Profiles
July 31, 2017, Milton, Ont. - It’s no secret — the lavender plant provides a bouquet of benefits. The fields are stunning, the blooms aromatic, and it has proven itself to be a versatile remedy for centuries, with oils rich in health benefits.

So it’s really no surprise that the prized plant isn’t so bad for agri-tourism too.

With about 40,000 plants, Terre Bleu Lavender Farm near Milton in Halton Region is now the largest lavender farm in Ontario. Their vast fragrant fields, handmade natural products, and charming open-air events bring heaps of visitors out year after year. And they’re only getting busier. (On some weekends now, they even reach capacity.) READ MORE 

July 28, 2017, North Carolina - Laura Lengnick is a big thinker on agriculture and the environment. She has been guided in her work by the understanding that the problems generated by the U.S. industrial food system have been as significant as its ability to produce vast quantities of food. As she sees it, it’s not enough to produce food if there’s not a reckoning of costs and benefits from an unbalanced system.

This comprehensive outlook is a hallmark of Lengnick’s work, as is her positive vision for a more equitable and sustainable future. When it comes to her career, the question is not what work Lengnick has done to explore resilient, sustainable agriculture, but what hasn’t she done. Soil scientist, policymaker as a Senate staffer, USDA researcher, professor, sustainability consultant, advocate—Lengnick has done it all.

With her home nestled in a sunny cove in the North Carolina mountains, she bio-intensively tends to her 3,000-square-foot micro-farm. (She grows everything from greens and radishes to figs and sweet potatoes.) Based on her rich experience and deep expertise, Lengnick now views herself as a science interpreter in her interactions with farmers, public officials and the public at large. (She calls it “science-in-place").

Lengnick is the author of many articles and papers for scholars, practitioners and the general public, including the useful and engaging book Resilient Agriculture: Cultivating Food Systems for a Changing Climate. She was also selected as a contributor to the Third National Climate Assessment, the authoritative U.S. climate report.

Over the years she’s traveled throughout the United States to meet with farmers to investigate the challenges and successes in the field and present her findings to many different audiences. Most recently, Lengnick has been invited to collaborate with the world-renowned Stockholm Resilience Centre, which will bring her views to an even larger audience. In a series of conversations, Lengnick and I spoke about her background, career, and philosophy to better explain where she is today. READ MORE 

July 27, 2017, Vineland, Ont – It’s been 10 years since a new horticultural research facility in Niagara Region was launched as the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre (Vineland).

Since then, Vineland has been turning heads across Canada and internationally with its needs-based innovations. The organization reflects the entire horticulture value chain from farmers to consumers, and they’re not afraid to take big steps to help the industry solve problems.

“We started by understanding what needed to be done and how we needed to work to make a difference, which is real results with real impact from acres in the field to shelf space in the store,” says Vineland’s CEO, Dr. Jim Brandle.

Addressing the labour intensive nature of horticultural production was a need identified early on. Today, machines designed in Vineland’s robotics program and built in Ontario are coming into use in fruit and vegetable greenhouses, which Brandle says will go a long way in helping to keep growers competitive, as well as boost the local manufacturing and automation sector.
Sweet potatoes, okra and Asian eggplant are offering new market opportunities for growers and consumers eager to eat more locally produced food.

And Vineland’s rose breeding program made a big splash earlier this year when its Canadian Shield rose – a trademarked low-maintenance and winter hardy variety bred in Canada – was named Flower of the Year at Canada Blooms.

Another significant milestone was the construction of the largest, most modern horticultural research greenhouse in North America with commercial-scale height and growing rooms dedicated to horticulture, which opened in 2016 and was built around the needs of Canada’s greenhouse vegetable and flower growers.“Today, we’re commercializing innovations, from the Canadian Shield rose to new apple and pear varieties,” Brandle says. “We are having the kind of impact that we sought in those early days.”

Natural ways to control greenhouse pests – called biocontrols – are making a real difference to flower growers and a new technology that can identify genetic variants for traits in all plants has just been spun-off into a for-profit company.

“We’re creating a reputation and that alone is an achievement because we’re the new kid on the block,” he says. “We have a ton of good people with and around the organization and on our board who are making this happen.”Vineland is an important partner to the horticulture industry, according to Jan VanderHout, a greenhouse vegetable grower and Chair of the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association.

“They are very good at asking us what we want and taking a whole value chain approach to research and innovation,” VanderHout says. “You need the right facilities and expertise and Vineland fills that need to the benefit of the industry as a whole.”

