Harvest Report 2020

Harvest Report 2020

Vineyards don’t take time off. Even in the middle of a pandemic, with no vineyard crew to do the work, vineyards still don’t take time off.

It was apparent early in the year how extraordinarily difficult -- unprecedented, even -- the 2020 vintage was going to be for County growers. The Spring arrival of migrant workers, the main labour force in viticulture, was uncertain. With shifting shutdowns and miles of red tape to navigate, it was unknown at times if they would get here late, or not at all. It was bound to be a challenging year for any grapegrower, and Battista Calvieri was no exception.

Battista has owned and operated Hubbs Creek Vineyard, a 6-acre Burgundian site, since his family first planted in 2002. He managed the vineyard while working full-time as an electron microscopist at the University of Toronto, travelling to the County at every opportunity to make the wine himself -- a true labour of love. Lee Baker met Battista at a party just a few months after moving to the County, introduced by a colleague at Keint-he Winery. They quickly developed a friendship over morning cappuccinos and fishing stories. When it came to winemaking, Lee was always there to lend a hand however he could. Shared resources and a strong sense of community are not uncommon in the County, but Lee acknowledges he was maybe a bit faster to help out Battista than others: “Battista has the character that most people, when they meet him, tend to fall in love with him.”

Lee is quick to point out that Battista has never asked for help, and in fact has offered back more than he’s ever received -- Lee is usually just too stubborn to accept it.

Over time the two developed a father-son bond. “We call to check up on each other. He tells me how proud he is of me when I’ve done a good job, and he tells me when I’m doing something stupid.” Lee lost his father in his early twenties and speaks fondly of the role Battista now has in his life. “He offers advice when I don’t want it. He encourages me to be better and also tells me when I’m an asshole.”


County Bound
After last year’s harvest, Lee noticed a change in Battista's health and could tell something was wrong. By December 2019 Battista was hospitalized with a major infection causing damage to his internal organs, including his heart. He underwent surgery and was recovering in the hospital when the shutdown happened late winter. Faced with the dilemma of not being able to work the vineyard himself and not knowing if he would be able to sell any wine this year to cover the cost of farming, Battista called his friend with a proposal.

“He asked if I had any interest in leasing the farm for the vintage,” Lee remembers, “and I was incredibly honoured he would choose me out of the number of winemakers he has a close relationship with. It was exciting for me to get a chance to work with that field and that fruit, because it’s always been known to create some of the best wine in the County -- an opportunity like this doesn’t come along very often.”

Lee maintained the vineyard in Battista’s absence, and harvested the fruit for Redtail in the fall. The wines made from Hubbs Creek will be bottled separately from the Niagara-sourced fruit. The Pinot Noir is dark and chocolatey, the Chardonnay sharply acidic but full-bodied.

This will be the first vintage Redtail has made a County wine since Thomas Stallinga took over in 2018. At the time there was one wine left in barrel -- a 2017 Pinot Noir made from estate fruit. It was the last wine made from the original vineyard before replanting, and the only estate wine available for the next few years. It’s a wine that we plan to tuck away in our cellar and open during our first harvest of the new vineyard.

Having County fruit come through the door this year was a welcome change. The logistics of harvesting and transporting from Hubbs Creek compared to Niagara are substantially easier. Hinterland graciously opened their doors to us again, and it’s fair to say that most of our wines would not be possible if it wasn’t for the generosity of Vicki and Jonas. In the past Lee has likened his dynamic with them to being the friend bumming a night on your couch: “This year, they offered their couch and gave me a blanket.”

Jonas and Lee have built a camaraderie working on their wines together, learning from each other and developing a mutual respect for their hands-in-the-dirt approach to winemaking. Neither works with an assistant winemaker, and found having a second nose or palate to consult with invaluable.


A Benchmark Vintage
The fruit from this harvest was exceptional. It was a hot, dry year and stressful for the new plantings. But the mature vineyards produced low yields of clean fruit with ideal levels of acid, sugar, and phenolics reached at the same time. The picking time decision was easy. In the best cases Lee was able to step back, let the ferments happen and make themselves into wine. This is most evident in our Field Hand Pinot Noir. A brutal-style wine with zero additions, it’s a pure expression of vineyard and vintage showing different character each year.

With the Redtail facility on grid, we were able to upgrade our winemaking equipment and process even more on site. We made good use of our small winery, fermenting a few wines in the spare spaces of our garage office -- including a micro batch of our first pét-nat after hours on a Friday night.

We seem to have figured out this space and have come together as a team to make the most with what we have. Our first wine from the Hubbs Creek site is already in bottle and patiently waiting it’s release -- grab a spot in our Wine Club to get early access. It will be a few more years until we are fully established in our new facility with estate fruit. For now, we’re grateful for the help of our friends.

Garage office