Stratus Vineyards – Impeccable Winery, Impeccable Wine

So right after my return home from my Niagara trip late last year, I received notification from Wine Country Ontario that I had won a contest and the prize was a wine-tasting trip for 2 to Niagara! As we started planning we realized that we wanted a little more time in Niagara so we drove down and spent a couple extra days touring on our own. The next dozen or more blog posts will take you through the crazy schedule of winery visits, including the absolutely fabulous 2 days provided by Wine Country Ontario.

After a grueling February drive (OK, it wasn’t so bad as there was only a bit of snow north of Toronto and rain for an hour or so after that), we finally made it to NOTL. We had previously been invited to tour Stratus Vineyards by Nadia Skorupski, a Sales and Marketing Associate at Stratus.

Stratus Winery Picture

Impressive LEEDs Facility

I must admit, that the tasting room at Stratus can be very intimidating. With soaring ceilings (and matching bookcases of wine), the interior is spotless and impeccably orderly. Nothing is out of place…and the showroom looks like something out of a magazine. Some might even consider the design a bit cold. That quickly fades with the warm reception we receive as Nadia is summoned, and then melts completely under her warm welcome. We’re given a welcome glass of the ’08 Sauvignon Blanc (notes in a bit) and Nadia explains the history of Stratus.

Impeccable Displays

Meticulous Bottle Placement

Although the first wines were made as far back as 2000 the wine was made at another facility. This facility, not only the first LEEDs-certified building in Canada, was also the world’s first LEED-certified winemaking facility! Consultants in the early years included Peter Gamble, who helped with the overall design of the gravity flow system. This is quite a challenge because unlike other gravity-flow wineries like Tawse and Flat Rock, there is no “bench” here for a natural elevation.

The vines were all planted between 1985 and 2004 (some replanting has occurred), and they currently farm 18 (yes 18!) different varieties on 55 acres. The unusual reds include small plantings of Sangiovese, Mourvèdre Tempranillo and Tannat. Most of these I would have said cannot be grown in Niagara, yet they have managed to keep these small plots going. Average production is about 10,000 cases, although the bumper crop in 2007 saw that number edge up towards 12,000 cases. Being a “green” winery, they don’t use fertilizers or herbicides. They do use pesticides when necessary and they cannot afford to lose the crop.

Beautiful Patio, Dreary Day

As we toured the production area, two things were evident. First, you could have eaten off any surface in the winery, including the floor. It has to be the most immaculate processing area I have ever seen, a fact Nadia attributes to winemaker J-L Groux. Secondly, we could see how they made use of “artificial” elevation within the building to get the height required for gravity flow. Nadia explained how the fruit is all hand harvested and hand sorted – using both bunch sorting and berry sorting to ensure the highest quality. The 12 offshore workers have been with them since they opened and return every year – maintaining the high quality standards is easier when the staff is already trained.

"So Clean!"

Oak Fermenters

There are dual roto-fermenters used, with the fruit being simply split before entering these continuously rotating vessels. Manual punchdown is used for smaller lots, with reds going through the basket press and whites destined for the bladder press. Nadia explained that winemaker J-L Groux likes to keep the pressed juice separate from the free run juice. All of the reds and the Chardonnay go into oak vat fermenters and the rest of the whites end up in stainless steel, the exception being the Sauvignon Blanc which will go into smaller oak vessels.

Picture of Stratus Rotary Fermenters

Rotary Fermenters Eliminate Manual Punchdown

100% French Oak

What we tasted:

2008 Sauvignon Blanc: The length of time (2 years!) this spent on oak (55% new) really surprised me as the oak notes were ultra light. Nadia explained that they use a light toast on the barrels to add a gentle complexity. It was unusual, as I still detected a lot of the grassy and citrus notes (lemongrass) and a great balance of acidity and minerality that showed through the light and smooth vanilla notes picked up from the oak. A contrast in the mouth, with a slightly heavy weight, yet fairly fresh and zippy finish. An interesting and unique example of Ontario Sauvignon Blanc indeed.

2008 Merlot: Although the ’08 year was pretty tough for bigger, late-harvest red varieties, some aggressive dropping of fruit and long hang times allowed winemaker J-L Groux to follow up the spectacular 2007 with wines of similar quality in 2008. This Merlot showed notes of slightly off-ripe plum, black currants, and vanilla on the nose, and the palate was similar. I found the bright ruby juice slightly tart (in a positive way) and the tannins presented in a smooth and finely integrated (and well mannered) way. A great example of how a winemaker can compensate for uncooperative weather as was the case in 2008.

Stratus Tasting Room

2007 Stratus White: A white blend (assemblage) comprised of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Sémillon, Gewürztraminer, and Riesling, this deep, golden-hued wine has light floral notes riding over the honey and light spice notes. All of the varietals spent 2 years in light oak except the Gewürztraminer, and as the winemaker selects the varietals based on taste and not percentages, exact breakdown was unknown. Unusual for a white, they recommend decanting this one. As it warmed in the hand, I noticed candied lemon drops and honey almonds on the palate. The mouthfeel is extra smooth and the unusual flavours hang together with the decent acidity. I knew we were bringing some of this home!

2007 Cabernet Franc: A fruit bomb of red and dark berries on both the nose and the palate, with a very light herbaceous note running in the background. The oak has imparted decent tannins that frame the caramel and vanilla notes. The finish is long and oscillates between kirsch liqueur and caramel, teasing the tastebuds to try it again. Very nice and accurate representation of one of my favourite Ontario varietals.

Beautiful Setting

2010 Stratus Icewine Red: At 15.5% alcohol, a lot of the sugar in this wine has been fermented into alcohol. But it is by no means lacking in sweet, juicy fruit at 140g/L. The nose hits you right away – strawberry-rhubarb pie…not just out of the oven but more after the fruit has cooled slightly and offers a bit more of those jammy notes. The acid is in total balance with the sugar in this beauty and is likely the finest, most appealing ice wine I’ve yet to encounter.

2008 Sémillon Icewine: Utilizing some botrytis-affected fruit (a la Sauternes), this one exhibits some slight musty notes over the Earl Grey tea and honey/floral nose. Quite expressive, the mouth is full of stone fruit (peaches) and tangerines. The initial sweetness (~180g/L) would be cloying if it lasted but the acidity is enough to keep it fresh in your mouth.

Deb & Nadia ("Pretending" With My Glass)

We really appreciate how late Nadia stayed (well past closing) to allow us to taste these wines, answer our questions, and make our purchases. There were two young oenophiles we met on this trip that impressed us with their detailed knowledge of the entire winemaking process…Nadia was the first. You’ll have the read the future blog posts to find out who the other one was!

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One Response to Stratus Vineyards – Impeccable Winery, Impeccable Wine

  1. Pingback: Stratus – Niagara-on-the-Lake, Canada | Nadia Skorupski

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