Looking to the future, both Brandle and VanderHout predict that cap and trade pressure and high energy costs will result in more work around energy use and carbon footprint reduction.And Vineland’s consumer-focused approaches will continue to drive new innovation, from high flavour greenhouse tomatoes to Ontario-grown apple varieties.

“We will further lever consumer-driven plant breeding and work with the intent around pleasing consumers and trying to understand what they want so we can build that into our selection criteria,” Brandle says.
June 28, 2017, Toronto, Ont. - Schools are actively enrolling in Fresh from the Farm for September 2017. Building on the success of the four year pilot project, over 5000 schools representing 73 Ontario school boards, First Nations Schools and a sampling of private sector schools are eligible to participate in this year’s campaign.

Since 2013, 665 schools have collectively distributed over 1.6 million pounds of fresh, Ontario produce, representing over $1 million in Ontario root vegetables and $600,000 in Ontario apples. Over $910,000 has been paid to Ontario farmers for product and delivery.

Students raise funds by selling bundles of fresh, Ontario-grown potatoes, onions, carrots, sweet potatoes and apples. “Schools return to participate in Fresh from the Farm year after year, achieving significant profit for their school while helping to create a more supportive nutrition environment,” reports Cathy O’Connor, project co-ordinator with Dietitians of Canada, one of the program’s partners. “The top selling school this past year – Timmins Centennial Public School – raised over $9,000 in profit!”

“As we launch the fifth season of the Fresh from the Farm campaign to include new school boards and First Nations communities in Ontario, we continue to be amazed by the growth of the program. It would not be possible without the collective effort of all our partners including the volunteers, schools and farmers that make it happen,” states Dan Tukendorf, program manager, Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association.

The program was designed to provide schools and students a healthy fundraising alternative. Fresh from the Farm supports and integrates several Ontario government priorities, including Ontario’s Food and Nutrition Strategy, 2017, The School Food and Beverage Policy and the Local Food Act, 2013.

“Our government is proud to invest in programs like Fresh from the Farm which help boost local food literacy with students across the province. I encourage Ontario students and families to take part in this unique fundraising program and learn more about the good things grown in our province, while supporting our growers and building up our schools,” says Jeff Leal, Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.

Students fundraise September 5 through to October 11 with deliveries scheduled throughout November. Parent volunteers bundle produce the same day the Ontario grower delivers the product to the school.

Fresh from the Farm provides an ideal opportunity for schools to introduce the topic of agri-food and healthy eating into the classroom. Interested parents, educators and students can contact their school principal to enrol at www.freshfromfarm.ca/Enrol.aspx
June 12, 2017, Victoria, B.C. - The Investment Agriculture Foundation of B.C. (IAF) announced last night that Kirk Homenick, President of Naturally Homegrown Foods, is the recipient of the inaugural B.C. Buy Local Award of Excellence for his campaign, 'A Chip Close to Home.'

"Every year we are thrilled to see how the Buy Local program is helping to boost producer and processor market success, and I'm proud to say that our award recipient tonight exemplifies this achievement," said IAF director Alistair Johnston. "This project continues to have a profound impact, not only on the local agrifood market but on B.C.'s economy."

Naturally Homegrown Foods is home to the Hardbite line of potato and root vegetable products, the only potato chip to be produced and processed in B.C.

Seeking to differentiate Hardbite in the highly competitive snack food category, Homenick launched a unique and bold Buy Local rebranding campaign that marketed distinctly west coast lifestyle attributes and offered transparency to locally-sourced ingredients.

"It's wonderful to be recognized for our efforts to promote local foods and create jobs in B.C.," says Homenick. "Since 2014, Naturally Homegrown Foods has tripled sales, which means triple the procurement of raw vegetables from the local marketplace."

The BC Buy Local Award of Excellence recognizes one outstanding producer or processor based on the achievements of the best Buy Local marketing project--the campaign that was the most creative, strategic and effective in increasing sales and consumer engagement.

This year's winner was announced on June 8th at the BC Food Processors Association's FoodProWest Gala in Vancouver.

In addition to the winner, the Selection Committee recognized two Honourable Mentions-- Merissa Myles, Co-Founder of Tree Island Gourmet Yogurt, for using Buy Local funding to connect with grocery buyers, celebrity chefs and consumers about the benefits of buying 100% BC milk dairy; and Robert Pringle, CEO of the United Flower Growers Cooperative Association, who spearheaded the 'Flowerful BC' initiative to encourage consumers to 'pick local' when buying plants and flowers.

"We are proud to recognize the achievements of our nominees and the opportunities they are driving, not just for the agrifood industry but for local consumers and the B.C. economy," said Johnston. "We are continually inspired by the ingenuity of our project partners and their success in motivating British Columbians to buy local."
May 30, 2017, Montreal, QC - Forty years ago, when few people had even heard of organic gardening, Yves Gagnon decided to make it his mission.

