What would drive a young, Toronto-based software consultant with a host of U.S. customers to drop everything and move to Prince Edward County to open a winery?
For wine-lover Bruno Francois, he says it was the 'writing on the wall'. As the Canadian currency rose on par with the US dollar, suddenly the cheap software development north of the border started to feel expensive. Some of his U.S. clients started moving more and more custom development offshore to India and China where the labour rates were much cheaper than Canada. For Bruno, it meant it was time for a career change. With a love of wine he had dreams about opening a winery. But where?
Bruno and his partner Jens Korberg looked at Niagara. They found the land too expensive and just didn't feel connected to the place. When they toured the County, they felt much more at home. When Bruno started looking closer at the land and discovered the soil type so similar to the great wine regions of France, he describes his reaction as “I went bananas!”. And the connection to the County these days is pretty strong – “friends, family, and wine” are the key bonuses they highlight for the rural lifestyle they've chosen. Bruno admits that off-season can be pretty quiet in the County and you don't see too many people, admitting that that people may be anonymous in the big city, but you never feel lonely having everything (shops, restaurants, entertainment) at your fingertips 7×24.
Now that they had decided on the area, what to grow? Again there seemed to be only one choice – Pinot Noir. Calling it the “king” of all grape varietals, the challenge of growing this grape that is unlike anything else appealed to Bruno. But it was the mix of right soil type (heavy Hillier clay with lots of limestone) combined with the slightly later bud-break of Pinot Noir (maybe only 1 week later, but as Bruno says, that can make all the difference) that ultimately decided what they would grow. Mostly self-taught in both farming and winemaking, they credit Geoff Heinricks (formerly of Keint-He and one of the early wine pioneers in the County) and Fred Picard (Winemaker at Huff Estates) and with advice that influenced their decisions along the way.
Ontario is a tough place to make a go of it with a winery. The old adage that “the way to make a small fortune in the Ontario wine industry is to start with a large fortune” definitely applies. But to start a winery that only makes Pinot Noir? People would exclaim that there must be “passion times ten” in order to do that. I still recall our first visit there when the tasting room was in the basement and we asked what was available to taste. Bruno informed us of the single vintage, single varietal that they had available for tasting, later showing us the “stock” – a single pallet of remaining bottles of the 2008. With three vintages now under their belt (3 Pinot Noirs and 1 “Pourriture Noble”, a sweet white wine made from botrytis-affected Pinot Noir that they labouriously hand selected), they've started to expand ever so slightly. There will be a white Pinot Noir in the 2011 vintage, and a sparkling set to release several years from now. Noticing that Cab Franc seemed to have similar ripening times, they planted some back in 2006 & 2007 (when, as Bruno describes it, no one really liked it or thought it viable in the county) and have produced a single barrel from the 2011 vintage. But the king – Pinot Noir, remains the focus of The Old Third.
“Respect”. That's how Bruno describes ultimate success for The Old Third. While he says they need to be profitable (he hopes it will come next year – this year's yield was down 50% because of the late spring frost), the ultimate goal is that people respect them for what they have done and the wines they have produced. With the trajectory of wines of increasing quality and appeal from 2008 (sold out), 2009 (sold out), and 2010 (nearly sold out), some would say they have already reached that goal.
The Old Third 2010 Pinot Noir: With the heat of 2010, this Pinot has a bigger, fruitier body that either the 2008 or 2009. The nose is first red raspberries and cherries with sweet spice from the nicely integrated oak. There are nuances of something herbal and a light earthiness. On the palate, the fruit is sweet and supple, the tannins and acidity in nice balance with the fruit. The County minerality shines through and the finish is slightly tart cherry/cranberry.
2010 The Old Third Winery Pinot Noir
Written by Shawn McCormick
Shawn McCormick is a wine aficionado who got hooked on visiting Ontario wineries in 2007. After he and his wife got lost numerous times on those trips, he developed a free iPhone app (Uncork Ontario) that provides driving directions to all the wineries of Ontario. His blog focuses on winery visits and wine reviews, occasionally interrupted by technology-focused pieces of interest to the wine industry.