By: Megan Pasche | Photos: A.J Harlond
Riverview Cellars sits directly off the route of one of the prettiest drives in Canada: the Niagara Parkway. It is described as a “true family winery”, and that truth is immediately evident upon visiting. It is owned and operated by the Pilliteri family: Sam Pilliteri, who acts as President and his son, Michael, who is the general manager. It also becomes even more of a family affair on special occasions, with Michael’s Mom, Lina, sisters Connie, Maria and Angela, and his wife, Sarah helping out.
In 1975, the property housed a fruit farm, growing apples, pears, peaches and all kinds of other fruit, but eventually, the trees were removed, and grape vines were planted in their place. Initially, the grapes were sold to Pilliteri Estates, a winery owned by Michael’s uncle, with Riverview Cellars opening in the year 2000.
When talking about what makes the wine at Riverview Cellars special, Michael Pilliteri notes, “one of our most popular wines is the Gewürztraminer…not too many people produce it in this area, and over the last several years, we’ve won top honours with it-it is the first grape we planted in 1992, it’s over 20 years old, and it’s really come into its own. I think that is what makes it so special and unique.”
Another of their most popular wines is the Fontana Dolce, which is a blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, with a touch of Cabernet Franc Icewine. In total, the winery produces 22 different wines.
Riverview’s winemaker is Alyssa Bator, a Niagara native who grew up down the road from Riverview on a tender fruit and grape farm. She took over as head winemaker in June of 2014, after working in the Riverview Tasting Room for six years. She studied physics at McMaster University, and after graduating, attended the Grape and Wine Technology Certificate program at Brock University. Mike notes that it has been a really smooth transition from Riverview’s previous winemaker. Mike shares, “it really was the perfect fit for us, homegrown girl, making homegrown wines.”
The philosophy at Riverview is “quality of wines from the earth and from the heart.” Mike says that philosophy essentially translates to, “we put a lot of passion into our work and into our vineyards. That means we are going through the vineyard every day, checking the vines, making sure they are healthy, making sure they are ready to harvest, analyzing them and putting our best effort into the vineyard. Making sure we are making and growing excellent grapes because that’s how you are going to make excellent wine. You can’t make great wine from bad grapes.”
Riverview Cellars offers tours and tastings on a daily basis May through October, or if you are a member of their wine club, you can request a winemaker tour at any time of the year, where Alyssa will take visitors through the vineyard, explain all the different wines, and do barrel tastings which are accompanied by a cheese platter. The Wine Club also ensures the delivery of two different bottles a month, including a special Wine Club wine that only members get. The cost is $40 per month, and it makes a great gift idea. You can buy a wine club subscription for six months or a year.
When touring around Niagara Wine Country, Riverview Cellars is worth pulling off the parkway for, to experience, as Mike says, “a place where we greet you with a smile, and try to make you feel like part of the family.”
During the winter months, there are a couple special events that take place:
• Taste the Season takes place every weekend in November and is a food event where you get a passport and free reign to visit as many of the 28 participating wineries as you can. This year, Riverview Cellars will be serving a heirloom beet salad which they will be pairing with their aforementioned Gewürztraminer. More info at wineriesofniagaraonthelake.com
• The Icewine Festival takes place every January, and involves each participating winery presenting an “experience” for visitors who have purchased a discovery pass. Every year Riverview presents an extremely popular experience: a large chocolate fountain which they have dubbed “Chocolate Falls in Niagara”, which is served with strawberries, bananas and cranberry cinnamon biscotti that is homemade by Mike’s aunt. It is served with a glass of Cabernet Franc Icewine. More info at niagarawinefestival.com