Today this true green gardening pioneer is receiving the recognition he deserves, as he will be presented with the Henry Teuscher Award as part of the 20th Great Gardening Weekend at the Montréal Botanical Garden.

Among his most noteworthy accomplishments, of course, are Les jardins du Grand-Portage, in Saint-Didace, where Yves and his wife, Diane Mackay, offered country-style meals for many years.

In this two-acre space, he created an organic vegetable garden and designed English- and Oriental-style gardens where he grows medicinal and ornamental plants as well as vegetables and herbs.

Many interns have joined him there over the years to further their training and draw inspiration from this great visionary's experience.

After meeting Brother Armand Savignac in the 1980s, Yves began producing seeds as well. His daughter Catherine, who launched her own company called Semences du Portage, now handles the marketing aspect, offering open-pollinated organic heritage seeds grown by her parents in Saint-Didace and by other Quebec producers.

From the outset, Yves' books on horticulture became key reference works on organic gardening in Quebec.

They are regularly updated and republished, and have continued to influence new generations of gardeners. He has also made it his mission to educate others about health and food self-sufficiency, and has appeared on many television and radio programs as a columnist or guest expert.

In fact, the interest among today's youth in ecology and healthy eating is due in part to pioneers like Yves Gagnon and their devotion and enthusiasm in communicating their values, even at a time when they were not so popular.

December 8, 2016, Niagara Falls, Ont – Andrew and Jennifer Lovell of Keswick Ridge, NB, and Dominic Drapeau and Célia Neault of Ste-Françoise-de-Lotbinière, QC, have been named Canada’s Outstanding Young Farmers (OYF) for 2016.

These two farm families were chosen from seven regional farm couples across Canada at OYF’s national event last week in Niagara Falls, Ont.

Both families have dreamed of owning their own farm since they were young and were not afraid to make changes and embrace technology along the way. Their entrepreneurial spirits and adaptability has made them successful both on and off the farm.

“All of this year’s regional honourees have shown us their incredible passion for agriculture,” says OYF President Luanne Lynn. “It was extremely difficult for the judges to make their decision, but ultimately our winners stood out for their state-of-the art thinking and commitment to the future of Canadian agriculture.”

The Lovell’s story is different than most because neither of them grew up on a farm. In 2012 they purchased their farm, River View Orchards, with roots tracing back to 1784, and created a diversified you-pick farm market operation. It wasn’t an easy start as they suffered $100,000 in damage in 2014, but they persevered and adapted their plans until they were able to begin full production again. By offering fence and trellis construction services and building attractions that brought more than 1,400 visitors to their farm, they were able to carry on with the farm they have always dreamed of.

Drapeau and Neault are third-generation dairy and field crop farmers who are not afraid to make changes and embrace technology. Raised in a farming family, Dominic got involved in the family business at a young age. When he was 16, he was performing artificial insemination on cows and developed his management skills by taking over the herd and feeding responsibilities. In the barn they use genomic testing on young animals, motion detectors for reproduction, a smart scale on the mixer-feeder and temperature probes close to calving. In the fields, the farm uses a satellite navigation system for levelling, draining, seeding, fertilizing and spraying. With these innovations over the last four years, they have enabled the farm to increase overall yields by five to 10 per cent each year.

“The national event in Niagara Falls this year was a great opportunity to showcase all of the great contributions to Canadian agriculture,” says Lynn. “All of the regional OYF honourees really went outside of the box and pushed the boundaries this year.”

Every year this event brings recognition to outstanding farm couples in Canada between 18 and 39 years of age who have exemplified excellence in their profession while fostering better urban-rural relations. The Lovell’s and Drapeau/Neault were chosen from seven regional finalists, including the following honourees from the other five regions:

  • Brian & Jewel Pauls, Chilliwack BC
  • Shane & Kristin Schooten, Diamond City AB
  • Dan & Chelsea Erlandson, Outlook SK
  • Jason & Laura Kehler, Carman MB
  • Adrian & Jodi Roelands, Lambton Shores ON

Celebrating 36 years, Canada’s Outstanding Young Farmers’ program is an annual competition to recognize farmers that exemplify excellence in their profession and promote the tremendous contribution of agriculture. Open to participants 18 to 39 years of age, making the majority of income from on-farm sources, participants are selected from seven regions across Canada, with two national winners chosen each year. The program is sponsored nationally by CIBC, John Deere, Bayer, and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada through Growing Forward 2, a federal, provincial, territorial initiative. The national media sponsor is Annex Business Media, and the program is supported nationally by AdFarm, BDO and Farm Management Canada.

