Grape Grower of the Year (2002-2003)

Daniel Lenko

Viticultural Area:

Lenko Family Farm Vineyards, Regional Road 81, Beamsville

Number of acres:

Family-owned and operated since 1947

Daniel is one of four children of Bill and Helen Lenko, and the only one of his siblings to work as a full-time grower and now, winery owner and operator.

Grape varieties planted:
Nine to ten varieties of mostly Vitis vinifera grapes; some European hybrids for Icewine.

Grower for:
Daniel Lenko Estate Winery, featuring proprietor-grown, VQA appellation, estate-bottled wines. Signature Series: Old Vines Chardonnay, Old Vines Merlot.

Farming philosophy:
To feed the vineyards and create large, healthy vines with a lot of tillages and large row spacing, embracing traditional North American viticultural techniques and terroir.

Changes anticipated in farming practices:
Added value products will definitely be a plus in the grape growing industry, whether that’s jams, juices or wines. It’s difficult to remain viable with the cost of farming today, and that’s an issue. I recognized early on that the question was: How do we pay for this place with grapes? The answer lies in agritourism, and that’s where the winery comes in. I wish I’d started it 10 years ago, but my dad was still farming and there’s a delicate balance between father and son. I feel like a lot of effort has been put forth in the two generations before me, and I’d hate to see it end. Continuation is important, not just for my father, but for myself.

The dynamics of farming changed with starting a winery. You have to do all jobs at once – growing, production and sales. Marketing is everything. If you don’t like selling things or talking to people, you won’t like the wine industry.

Web site:

Grape Grower of the Year Bio

Daniel Lenko is the third generation of his family to grow grapes on the Regional Road 81 farm just west of Beamsville, in the heart of Niagara grape and wine country. The 35-year-old took over the family farm operations from his father Bill in 1999. The same year, Daniel launched Daniel Lenko Estate Winery, so the public could fully realize the quality of three generations of family grape growing specializing in European Vitis vinifera grapes.

Over the past four years, Daniel Lenko Estate Winery has garnered many national and international awards, including the best red wine in Ontario at Niagara’s prestigious Cuvée Wine Awards for his debut vintage 1999 Old Vines Merlot. Daniel’s win was unexpected and one of his proudest moments.

The family has a proud history of grape growing. In 1947, Daniel’s grandparents John and Agnes moved to Beamsville from Manitoba (where they had emigrated from Ukraine in the 1930s). John planted orchards and vineyards and started the family tradition of fine viticulture. In 1959, Daniel’s father and grandfather planted a block of Chardonnay vines, the first among Niagara growers to do so. In 1975, Daniel helped his father plant Merlot, one of the earliest plantings of this variety in Niagara.

Born and raised on the family farm, Daniel’s life has been dedicated to grape growing. One of his happiest moments was when the family cut down seven acres of pear orchards for more grapes, releasing young Daniel from the heavy burden of picking and packing tender fruit. His vision and hopes for a vineyard-only based operation had been realized.

The family’s vineyards have long supplied high-quality grapes to wineries producing single vineyard bottlings of Lenko grapes. Daniel’s foray into winemaking has been a natural progression, and a successful one.

The winery is sold out for this season of all its production, and is currently on stream to release its next vintages in February of 2003. Daniel Lenko produces approximately 5,000 cases of proprietor-grown, VQA appellation, estates bottled wines each year. The Merlot and Chardonnnay bear the designation “Old Vines” and, along with other red wines, are barrel aged in both French and American oak.

Due to limited production, Daniel Lenko Estate Winery releases are only available at the winery.

The Niagara Grape & Wine Festival chose Daniel as the best viticulturalist in Ontario. The “Grape King” title is his for the 2002-2003 season, an honour that was also captured by his father Bill in 1990.