Located on the Lakeshore between Niagara-on-the-Lake and St. Catharines – the 32 acres that Hinterbrook Winery now sits on was settled in 1789 by Captain Daniel Servos who served as one of the Butler’s Rangers in the war of 1812. A few hundred years later, in 1963 – Clarence Nickel bought this historic property and so began the beginning of the Nickel’s farming the land. At that time the farm grew traditional Niagara produce like peaches, cherries, Concord grapes and other fruits.
It wasn’t long before the property was bought by Clarence’s son – Phil Nickel – whose love for wine saw the first grapes planted in 1998. At that time, the family sold their high-quality yet modest grape yield to Hillebrand Winery (now Trius Winery) owned by the well-known Andrew Peller Ltd. It wasn’t until 2009 that the family decided to use their knowledge of wine-making and top quality grapes to produce their own label and the decision to open Hinterbrook Winery was made.
The cellar doors opened in May 2011 and today, owners Phil and Charlotte Nickel and their children Jaclyn and Andrew run this eco-friendly winery. Most recognizable from the road by their impressive solar panels for electricity, this winery also uses a geothermal system for heating and cooling; both systems contribute to Hinterbrook’s near zero-carbon footprint.
WHO’S WHO AT HINTERBROOK
The first Nickel I ever met was daughter Jaclyn who poured me my first glass at Hinterbrook. It was their 2010 Cab Franc Icewine which turned out to be one of my favourites during the Niagara Icewine Festival. She is the mover and shaker at Hinterbrook – taking care of logistics and marketing (to name a few) and ensuring that you have a wonderful time during your visit. For the pre-release event, Jaclyn was at the front desk welcoming everyone in and distributing our tasting / pre-purchase sheets. I don’t doubt that her’s is usually one of the first faces you will see at the winery no matter when you visit.
Phil – father, operations manager and winery overseer – was in the parking lot greeting all guests as they arrived. One of my favourite things about family-run wineries is that they are so horizontal in structure. Instead of sitting in an expensive business suit behind a desk and a tinted window, Phil’s smiling face was the first I saw that day. How wonderful to have such access to the fine people who run the farm!
Andrew, son, and “Jack of all Trades” like his father was waiting for us in the Tank Room. Andrew is the General Manager, a wine-lover, dreamer, historian and tractor repairer (among other things). It was Andrew who had invited me to the event for that I am forever thankful. He is an approachable wine professional whose knowledge is rooted in both education and passion – the perfect combination for those of you wanting to learn more about wine!
This time around I didn’t have the pleasure of meeting Phil’s wife, Charlotte, but as mother, grandmother and administrator I imagine that she is the glue that holds her strong family, and the winery, together.
WINES FROM THE TANK
Having only visited Hinterbrook once before, it was a pleasure to be invited to their 2012 Vintage Preview Tasting event. What I was most excited about is that these wines hadn’t yet been bottled and so we were going to be tasting right from the tanks. Because she was visiting from London, ON at the time – it was my pleasure to bring my Mother-in-Law along for the adventure.
Before we jumped right into to the tank tastings, it was wonderful to have Phil and Andrew introduce Clarence “Grandpa” Nickel who was joining us for the tastings. I should have pulled all three generations of men together for a picture but my shyness (yes, I am a little shy) stopped me; maybe next time.
Here are the six wines that we tried during the Pre-Release Tasting event and remember these are just a small few of the fifteen plus wines you will have the pleasure of trying when you visit for yourself.
Hinterbrook’s chardonnay grapes are grown off of the estate. At first scent the chardonnay has what I like to call an ‘old world’ smell – taking me back to what I imagine wine would smell like if I were enjoying it under a full moon with only a candle to light my way. With a few quick swirls the bouquet opens up and I found myself salivating. At first taste this chard is quite mild and smooth and the vanilla from the barrels is very prominent. I think this chard would go great with the sweetness of some strawberries with whipped cream!
Hinterbrook used to fuse this pinot gris with riesling (maybe they still do) but I very much like this varietal on its own. Straight from the tank this wine is very fresh on the nose. At first sip the freshness turns to a crisp, tart, granny smith – as if you’d taken a bite from your wine glass. This wine made me hungry for fish with a creamy citrus sauce and some arugula.
I was intrigued to learn that Hinterbrook is only one of three wineries in the world to make this wine. Harvested late, there will only be 196 cases of this grape that yielded 2.2 tons/acre. What an amazingly intriguing smell this glass held; hard to explain because it is like no other wine I’ve smelled before. On the tongue, this is a great balance – not dry nor is it sweet. It has hints of blackberries and at the same time lends itself to (what I call) the floral taste of a blanc. I enjoyed that it has a subtle black licorice finish – it reminded me of Sambuca (an Italian anise-flavoured liqueur). With this wine I think the meal pairing options are limitless.
This Hinterbrook Riesling strives to be true to the German roots of any good riesling. In this varietal there is nothing else to do but showcase the soil, climate and conditions where it grows. In the words of Andrew,
Riesling expresses terroir; it wears its heart on its sleeve. ~ Andrew Nickel
I love the crisp smell of Riesling and it is likely my favourite wine to drink mid-day, especially in the summer months. The combination of acidity, sweetness and – in Hinterbrook’s case – tropical citrus – does my taste-buds in. I loved that this wine took me to the edge. There are distinct flashes of pineapple tartness that will take you just short of making your mouth water and then it smoothes out into what I wrote to be “a happy citrus finish”.
Made with Hinterbrook’s Cabernet Franc, this rose sits on the skins for four days prior to fermentation. I wish I could take the subtle pink colour of this rose and turn it into the most beautiful bouquet of flowers for my dining room table. How gorgeous that would be! On the nose this rose tricked me into thinking I was out in the strawberry fields collecting basket-fulls with my grandparents. When it hit my lips the berry flavour persisted but in a beautifully dry way – it wasn’t sweet. As much as I love sparkling with my appetizers I think that this rose would be beautiful with scallops or a fresh gazpacho.
Reserve Merlot (from the bottle)
Unknown to those of us at the tasting, the Nickel’s had a special treat in store for us – their Reserve Merlot with some chocolate to round out the afternoon. I could smell this Merlot ‘all the live-long day!’ The smokey, spice hits your nose even before you give it some love by opening it up in the glass. On the tongue the spice and smoke come to life and the finish is smooth and without tannin. I decided to pair it with a Salted Caramel chocolate (there were many to choose from); I must congratulate myself because it was a divine combination. The saltiness of the sea atop a sweet and chewy caramel finish was enough to leave my sweet tooth satisfied for days.
BEYOND THE STREAM
Hinterbrook, not large or grande like other wineries, felt like home. Intimate and friendly this 2012 Vintage Preview Tasting was not just an opportunity to taste some fantastic wines – it was an opportunity to get to know and feel connected to Hinterbrook and the Nickels. If you are looking for the opportunity to not only visit Niagara, but to feel connected to the people, land and wines – be sure to stop and say hello to this inspiring family.