November 11, 2016, Toronto, Ont – The late Jas. C (Jim) Bartlett plus Robert (Bob) Switzer and John Willmott were officially inducted into the Canadian Agricultural Hall of Fame at a special awards banquet on Nov. 6, 2016 in conjunction with the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair.

“This year we are celebrating three outstanding ambassadors for Canadian agriculture who channeled their passion and leadership into significant advancements for our entire industry,” said Herb McLane, president of the Canadian Agricultural Hall of Fame Association. “They are visionaries within their sectors of the industry, and share a drive and dedication to work endlessly and tirelessly to make a lasting difference in the landscape of Canadian agriculture. Their work continues to benefit the horticulture and livestock industries, and the communities where they live.”

The late James (Jim) Bartlett – nominated by Dow AgroSciences – devoted his career to advancing the Canadian horticulture industry. Jim was born into the family business – N.M. Bartlett Inc. – and from an early age worked alongside his father, Norman. The Bartlett business blossomed under Jim’s leadership to become the only national horticultural crop protection distributor in Canada. Jim served as president for 17 years until his retirement in 1987, bringing the next generations into the family business.

As the family business grew, Jim advocated tirelessly for the horticulture sector on cross border importation. He championed the first minor use registration of pesticides program in Canada in 1977, and was an early promoter of the need for new crop protection products to serve the small acre crops that make us Canada’s diverse horticulture industry. Jim was chair of the national organization now known as CropLife Canada, and helped created the CropLife Ontario Council. He helped bring what is now the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Convention to Ontario.

Jim was a visionary, passionate advocate and a respected voice in Canadian agriculture. Eight of his grandchildren are involved as the fourth generations of Bartletts in the business. Jim passed away in 2011, one year shy of the 100th anniversary celebrations of the Bartlett family business.

The Canadian Agricultural Hall of Fame Association (CAHFA) honours and celebrates Canadians for outstanding contributions to the agriculture and food industry. Portraits are on display in the Canadian Agricultural Hall of Fame gallery, located at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair. The CAHFA also publicizes the importance of inductee achievements to Canada. The association was organized in 1960 and is administered by 12 volunteer board of directors located across Canada.

 

Earlier this year, Willowtree Farm opened the doors to its new 8,300 square foot building, a beautiful, well planned, authentic, and inviting building featuring a 4,300 square foot retail market. To those who are not in the know, it may look like an overnight success story, but this story has been in the making for more than 25 years.

It all began with Rod MacKay. Always a farmer at heart, Rod bought the land where the market is located, just outside of Port Perry, Ont., when he was 19. Upon graduating from the University of Guelph, Rod became a full-time dairy farmer for more than 20 years. He also met, fell in love with, and married Marlene. Marlene grew up on a strawberry farm and was passionate about the tasty berries. In 1979, Rod surprised Marlene by planting four acres of strawberry plants. She was thrilled and started selling her beloved strawberries out of a wagon on the side of the road. Gradually, the number of acres of strawberries grew and other fruits and vegetables were introduced.

In order to sell all this produce, Marlene explored the concept of going to farmers’ markets. She was a true marketer at heart and thrived in this setting. As the acres of produce grew, so did the number of farmers’ markets they attended. At its peak, Willowtree was participating in 15 markets throughout the Greater Toronto Area. In 1990, Marlene and Rod decided to build a proper market building on the farm.

As the focus on fruits and vegetables continued, there was less time for the dairy cows. In 1993, the herd was sold.

Marlene and Rod had two sons – Jordan and Alex. From a young age, they helped out at markets but did not see a future for themselves on the farm. For several years, both travelled the world for business and pleasure but eventually returned when they were needed and settled back on the farm. Jordan and Alex perfectly complement each other’s strengths. Alex is passionate about growing great food and Jordan is a marketer by nature and enjoys dealing with the details that come with selling food.

As both sons married, the farm needed to support three families. They started growing more produce, going to more farmers’ markets, implementing a Community Shared Agriculture program, developing a maple syrup operation, and raising sheep. Today, they grow more than 30 crops on approximately 600 acres.

In 2015, Marlene passed away from a rare form of cancer. But her dream was only just beginning to blossom.

Working with John Stanley, a direct marketing consultant, a plan was developed for a new market building. Willowtree desperately needed more space and a better venue from which to sell the meat that was raised on the farm. Jordan had participated in OFFMA’s bus tour to England in 2011 and was inspired by the on-farm markets that also had a fresh meat counter.

“If they could do it, so can we,” he thought.

