Day 16: Q&A With Ontario Wine Supporter Rick Bates

Rick Bates

Rick Bates, doing what he does so well (enjoying Canadian wine!).

I first met Rick Bates through Twitter (are you seeing a trend in these Q&As?), and we had chatted a fair bit about Ontario wines. When we found out that we were both going to be in PEC one spring weekend (I think it was for Terroir back in 2011), we agreed to meet for dinner one night.

Rick is opinionated as heck, and can come across as a grumpy old man (as you can tell

Rick on Twitter


from his avatar) but he really is passionate about Canadian wine in general. I think that’s the main reason we get along so well – we’re both trying to get people trying and buying Canadian wine first. I’m happy to call Rick a friend these days, and enjoy getting together whenever possible to share a glass or two.

Rick helps out frequently with #ONWineChat (Wednesday nights at 10:00 PM ET) and in act, will be hosting an Ontario wines pop quiz next week (September 23).

Here’s his answers to my Q&A.

Q1: How and when did you first get interested in Ontario wine?

A1: About 20 years ago I decided to make an effort to “buy local” which included learning more about Ontario wines. I was more of a beer drinker then, but wanted to discover more about wines so that I could select with more confidence and enjoy wines with my meals. I was just learning about French wine, but around the same time decided I would never purchase anything from France ever again to protest against the French Government involvement in the bombing and sinking of the Greenpeace ship, Rainbow Warrior in Aukland Harbour. (Now I have to rely on friends to buy if I want to enjoy a French wine!)
My wife and I got married during this time and when she had her wedding shower, we decided to make it a Wine Theme and guests were invited to bring Ontario Wine only as their gifts. Well, she arrived home that day with 60+ bottles of Ontario wine so I set out to research each and every bottle on the internet so that I could learn about them. That journey led me to many winery websites and I began soaking in all the information I could. One thing led to another and here I am now! Living within 2 hours of both Niagara and Prince Edward County was a big factor as well. We began taking trips to both areas, visiting wineries and making more and more our purchases. Now, I would say that I purchase 95 to 99% of our wine directly from the wineries, either during visits, or ordered online, and in some cases as a member of their Wine Clubs. I know have about 300 bottles of Canadian wine in my cellar at any one time, including some collections from great vintages that I am only now opening and enjoying.
I also joined the Ontario Wine Society around the same time, eventually serving on the Board as Director of Marketing for several years. That experience was very integral in my learning more about Ontario wines and establishing a personal relationship with many of the winemakers and winery owners through my duties on the Board.
I am also an expat from British Columbia so I have a natural affinity for BC wines. I visit the wineries when I am out there, and order three or four cases a year from a couple of my favourite wineries out there. (Shipped “illegally” to me in Ontario of course!)
We also toured the Nova Scotia wine area a few summers ago, and had a great time there too. Lots of small wineries doing great things. I wish we could get more of it in Ontario! Try a “Tidal Bay” if you get the chance.

Q2: What do you find most interesting about the Ontario wine industry?

A2: The fact that most are small, family run businesses is definitely part of the draw for me. Meeting them, knowing their history and winemaking philosophies is all part and parcel to enjoying the wines as a beverage, and as part of the “hobby” of being a bit of a collector. Of course the wine itself has to be interesting and I am not usually disappointed!

Q3: Which Ontario wine regions have you visited?

A3: I’ve been to them all! As I mentioned, being close to both PEC and Niagara makes it easy to get there. We visit both of them two or three times each every year. LENS, not so much, but I’ve made three or four trips to the area specifically to visit the wineries. I’ve also been to most of the ones that are outside the three VQA areas like Collingwood, Stouffville, and Holland Marsh. I have been remiss in not making it to the “South Coast” area yet, although I have enjoyed wines from most of the wineries already.

Q4: Any favourite wineries? If so, what makes them your favourite?

A4: My favourite wineries are usually the small to medium sized ones. I hate to name them, for fear of missing someone! I try to visit everyone at least once, but I guess I should point out the ones that we seem to go back to over and over again. In Niagara, Flat Rock, Di Profio, Calamus, Cave Spring, Creekside, Fielding, Henry of Pelham, Malivoire, Good Earth, Rosewood, Greenlane, Rockway, Peninsula Ridge, Big Head, Palatine, Pond View, Sue-Ann Staff. (See? I’ll name all of them if I keep going!) In the County, Rosehall, Norm Hardie, The Old Third, Hinterland, Lighthall, Huff, and many more there too!
I will admit a fondness for all things Bench. My tastes have clearly evolved to favour the style and characteristics that I find from wines coming from the Escarpment/Bench growing areas over others. Pinots and Chards from the County equally favoured in my purchases.

Q5: What do you see in the future for the Ontario wine industry?

A5: Well, if the Provincial Government would wake up and smell the wine, and allow open private sales of VQA wines, it would help the smaller wineries especially get their products out to the consumer. There is something very wrong with a system that allows for the disparities in marketing opportunities between the smaller wineries and the larger Corporations that have access to those small outlets you see in many grocery stores. Right now, the most convenient way to purchase a wine in Ontario is at a small wine counter in your local Sobey’s where you can easily buy some International blend crap below $10! That’s very very wrong. Even if we see the move to more sales through large grocery stores, as has been indicated, it will again only help the larger corporate wineries and do nothing for the rest of the industry. I do not need better access to Yellow Tail, or “Cellared in Canada Blends”.

Q6: If you had any advice to give Ontario wineries, what is it?

A6: I have a couple of things I tell wineries all the time, as a consumer:
– Have a good website, with up to date wine lists and prices. Up to date being the key. Forget the fancy flash player graphics and other expensive-to-maintain web content. Keep it attractive, but simple, and up to date!
– I would personally like to see more wineries narrow their focus and produce less varieties. Be good at a few wines, instead of trying to be something for everyone. I do appreciate that sometimes they need to keep diversified to keep the cash flowing, but I think more focus would serve their customers better, and eventually each winery could carve out their special area. Some this already, I know it’s hard. Of course, you can’t specialize too much! Look what happened to the Merlot on the Bench because of the last few nasty winters. If a winery had made Merlot their only focus, they would probably have shut their doors by now.

Q7: What’s your social media channel (Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, etc.) of choice?

A7: I’m pretty active on Twitter (@ontario_wines). I do not use Facebook or any of the other social media. I really only use Twitter because of the way it lets me interact with others who share my interest for Canadian Wines.

Q8: What was the last bottle of Ontario wine you opened?
A8: I think it was a Chenin Blanc from Big Head in white. And a Gamay from Di Profio was the most recent red.

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