When many people think about wine in Ontario they think of the Niagara Falls region, but local winemakers like Coffin Ridge Boutique Winery is changing that perspective with their local vineyard and winery located in the Grey-Bruce region, near Annan.
Owners Neil and Gwen Lamont started the winery in 1999 as more of a hobby for Neil. As time went on it flourished to a full-fledged vineyard and winery that has taken strength from its strong staff, one of those being Michael Todd the general manager of Coffin Ridge.
“We started testing varieties in 1999 and didn’t have a lot of acreage planted until 2001 and it has grown to where we currently have 25 acres. The vineyard wasn’t really started with the intention of making it a winery; it was more of a hobby. We just planted some grapes to see if they would grow and it just snowballed from there,” said Todd. “I moved back in 2006 and Neil, who is my stepfather and Gwen, my mother, Neil is the one who started testing the vineyard out. Out first commercial vintage was in 2005 and it was the year we decided to start a winery. We opened our current facility in 2008 and we have been steadily growing ever since.”
Todd said finding out the right kind of grapes to grow was a challenge for the area’s climate and conditions, but has been pleased with the good wine it has produced.
“There weren’t any other wineries in the area to copy as far as what varieties were planted, so we kind of had to guess and we found a few that no one in Canada had planted and they do exceptionally well here,” said Todd. “All of the grapes we grow at our site are hybrids. One of the varieties we really like are L’Acadie Blanc and this area in Ontario is about the only place it can work because we aren’t as hot like Niagara or Prince Edward County so it’s perfect climate for it.”
If anyone has been to the Coffin Ridge area they know, it’s a beautiful area with a unique design and motif that Todd said shows off the family’s sense of humour and the area’s geography.
“We are located near Coffin Hill, which is across the valley that we look out onto and there is also a Coffin Cove north of us, so it was a name locally that had some significance for us. We like the name and went with it and sort of built the whole theme around that,” said Todd. “It’s a good local name and it’s also cool because we get customers that come in and tell us the history of the area. We aren’t sure how much of it is accurate, but we like it.”
Todd said everyone at Coffin Ridge has been so happy with the amount of local support the Grey-Bruce area has given the business since they started making wine.
“The local support we get has been outstanding right from the start and we have really loyal regulars that being guests out that are visiting the area. Local restaurants have especially supported Coffin Ridge and the majority of them in the area have at least one of our products on their menu all the way from Owen Sound to Collingwood, Port Elgin, etc. We are also the only wine supplier of the Chi-Cheemaun.”
There have been a lot of positives since the winery started, but there have also been a few challenges, which Todd said comes with any type of business.
“One of the biggest challenges for the winery has been the climate, finding the right grape variety and dealing with really cold winters and spring frosts,” said Todd. “One of the biggest challenges has just been learning the vineyard as well as keeping up with supply. Keeping enough wine on the shelves in the summer has been a challenge, but it also shows how well we are doing.”
Todd believes with the introduction of local wine into Grey-Bruce has brought another aspect of cultural diversity and he said it combines perfectly with all of the other types of agriculture.
“I think wine adds culture to any area it touches and there are many local wineries coming into the area like Georgian Hills close to Thornbury, Hoity-Toity down by Mildmay and the Beaver Valley Cidery and I’m sure there’s more in the works,” said Todd. “I think we are sort of pioneering the industry on the local level with new varieties that are unique to the area. On the artistic side of things our winemaker Steve Byfield is a trained musician, so he’s more of an artist than chemist. He really makes the wine by feel and really gets in tune with the whole process. I feel his style is very artistic.”
Coffin ridge has wine tastings and tours to get people accustomed to their wines, but a lot of hard work and experience has allowed for the business to be successful.
“Ninety per cent of the wines are made from the vineyard, so taking care of the vines during the year is really important. It’s also important to not crop the vineyard too heavily and making sure they aren’t getting diseased. A lot of the hard work happens in the vineyard before we even pick the fruit,” said Todd. In the winery it’s basically comes down to not messing the process up and making sure things are fine. We like to let the wine make itself. This winery wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for my family. Our personality really comes through and I think it makes for the best wine we can possibly make.”
Written by Garit Reid, Grey-Bruce This Week Newspaper