One of the key features of the new market is a fresh meat counter and a full-time butcher. The certified kitchen prepares fresh and frozen entrees as well as baking. By adding these elements, the family made the commitment to be open year round. This was a critical decision that enabled them to hire key staff on a full-time basis. It was also a big shift in their business model.

Both Jordan and Alex’s wives are involved in the market on a daily basis. Neither one came from a farming background but they both have an incredible work ethic. Definitely an asset if you marry a farmer. Kelty’s responsibilities include both field and retail work. Alyson has a great flair for design and can be found merchandising the products in the market.

Everyone has been able to build on strengths and work towards a common goal. But how do you keep all the balls in the air and make sure you are moving forward as a team? Communication is key. They have family meetings on a regular basis, approximately twice a month. Rod is still the patriarch but he has accepted the fact that his sons bring new ideas to the business and has allowed them to try out their ideas, whether they are in the field or the market. The meetings are attended by all five family members, plus their bookkeeper, and chaired by a person outside of the business.

“It is important for everyone to feel in the loop and included, especially for a family run business where the lines between business and family can easily become blurred,” said Jordan.

There is still much learning that needs to happen with an expanded operation of this size but the McKays are well on their way to becoming a direct farm marketing success story.

 

 

 

 

 

Jamie Quai is very much a hands-on guy and the blue-purple stains around the cuticles of his fingernails can attest to that.

Just the day before being installed as Ontario’s 61st Grape King, he’d been cleaning up after pressing Concord grapes at the family winery where he is co-proprietor, vigneron (French for grape grower) and winemaker. And while he was scrubbed up and wearing his new Grape King blazer for the event, it’s almost impossible to remove the telltale stain of the grape variety that’s better known as a juice grape than for making wine.  

That was at the end of September. In mid-month, he had been named Grape King at a luncheon in St. Catharines, Ont. to launch the Niagara Wine Festival. A second crowning ceremony was held at his 22-acre vineyard, Quai du Vin Estate Winery (roughly translated as “dock” or “port” of wine) near the north shore of Lake Erie, some 30 kilometres south of London Ont.

Winters can be long and cold and that means the soil stays colder longer – some seven to 10 days longer than in Niagara, Jamie said. That puts blossom time outside the dangerous frost period, a question he fielded when asked by a panel of three academic judges why he didn’t have wind machines, like growers in other areas, to ward off a late spring frost.

“The heavy clay soil presents it’s own challenges.”

While growers in other areas may have no cover crop between the rows of grapes, or only between alternate rows, Jamie has a permanent grass cover crop that competes for nutrients with the grapes.

“Excessive (leaf) growth is as bad as too little,” he said.

Another thing the judges had to consider is his donation of trial plots for Ontario ministry of agriculture and food research.

“The doors are always open. We’re the benefactors of someone else’s (research) contribution to the industry and like to move that forward.”

From the front window of the winery, he points across the road to a large neighbouring cornfield.

“My grandfather waited to buy this land and made growing grapes and making wine his retirement project,” he said. “He knew grapes could only be grown on the ridge we are on, and that it was suitable for more than gravel pits.”

The top line of that ridge can barely be seen from the back of the winery – which fittingly is on Fruit Ridge Line – past rows of blue Concord and white Niagara grapes and other varieties associated with making sparking wines (Aurore, New York Muscat). There’s also hardy red wine Baco Noir and Marechal Foch which are French hybrid varieties, and red Merlot, as well as harder to grow Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris white vinifera varieties. As well, he grows Ehrenfelser, a German white grape variety that’s a cross between Riesling and Silvaner. It’s not grown extensively in Ontario, but is widely grown in the Okanagan winegrowing region of B.C.

Redi Quai and wife, Louisa, came to Canada in the early 1950s and for 15 years he worked as a subcontractor pouring cement basements for new homes and buying and selling houses on the real estate market.

“He was flipping houses before it became a TV show,” Jamie said.

Redi began growing grapes in 1972, and before he died in 2011, saw his dream of a family winery take root.

In 1990, Jamie’s parents – Roberto and Lisa – opened the winery and it’s being passed on to Jamie, 34, and wife, Kim – a school teacher – and quite possibly their two sons, Gavin, 4, and Nicklaas, eight months.

The Quai family name (pronounced Kwai, like the movie Bridge on the River Kwai) is of French derivation. His great-uncle believed retreating soldiers, or deserters in Napoleon’s army, may have settled in the area of northeast Italy where Redi came from. It’s at the geographic crossroads of France, Germany and Italy, “but shaded more into Germany,” Jamie said.

