Hubbs Creek’s Battisita Calvieri – From Grape Grower to Winemaker

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This is the 4th post in a series on the upcoming Terroir event in Prince Edward County (Details here). The complete series so far looks like this:

Battista Calvieri

Battista mans the tasting bar at Hubbs Creek as Michelle, Debbie and I get to taste!

If you haven’t met Battista (John) Calvieri of Hubbs Creek Vineyard, you are missing out on a wonderful experience. He’s warm, down to earth, and exudes an amazing passion for the wine he is producing. My friend Michelle Dewar said it best with her Facebook post after our first meeting:

And why do we love going to Prince Edward County to buy wine directly from the makers? Well, there is nothing quite like driving into a vineyard and having the winemaker, weathered in his mud caked jeans and wide brimmed hat, come out to enthusiastically greet you at your car. He is eager to tell you everything from how he winters his vines to his business philosophy. He is so amiable and passionate that you know you will have to make a purchase even if his wine is awful because you could never hurt his feelings. But then you do a tasting. And, oh my goodness, the wine is as delightful as he is. Every bottle we drink will carry that experience forward. Love it.

I visit more wineries and experience way more great wine than I have time to write about, but I was still surprised wen I realized that I had never written about Battista or Hubbs Creek. This, despite it being one of my “must stop” winery recommendations for everyone since I discovered the place last May. As Michelle says, it was the combination of warmth, passion, and fantastic wines that just makes for such an amazing place to visit.

Hubbs Creek

Simple but effective quonset hut is home to Hubbs Creek


When I ask Battista about this transition from grape growing to winemaking, his answer is clear: “Grape growing is the most important component in winemaking”. He adds “Root stock selection and vigour control produce the right size of fruit…winemaking is just an extension as one flows into the other”.

With first vines planted in 2001, Battista and brothers Joe and Nick didn’t have access to a lot of resources available at the time (although Battista gives full marks to Geoff Heinricks for a lot of the advice they did receive). They had some hard learnings along the way. When pressed for an example, Battista tells me of buying an underpowered tractor. It wasn’t until they lost a lot of vines from winter kill that they realized this small tractor didn’t have enough power to hill up the vines properly.

Battista has always wanted to make wine, but with a couple of rough years when the vines matured (2004/2005), things were delayed. In years 2006-2008, they sold grapes to Norm Hardie, an arrangement that worked well for both parties. In 2007 Battista reserved some grapes for himself and made a Pinot Noir which he entered in the Pickering Wine Guild’s amateur competetion. The wine beat out all others for Gold, even though he was competing against other amateur winemakers using grapes from California. He knew he was on to something.

Battista Calvieri

Battista explains the wine Deb is sampling as I write notes

In 2009 he saved between 1 & 2 tons for his first vintage, operating as a virtual out of Hinterland’s facilities (using their license). The wine was a hit and in 2010 they got their own winery license and put up the Quonset hut that is their winery today. Battista admits that the Quonset hut isn’t the most attractive building, but it is very functional and inexpensive, a quality appreciated by family-run wineries. Battista thinks that opening and operating a winery should be affordable and open to anyone that has that passion.

There had to be surprises in the move from grape gower to winemaker, and Battista is quick to point out two key things he hadn’t expected. The first thing he mentions is that he didn’t realize how much he would love the smell of the winery when fermentation is under way – he is “…still surprised how sweet it is!”. His second surprise? When someone visits the winery and tastes one of his wines and really enjoys it – “…eyes wide open enjoys it!”. He mentions my first visit to the winery last year as an example of this. We talk about how wine is art, and how wine and food are very similar and evoke such visceral responses in people when done well.

I mention that Battista exudes such a passion for what he does. His responds that there isn’t a lot of money in grape growing or winemaking, and no one should get into it if they don’t share that passion for it. A farmer at heart, he loves the entire process – from flower to fruit set to harvest, and takes me back to my friend Michelle’s quote at the top of this post. We talk briefly about this cold winter and he tells me that although there will undoubtedly be some damage to the vines, he’s seen some lively lime green on the one cane he has dug up. He mentions 2013 as a rough year, with production down 40% or so due to the wet weather in the spring that resulted in poor berry set.

Battista Calvieri

Battista draws a sample of his 2012 Pinot Noir.

I ask if he thinks there is anything special about his terroir. Battista says the County is so young and unexplored (in terms of winemaking) that it is hard to tell. He credits the Hillier clay loam being great for Burgundian wines, and notes that he has about 3 feet of this on top of the limestone, which might be unique. He again mentions Heinricks and the high density planting, location and rootstock – creating the perfect competitive environment that drives the roots deeper, unearthing more of the famous County minerality.

