaurant featuring the seasonal fruits and vegetables, open in the peak harvesting season between May and October.
The final phase in the Harbers’ development plan will be the expansion of the 121 year old “Lowery Bros.” canning label business, which was re-launched as “The Canning House” last year. The current production is fairly limited, producing jams, preserves, sauces, and canned whole fruits and vegetables which are available for purchase on site. The Canning House uses only locally picked fruits and vegetables from either the farm itself or farms in the Niagara Region. Paul hopes that with the expansion of their cannery, it will give local farmers a chance once again to provide delicious, healthy produce to people in the area. “The Canning House represents a time when we all recognized the importance of supporting regional farming while cultivating a healthy local culture and family life close to home.”
Ravine is proud to be a strong supporter of this local philosophy. The top food “trend” in 2014 is said to be the demand for local and sustainable groceries. People want to buy products raised and grown in our area, so they know more about the origins of their food. Paul does not think this is just a trend; “I think it’s here to stay,” he beams. The winery’s culinary vision is “highlighting the seasonal bounty and offerings of the local farms in Niagara.”
The winery operation currently grows, harvests, and sorts all grapes on the estate. At the restaurant, the pork served is fresh from pigs raised on site; a practice which has been in operation the past four years. All baking for the restaurant is done in the kitchen by Andreas Griese, an Artisan bread baker who joined Ravine in 2011. “My twenty years of culinary experience working in some of Niagara’s best restaurants goes into shaping and baking each loaf of bread,” says Andreas. The sourdough black olive bread is a treat for the taste buds; the smell of fresh herbs is intoxicating, and the golden brown crust creates the perfect amount of crunch around the moist and fluffy center. In summertime, Andreas bakes on display at the wood oven located on the restaurant patio where guests can sit and enjoy drinks and appetizers whilst witnessing the creation of the baked goods they wait to enjoy. Producing natural products is an essential part of being “Ravine” and to this end both the vineyard and their ¾ acre vegetable garden is certified organic. The garden is planted and cared for by Maguma Gummi, the resident gardener known on site as “The lady with greens thumbs”. All the vegetables used in the Ravine Restaurant are grown in their organic garden or on local farms such as Wach’s Farm.
The Restaurant at Ravine is both a casual restaurant with an extensive selection of unique, à la carte menu items, and also offers a variety of menus and events available to larger parties. Charcuterie is a signature item on the menu, using meats from the farm pigs smoked right on site. Groups are encouraged to consider hosting a special experience such as a Ravine Pig Roast or a Signature Culinary Experience. The Signature Culinary Experience, designed for parties of ten or more, is an eight course dining experience, which allows guests to tour the property as they enjoy a new taste at a different location every course. Brunch is served every Sunday throughout the colder months from mid-January to the end of April from 11-3pm and features dishes inspired by the Lowery farm.
Nathan Young, the Chef de Cuisine, takes pride in his menu creations for being locally and organically produced. Nathan highly recommends that visitors try the charcuterie, because the pigs are raised on the farm and all curing and smoking of the meat is done on site too. His personal favourite is the chicken liver parfait. He says his inspiration for new food pairings and cuisine ideas comes from absorbing the nature and scenery around the vineyard in the peak growing seasons. “The inspiration of the colours and smells of spring and summer give me a blank canvas for the food at Ravine,” says Nathan.
At Ravine, grapes thrive in their environment at the farm in St. David’s for a number of reasons, but mostly because the climate is 20 percent warmer than other sub-appellations in Niagara. “The soils are lighter, its airflow and water drainage are more consistent, and its position on the Bench is at its highest elevation.” This creates a spectacular terroir for growing luscious grapes producing Ravine’s finest wines often described as “elegant” or “refined”. All of the winery’s white wines are fermented in stainless steel tanks kept at cool temperatures, preserving the fresh fruit flavours, and all of the red wines are fermented in Demi Muids.
My visit to Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery was a unique experience. Rarely is a winery so genuinely organic and proud to be local, and the kindness and generosity of Paul Harber and Nathan Young truly gave a warm welcome. The winery caters to both tourists and the local clientele, giving all visitors a unique chance to see the wine making and food production processes. Ravine will be a spectacular spot to visit in the upcoming, busy season of spring and summer 2014.
*All unaccredited quotes are taken directly from http://www.ravinevineyard.com/