“More sauerkraut and bratwurst than croissants or pizza,” he quipped.

Jamie studied wine making at Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI) in St. Catharines, Ont., and gained hands-on experience working in large and small wineries in Niagara over three harvest years. At CCOVI, he taught the engineering side of winery operations as the instructor for the OEVI 3PP21 course from 2007 to 2016. In layman’s terms, the course code means learning how to use pumps, cooling systems, stainless steel tanks, equipment for crushing, de-stemming, and wastewater drainage and storage.

”It’s where the scientific meets the practical (application),” he said.

 The Grape King is selected from a handful of growers who are nominated each year by some 500 fellow growers. Except for Jamie Quai and Sal D’Angelo (1999) from Essex County, the king or queen has always been from Niagara. So much so that it’s become an informal competition between growers in Niagara-on-the-Lake and growers in St. Catharines (and Louth), the towns of Lincoln, West Lincoln, Hamilton, and Wellington County. 

 

 

 

 

 

August 29, 2016, Nanaimo, BC – A young Nanaimo family is bringing a dormant winery back to life, continuing on the dream of the man who planted the grapes decades ago.

As the five acres of vineyards nestled in a hot valley along Nanaimo’s Maxey Road ripen, it is also the fruition of a man’s lifework. The late founder Harry Von Wolff, who planted it all and cleared the land of trees two decades ago. READ MORE

March 29, 2016, Chatham, Ont – A labour of love has brought much success to the Korpan family over the years.

The support of the community has also helped their business grow, as Early Acres Estate Winery was recently selected as the Chatham-Kent Chamber of Commerce entrepreneur of the year. Located on Pioneer Line on the outskirts of Chatham, the store is coming up on its fourth anniversary in June. READ MORE

 

A shared passion for wine, food and travel ultimately inspired expatriate couple John McLarty and Lisa Law to found Nova Scotia’s latest vineyard and winery, Planter’s Ridge.

Ten years before retiring early as a chemical engineer based in Ontario, McLarty and his partner, Law, repeatedly visited the wine regions of Tuscany and Austria, learning the basics of winemaking and vineyard management.

Retiring in 2010, he and Law began searching the Internet for wineries on the market and came up with Nova Scotia.

“We weren’t even aware there was fledgling wine industry here,” McLarty says.

The couple visited Nova Scotia several times looking for a vineyard and winery site, ultimately seeking the advice of provincial wine industry leader, Hans Christian Jost, as to what to look for.

“Everything felt right about this region,” McLarty says.

In 2010, they found 7.5 acres with a 150-year-old barn and farmhouse. They bought the property from Alan and June Woodworth, the seventh generation of Alan’s family to live on the site. The Woodworths were New England planters who settled there in 1763.

McLarty named the future vineyard and winery Planter’s Ridge after the Planters who settled in the Annapolis Valley following the expulsion of the Acadians.

After purchasing the land, he immediately tile drained the sandy-clay soil and, in the spring of 2011 planted winter-hardy hybrids typically grown in Nova Scotia: L’Acadie Blanc, Frontenac Gris, New York Muscat, Marquette, Castel and Lucie Kuhlmann. On the property’s highest, south-facing slope, McLarty grows a Riesling varietal.

The couple’s main focus is on making blended wines. Blended wines will be more complex in bouquet, taste and texture, McLarty says.

“We think you make a much better wine by blending,” he says. “We tend to make our wines dry to off-dry. We don’t make sweet wines.”

The couple also buys grapes from other local growers and is in the process of buying another vineyard in the Annapolis Valley.

In the spring of 2014, McLarty and Law bottled their first wine, a learning experience.

“The wine is really made in the vineyard from great grapes,” says McLarty.

Planter’s Ridge grapes are hand harvested and closely inspected for disease or damage, he says, adding the fruit is handled gently to avoid contamination from bitter compounds in the stems and grapes, such as pyroxene.

Red grapes are de-stemmed and thinned of immature grapes, which can contain the undesirable compounds.

“It makes for a better wine, but it reduces your grape harvest by about seven per cent.”

McLarty covers the vineyard’s 6.5 acres with bird nets, a management practice that costs about $10,000 but the nets can last up to 10 years.

“If you don’t put on nets, you don’t get ripe grapes because the birds pick the vines,” he says. “Nets are expensive but they are usually key in my mind to making great wines.”

Once the grapes reach his winery – located in the extensively re-modeled 150-year-old barn – they are carefully processed to ensure high quality wine in the latest, top-of-the-line, German-made machinery consisting of four, stainless steel fermentation tanks, a de-stemmer and wine press.