So what’s next? Battista tells me that his first Chardonnay should produce this year, adding ~200 cases to the 300 they produced last year (~100 cases of Pinot Gris, ~200 cases of Pinot Noir). He’s also planting another 1100 vines this year – again all Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris, explaining “look at Europe…farmers concentrate on certain varieties that do well in their climate”. Having tasted several of Battista’s wines in my visit last May, I can only say that this thinking has served Hubbs Creek very well indeed.

All photos in this article provided by my good friend Andrew Weber, who just happens to be married to Michelle who I quoted above. We travel to wine country together when our schedules mesh.

Posted in Experience, Prince Edward County, Tasting Event, Terroir, Winery | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

10 Questions with Winemaker Ross Wise from Keint-He Winery & Vineyards

Ross Wise of Keint-He Winery & Vineyards

Ross Wise of Keint-He Winery & Vineyards (photo provided by Ross Wise)

(This is my first post in a series leading up to Terroir on May 3rd, 2014. Krista Lamb and I are sharing blogging duties leading up to Terroir so watch both sites for posts on PEC wineries. – Shawn)

Ross Wise is an extremely talented winemaker who I first met in 2011 when he was the winemaker at Flat Rock Cellars. Through Twitter, we were surprised to hear that he had left Flat Rock and Niagara and headed to the County. Maybe it wasn’t so surprising. Here’s 10 questions I asked Ross, and his answers (he couldn’t answer the one about why he would trade New Zealand’s moderate climate for one like we all lived through this winter in Ontario!).

Shawn: What’s your title and role at Keint-He?

Ross: I am the Winemaker and Vineyard Manager. I plan and oversee all operations in the vineyard and the cellar.

Shawn: Are you consulting with any other wineries?

Ross: Yes, I also work with Rosewood, Organized Crime and The Good Earth Wineries in Niagara.

Shawn: Besides wine, what’s your passions? What’s this cheese and hops business all about?

Ross: I do like cheese. I eat more than my share of good cheese, and make the odd wheel at home as well. Growing hops is a new project I am working on. I have a 250 plant hop yard on the go in Northumberland County (Shelter Valley Hops). This came about from another one of my passions – great beer.

Shawn: Tell us how a New Zealand native made his way to Ontario. What route did you take? Were there other stops along the way or was it a direct route?

Ross: It was a direct route from Marlborough, NZ, to Ontario. It was supposed to be a three month harvest internship at Flat Rock, but that got extended a bit. I’m still here, nearly 8 years later.

Shawn: What ultimately drew you to Prince Edward County?

Ross: I was looking for a new challenge, and Keint-he and PEC seemed to be a good fit. It was a good chance to get back to small batch winemaking, with a terroir driven, premium focus. I had also been enjoying PEC wines for a while, and I was really keen to have a go at making wine from grapes grown in these soils.

Shawn: Going from a fairly large production winery like Flat Rock to a smaller, artisanal winery in Keint-He must have presented some challenges. What made the adjustment difficult?

Ross: There were very few challenges actually. Keint-he already had the foundations of a good cellar, so it was just a matter of picking up a couple of pieces of equipment here and there. Our four vineyards also responded really well to how we managed them in the first year. It all fell in to place very quickly.

Shawn: What’s the best thing about living in the County?

Ross: I think the rural atmosphere and the scenery is great.

Shawn: Any surprises in your short time here?

Ross: The food scene is much bigger and better than I thought it was before I moved here. That was a nice surprise.

Shawn: How would you describe the Terroir here versus Niagara?

Ross: In PEC we have a lot of broken limestone at the base of our soils, which is responsible for that great mineral character in our wines. Our growing season is also later and cooler than Niagara, which I think is actually an advantage when you are dealing with Pinot Noir. The later season means that the Pinot Noir is doing most of its ripening in the cooler temperatures of late September and October. This allows for a slower accumulation of flavours and aromas in the berry, and it also helps to retain the great natural acidity of the fruit.

Shawn: Any special wines we should watch for from you this year?

Ross: My personal favourite is our 2012 Portage Pinot Noir, which will be released this spring (very limited quantities). This is a blend of fruit from two PEC vineyards.

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Terroir – A County Wine Celebration! takes place Saturday May 3, 2014, Noon until 5pm at The Crystal Palace, Main Street Fairgrounds, Picton.  Blogger Krista Lamb is also writing about County Wineries leading up to Terroir – her blog is here.

Posted in Artisan, Craft, Experience, Prince Edward County, Tasting Event, Terroir, Winery | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment