More about local wineries during the 2012 Niagara Wine Festival – this time it’s Henry of Pelham!
I have made many trips to Henry of Pelham Estate Winery since I have been in Niagara. I grew up on more than 180 acres in New Brunswick and there is something about driving 8 minutes from the St. Catharines city centre to a quiet agricultural area that brings me peace. Of course, in NB I didn’t have breezes coming off Lake Ontario across rolling vineyards…
This conversation goes back before the Niagara Wine Festival. I had a chance to spend an afternoon with Paul Speck, the oldest of the 3 Speck brothers who run the family-owned Henry of Pelham Estate Winery in St. Catharines.
Paul is introspective, straight-forward and intelligent. He has a passion for his family, Niagara, his business and, of course, great wine.
That afternoon he took me on a tour of the facility and it was clear how proud he was of every detail. He should be. The location is exquisite and even though this land is part of a 200 year family heritage, every thing you see is the result of decisions that were made deliberately, motivated by research and planning or the result of lessons learned through the clarity of hindsight.
Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery was established in 1988 with the first vintage. From their website:
In 1984 when our father, along with each of us (Matthew, Daniel and Paul), tore out the Concord and Niagara grapes at our own expense, people thought we were crazy. When we planted Riesling and Chardonnay under newly contoured hills and under drainage, many said they would never grow. We knew, after studying the heat scans and speaking with some of the other more progressive growers, that our vineyard was not only suitable for these special varieties but also located on the prime grape growing lands of the Short Hills Bench.
The Speck family continued that kind of bold decision-making as they established the Henry of Pelham brand into a respected, traditional award-winning collection of quality wines. Most businesses would be content with that level of success, but over the years they added quality sparkling wines and more recently, the Sibling Rivalry brand of fun, blended, easy-drinking wines (in red, white and pink).
In recent years, Niagara has become respected as a wine industry, but this respect is relatively new and was hard earned. It has been the result of a lot of careful decisions and lots of careful work from this generation of Niagara winemakers.
Henry of Pelham was one of the founding members of the Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA). Paul made it clear that they were among a wine community that recognized the importance of establishing an “origin” system that helps consumers identify Ontario wines and the grapes that have been used to produce them.
Respecting traditional wine-making methods is very important to Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery. They recognize the ideal growing conditions on the Short Hills Bench produces great wines and they try to assist in the natural process only as it is necessary. Innovation and technology are added to the process when it doesn’t interfere and creates an opportunity to increase the quality of the wine while remaining competitive in the market.
At Henry of Pelham they are motivated to let nature do its thing. Then they step in.
As Paul reminded me, the Niagara escarpment is so special that the United Nations has designated it a World Biosphere reserve. Then when you consider the micro-climate that supports the growth of Carolinian forests, peaches, apricots and grapes, the commonality of key wine regions at 44 degrees latitude across the world and you have a very special place for wine growing. So, if Niagara enjoys a special micro-climate, then Paul was able to brag about the fact that they sit in another micro-climate within it: The Short Hills Bench.
The soil, temperatures and conditions of the Short Hills Bench are responsible for creating the ideal growing conditions for their grapes and responsible for the distinctive flavours and reputation that their winery has gained world-wide.
Paul was quick to point out that not only is the Niagara Region responsible for these great wine growing conditions, but that it connects he and his brothers to generations of their heritage and makes this a wonderful place to live and raise his family.
The Speck brothers are relatively young men and even though their wine respects the traditional origins of wine-making it is important to emphasize that these are the same guys who have set-up live theatre on their location in the summer, offer Segway tours of their vineyard and in the inaugural season, supported Niagara Roller Girl events!
It’s clear they realize that one of the best parts of making great wine is to drink it while you are celebrating life.
Cheers to that.
JUST THE FACTS
From the approved list of grape varieties Henry of Pelham concentrate their efforts on Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon blanc, Pinot Noir, Baco Noir, and Riesling Icewine. They have won numerous domestic and international awards, including those at VinItaly and the London Wine Trade Fair. Their wines are served in the U.K., U.S.A., Japan, and Denmark — and throughout the world.
Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery
1469 Pelham Rd., R.R.#1
St. Catharines, ON Canada
If you are fascinated by the grape harvesting process, HOP offers regular Harvest Reports from their website that summarize the conditions and observations through the season. CLICK HERE