The fermentation tanks are temperature-controlled, McLarty explains, adding he ferments his white wine at 12 C. Without temperature controls, the temperature in the fermentation tanks could range as high as 20 to 22 C, “which blows off the aromatics in the wine and prolongs the finish.”

Located beneath the fermentation tanks is a barrel cellar containing European oak barrels where the red wines are aged for more than 10 months. The barrel cellar, one of only three of its kind in Nova Scotia, is comprised of stone foundation on three sides and glass doors on the fourth, providing the perfect condition for red wine aging, McLarty says.

The barrel cellar is also an ideal rental location for business meetings or small, intimate dinners, he adds. Meetings can also be held in the wine tasting room and reception area next to the wine making room.

Planter’s Ridge wines are available for sale at the reception desk in the barn, plus at local restaurants, farmers’ markets, several Nova Scotia Liquor Commission outlets and a number of private wine and spirit stores.

“Anyone can make wine, but not everyone can make great wine,” McLarty believes.

He has retained an experienced wine industry consultant, Natalie Spytkowsky, from Ontario’s Niagara Peninsula who owns Vines to Vintages, a wine industry consulting firm that has advised some 40 wineries in Canada and the U.S., to help Planter’s Ridge achieve the edge of excellence the vineyard seeks in its winemaking.

Currently, she is consulting and making wine for wineries in Beamsville and Niagara-on-the-Lake in Ontario as well as Planter’s Ridge near Port Williams, NS.

 

 

 

 

Mark Haithwaite received the award for his production of Sunrise, Gala, Fuji and Ambrosia on 5.5 acres. In 2014, he averaged 60 bins per acre with 96 per cent of his apples size 88 or larger. Photo Contributed

The 2014 B.C. Golden Apple Award was presented to Mark Haithwaite, a second-generation orchardist based in the Similkameen Valley.  

Haithwaite purchased his Cawston property in 1977, moving just a few miles down the road from his parent’s farm in Keremeos.

Working at the local packinghouse, BC Tree Fruits, and with the school board helped Haithwaite to support his family, but his recent retirement has been a bonus for the orchard.

“I’ve always wanted to do this for a living,” he says. “Being retired, now I have had a chance to do it all on my own.”

Haithwaite grows Sunrise, Gala, Fuji and Ambrosia on 5.5 acres of his 8.5-acre property. He designed the orchard so it can be maintained part-time by just three people.

“Mark’s orchard has really gone up a few notches since he’s retired,” says Charlotte Laing, B.C. Tree Fruits fieldperson and award judge. “His orchard is absolutely gorgeous. He has a full crop, with great colour and great size. Particularly with Ambrosia, it’s hard to get good size, which is important for our markets, and still keep the colour.”

Initial nominations for the award are made by field service personnel and consultants and are open to any grower. Field visits are held in early September.

“Pack outs are inspected with great detail over the winter,” says judge Jim Campbell. “It’s always a tough decision for the judges.”            

“We look at the yields per acre and fruit quality and size,” says Campbell. “This year, Mark’s yield was 60 bins per acre, with 96 per cent of his apples size 88 or larger.”

Haithwaite was surprised when it was announced he’d won the award.

“I’m thankful for the support I’ve had along the way,” he says.

 

 

 

 

Jamie Slingerland grows grapes and does it well – so much so that he was named the 2015/2016 Niagara Wine Festival’s 60th grape king.

He’s also on the cutting edge of introducing new clones and growing techniques, a winery fieldman who advises other growers on best growing practices, and knows an awful lot about marketing wine, the finished product.

Taken altogether, Jamie’s well-rounded resume impressed a panel of judges – all industry academics – who selected him from a handful of growers who were nominated by some 500 fellow Grape Growers of Ontario (GGO) members.

At his coronation, Jamie made reference to the first few rows of grapes in the vineyard beside him. They are the first commercial vineyard of Corvina grapes grown in Canada, as well as a few Rondinella and Molinara varieties that are all native to Italy. Grafted on the right rootstock, Corvina has proven to be as winter hardly as Cabernet Sauvignon, which is a workhorse red variety grown in Niagara. Even though last winter was the second cold winter in a row, only 76 out of 40,000 vines in the entire vineyard of many different varieties had to be re-planted, he said proudly.

“I credit this to vine health, not over-cropping, planting the right varieties, a great (growing) location, wind machines and timing (their use) right,” he says.

He believes these things earned him points in three of nine judging categories – overall quality of the vineyard, outreach in the grower community, and the all-encompassing miscellaneous category, which has lately been the best use of wind machines. The other six categories are growing a variety of different grape cultures, controlling diseases, insects, and weeds; soil management, and grape canopy management.   

