Ravine Vineyard is kind of like an old soul. Despite only being open a handful of years you get this underlying feeling that there's some deeper history there. When you do a little exploring you quickly find out that indeed the winery has an intrinsic connection to the land that reaches back to the county's beginnings.
The painstakingly rebuilt and restored Wm. Woodruff House, built by Major David Secord, and now housing the tasting bar and winery's hospitality centre, is the best known example of this. It isn't just the large things either. Even the small things have this connection to the past. Retired tractors have had their seats transformed into chairs, rusted-out pick-up truck beds are now outdoor grills and concrete beneath the buildings has become makeshift benches at ground level. So when the winery decided to launch a new label the natural connection was to pull from the family's rich history.
The new line called Sand and Gravel, comes from the name of one of the family businesses from generations back. The Harber-Lowery family has ties back to the property stretching back five generations to when David Jackson Lowrey — ancestor to family matriarch Norma Jane — planted one of Niagara's earliest commercial vineyards. When launching its new label, being able to tie things to the past was especially important for Ravine. Even the label's font and look were inspired by the hand-lettering on the family's old Sand and Gravel pick-up truck.
For the Harber family, the launch of Sand and Gravel was a way to expand Ravine's tiny production and do it at a lower price point. The estate's elegant premium wines are made with organically grown fruit and in a style that benefits from a bit of bottle age in the cellar. They've always been priced accordingly, towards the higher-end of the market in Niagara. Almost since the beginning, Ravine's line-up has been highly-sought after. Cult wines like its estate Riesling often sell-out well before the next vintage is ready. The expansion of the winery's restaurant into a thriving bistro have also brought further pressures on production. So the foray into the sub $20-a-bottle price-point while building on the winery's quality reputation is a timely one. It also gives the winery a place to showcase the fruit from its partnering growers, while keeping it distinct from the estate wines.
Packaging the new line all under screw-cap, except for the Riesling (the taller bottle shape made it difficult to fit bottling equipment), signals that the Sand and Gravel wines are made in a style that's ready to drink upon purchase. The line-up, all currently from 2010, pairs beautifully with the winery's style of rustic bistro food. At the launch party items like rich, succulent barbecue pork belly and loin went particularly well with the Riesling and Cabernet Franc.
If you like a lush, medium-bodied and medium-sweet style of Riesling the 2010 Sand Gravel is one to taste. It's full of juicy flavours and aromas of tangerine, ripe peach and candied lemon and lime. There's just enough acidity and a touch of mineral on the finish to balance that ripe fruit and residual sugar sweetness.
Fans of aromatic white blends should gravitate towards the York Road. It's made from mainly Chardonnay, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc with a touch of Chardonnay musqué to lift aromatics. The nose is an inviting mix of apple, asian pear, citrus and white honey suckle. On the palate those layers of apple, pear and citrus come through with a refreshing lemon and lime flavour lasting well into the finish. There's a nice level of food-friendly acidity to help cut through richer foods with just enough oak to give it a bit of weight and structure without imparting heavy vanilla and oak spice flavours.
The Chardonnay is largely made in an unoaked style only seeing 7 percent new and 12 percent neutral oak. There's aromas and flavours of lemon, Bartlett pear, peach and a touch of barrel spice. It finishes clean with a citrus and pear combination. Both acidity and body are well balanced at the medium level.
The popular Red Coat blend, which was made to pair with restaurant's charcuterie boards, gourmet pizza and barbecue has made the move to the Sand and Gravel label for 2010. It's continues to be made in that easy-drinking style with a Merlot core, Cabernet Franc support and a flourish of Cabernet Sauvignon flare. The combination of dark plum, berry and licorice spice flavours should help continue its status as a crowd pleaser. It has enough acidity, weight and structure from its supple tannins that it should be able to handle both the richer and lighter bistro fair successfully.
For me the standout of the line-up is the Sand and Gravel Cabernet Franc. This is classic Niagara Cabernet Franc. Give your glass a swirl and you'll be treated with layers of ripe black cherry, raspberry, tobacco and vanilla aromas. Take a sip and those cherry and juicy red raspberry flavours are joined by currant, roasted tobacco spice and a touch of cocoa-dusted raspberry and cherry on the finish. With smooth tannins and a medium mouthfeel, this was the wine I most often reached for to pair with the bistro's subtly smoky southern-style dry-rub ribs and crisp pork belly.
So far reception to the new label and the juice inside has been great. So if you haven't been to Ravine lately, a chance to taste the Sand and Gravel line-up sooner rather than later is good motivation.
2010 Ravine Chardonnay Sand and Gravel
2010 Ravine Riesling Sand and Gravel
2010 Ravine York Road Sand and Gravel
2010 Ravine Cabernet Franc Sand and Gravel
2010 Ravine Redcoat Sand and Gravel
Written by Mike Di Caro
Michael Di Caro covers all things vinous at Spotlight. His lover affair with Ontario wine began over a decade ago and he’s been in front of tasting bars trying to sweet talk staff into pouring a taste of a library wine or the latest unreleased bottle ever since. Since good wine can’t be made without great grapes, you can also catch him amongst the vines trying to persuade the winemaker into revealing his/her next big thing for you on Spotlight. His epicurean tendencies don’t just stop in the glass either. During the rest of his free time you can find him searching for the perfect bowl of Dan Dan noodles, exploring the city’s best tasting menus or baking cookies and mucking about in the kitchen.