Essex County's soil, climate hit the sweet spot for winemaking
Region produces a diverse array of red and white varieties
What makes our area so EPIC for producing world-class wines?
To start, I believe it is the people who decided to take risks and establish this area as a place for wine production, despite all the challenges that we faced such as past societal views and prohibitions on alcohol consumption and the need to utilize the land for other crops. These are true pioneers and visionaries who returned to the land and are cultivating it for generations to come.
Then there is this idea or notion of terroir.
Terroir (a French word, pronounced tehr-waar) can be defined as the complete natural environment in which a wine is produced. The main factors that influence terroir are soil, topography and climate. The French define it even further to encompass authenticity, genuineness, l'appellation regionale, -- in contrast to globalized products that taste the same. When you consider these factors as they relate to terroir, Windsor-Essex embodies them all.
Let us start with our soil. It is a magical blend of clay, highly protective loam, sandy loam, with some pockets of limestone. Loam on its own can be too fertile. This is not ideal for grapes as they excel when they seek out their nutrients and water. So, this is where the other materials come into play. Clay allows the soil to absorb water and nutrients. Sand allows the soil to drain properly. Having all three materials creates a balance that is perfect for grapes to grow and survive.
"Our proximity to Lake Erie and to a lesser extent Lake St. Clair creates a unique maritime climate in a continental region. Water is a moderating influence which protects the harvest from extreme weather fluctuations well into November."
Next is our topography, which is the arrangement of the natural and artificial physical features of an area. Our proximity to Lake Erie and to a lesser extent Lake St. Clair creates a unique maritime climate in a continental region. Water is a moderating influence which protects the harvest from extreme weather fluctuations well into November. The geography of Windsor-Essex has a supporting role too, as it is in the heart of the world’s wine-growing belts. Think of places like California, France, Italy, and Spain.
Our climate also plays a part in making our region so great at producing world-class wines. The moderating influence of Lake Erie means that our growing season is prolonged. In fact, Windsor-Essex consistently, year over year, outpaces Niagara in growing degree days. And since we are located farther south than Niagara, we have more heat units which means that varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah have a chance to thrive.
Over the last 20 years, the entire wine and grape industry has shifted focus to higher quality vinifera and hybrid grapes, used to create spectacular wines. The Vintner’s Quality Alliance (VQA) has set rules for quality wines from listed varieties and ensures those wines are made 100 per cent from Ontario grapes, all helping to expand the industry locally.
Our region is planted with a diverse array of varieties: Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris (Pinot Grigio), Viognier, Auxerrois, Vidal, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Gamay Noir, Regent, Chambourcin, Baco Noir and Marechal Foch.
The official provincial map of the wine regions of Ontario states Niagara and Essex-Pelee “together with latitude, geography, climate and soil combine in our viticultural areas to help Ontario’s winemakers produce wines of unique flavours and style that we invite you to enjoy.”
I echo that sentiment and encourage you to visit one of the seventeen wineries in EPIC (Essex Pelee Island Coast) and raise a glass.
Staci Greka is a certified specialist of wine (CSW) and a sales representative at Sprucewood Shores Estate Winery. " I love wine and food and am passionate about this region and all it has to offer," she says.