His personal project over the past five years has been appassimento – drying grapes to intensify flavour before fermentation. It’s a premium product that demands a higher price, which is good for wineries. On that note, he invited those at his coronation to try newly released 2012 Pillitteri Cabernet Franc Appassimento.

Jamie is the man in the vineyard for Pillitteri Estates Winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake. As director of viticulture, he oversees 14 different grape cultivars grown on five farms totalling 120 acres.  As well, he buys grapes from other growers for the winery, best-known for introducing Canadian icewine to China. Even after some 18 years, it’s now the winery’s main sales market.

“We made China a market when no one else was there and now sell 60 per cent of Canadian bottled wine and 80 per cent of that is icewine, mostly red,” he says.

It’s a big and growing market to be tapped.

“If even five per cent of the people in China bought a bottle of icewine, it would take us 30 to 40 years to produce that much.”

The appeal of icewine has not gone unnoticed by Chinese investors who have bought a handful of Ontario’s more than 100 wineries as well as family farm vineyards in the last five years. It’s not unlike when the Americans and British bought into the Bordeaux region in France, he says philosophically. But, in this case, it’s a way for business people to get their money out of China that is now going through the growing pains of establishing a capitalist economy and what has lately been a fragile stock market.

Ontario’s 43 farmer’s markets are another sales arena the winery got into two years ago when the sale of wine was allowed as a pilot project by the provincial government. Now, legislation has been proposed to put beer and wine on grocery store shelves and that promises to be another lucrative sales market for Pillitteri wines that are seen less and less on LCBO (Liquor Control Board of Ontario) shelves.

“Last year, our LCBO sales were six per cent. This year, it will be three per cent, and next year close to zero per cent,” Jamie says. “It’s a big box entity not fit for a smaller winery
like Pillitteri.”

Besides, he believes it makes sense to gravitate to the lowest tax bracket as the profit margin is a lot less selling through the LCBO, where tax is 65 per cent on a bottle of wine compared to just 17 per cent at the winery door, or through direct delivery.  

Jamie’s agricultural and ancestral roots run deep in Niagara – almost 230 years – back to the American Revolution. The Slingerland family backed the losing British in the American Revolution and lost some 10,000 acres in New York State near Albany. His ancestors came to Niagara in 1783 and fought with the local Butler’s Rangers militia. In recognition for service to the Crown they were granted 120 acres in Niagara. Over the generations, they grew tender fruit, mostly peaches, and some grapes. His grandfather was the farm manager for Larking Farms, which once owned about 1,000 acres in Niagara, growing mainly peaches.

At one time, Jamie also thought of becoming a farm manager. But he settled on a career with the Ontario ministry of agriculture, as did his brother, Ken, who for many years was a grape and tender fruit extension specialist with the province’s Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) at Vineland Station. Ken was also a long-time judge in the selection of the grape king.

Jamie served as a fruit and vegetable inspector in Leamington and then Sudbury. He was on a career path that would have taken him to a office job in Toronto. But along the way he met and married Connie Pillitteri, the daughter of winery owner Gary Pillitteri, who Jamie credits with teaching him how to grow grapes.

And, even though at first the young couple didn’t want to farm – Connie had a senior position at a bank branch – they decided to give it a go 30 years ago when Jamie was 27 and had been with OMAFRA for five years. They bought a 20-acre farm in Niagara in 1985. A year later, a severe hailstorm cut a 12-km path through Niagara and they lost not only the financial equity they had in the farm, but also an additional 15 per cent.

They were able to recover financially by severing a lot for housing before that door was closed through municipal legislation and they bought a second farm. There was another hail storm six years later but that time their losses were cut in half and they were able to keep financial afloat with Connie’s salary, Jamie recalls.

When they were offered an amount of money that was way over local real estate market value – “an offer that couldn’t be refused” – the couple moved to a five-acre grape farm.

Jamie credits his father-in-law for the practical knowledge he has gained over 22 years. Gary Pillitteri, now 79 and the 1981 grape king, was first elected Niagara Falls (Lib.) MP in 1993 and entrusted the growing of grapes to his son-in-law while he served

10 years in Ottawa. Jamie thanks him and his mother-in-law, Lena, for the opportunity to help grow a business that’s become the largest family-owned winery in Ontario, providing a livelihood for eight family members.

Connie Slingerland is Pillitteri’s chief financial officer (CFO). Her brother, Charlie Pillitteri, manages worldwide sales while sister, Lucy, handles marketing and building the brand. The Slingerland’s son, Richard, heads sales in Asia, and their son-in-law, Jared, heads European and North American sales.

 

 

 

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