09.23.2009  
 

First Canadian Winery Certified Biodynamic

Former fruit wine specialist Southbrook takes the honor, and LEED certification

 
by Hudson Cattell and Linda Jones McKee
 
Southbrook Vineyards
 
The winery building at Southbrook Vineyards was designed to LEED standards and certified LEED Gold. Credit: Southbrook Vineyards
 
Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario -- What do you do in Ontario when you have too much fruit and too many raspberries? Start a winery and make an award-winning, internationally acclaimed Framboise dessert wine.

What do you do when urban sprawl threatens your farm, vineyard and winery? Sell the property for development and move the winery to Niagara-on-the-Lake.

How did it happen that a winery could become a pioneer in a wine region that already had dozens of vineyards and wineries? By acting on a concern for the environment and starting Canada's first Biodynamic winery to be certified by Demeter, the international body that regulates Biodynamic farming. Then, in celebration of Earth Day -- April 22, 2009 -- release Canada's first Biodynamic wine, the 2008 Southbrook Vineyards Cabernet Rosé. A second Biodynamic wine, the 2008 Triomphe Merlot, will be released Oct. 1.

The story of Southbrook Vineyards began in 1991 with the founding of Southbrook Farms Winery. At that time, Bill and Marilyn Redelmeier ran a pick-your-own produce farm and a roadside market in Richmond Hills, 15 miles north of Toronto.

In 1992, Redelmeier had an oversupply of raspberries, which he froze until he could decided what to do with them. Eventually, those raspberries were fermented, fortified with grape spirits to 14.5% alcohol, and named Framboise. Major awards came quickly, and soon the winery was producing Framboise Noir, a fortified black raspberry wine; Cassis, a fortified black currant wine; and Framboise d'Or, using golden raspberries.

In May 1996, Redelmeier sent 1,400 cases of Framboise to England. They were the first Ontario wine to be stocked at Harrod's in London, and they also were sold at two supermarket chains. That September, the Redemeiers received a second order for 3,000 cases -- half for Framboise, and half for Cassis. For a winery that was producing 6,000 cases, orders for 4,400 cases was quite a windfall.

The decision to move the winery to the Niagara Peninsula was the result of urban sprawl and the subsequent sale of some of the Redelmeiers' Richmond Hill property for development. The couple purchased a 74-acre vineyard in Niagara-on-the-Lake in 2005.

Ann Sperling, who had been their consultant at Southbrook Farms Winery, became their director of winemaking and viticulture. She had more than 20 years of winemaking experience in British Columbia's Okanagan Valley and the Niagara Peninsula of Ontario, and she had been interested in organic and Biodynamic viticulture since the late 1990s.

Southbrook Vineyards
 
Southbrook Vineyards is the first Canadian winery to be certified by Demeter, the international Biodynamic farming association. Credit: Southbrook Vineyards
The Redelmeiers wanted to emphasize terroir in their wines, and they decided to utilize organic and Biodynamic viticulture, purchasing an additional 75 acres in 2006.

According to Sperling, "In late 2005, on 74 acres, we began our first year of transition to organic certification, and along with a careful approach to vine management, began using the Biodynamic preparations 500 and 501 in accordance with the Biodynamic calendar at the start of the growing season in 2006.

"Gradually we've expanded our coverage to 150 acres and added more use of preparations, herbal teas, compost mixes, sheep in the vineyard, and, on an on-going basis, encouraged biodiversity within our flower beds, cover crops and vineyard borders."

The winery building at Southbrook Vineyards was designed to LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards. After it was completed, it was certified and registered as a LEED Gold project. Among the design initiatives were sustainable development of the site, efficient use of water, reduced energy consumption, sustainable use of materials and resources, and the quality of the indoor environment.

"We strive to sit lightly on the land," Redelmeier stated. "Our team at Southbrook was drawn to Biodynamics as a way to more fully express the vineyard's character in our wines. And we underwent the certification process as a way to authenticate our commitment to sustainable practices."

Southbrook received the prerequisite organic certification from Pro-Cert Organic Systems Ltd., Canada's leading certifier of organic crop and food producers, on June 18, 2008. Prior to harvest in October 2008, Southbrook became the first winery in Canada to have its vineyard officially certified by Demeter. Demeter certification comes in two stages, and on April 1, 2009, they received certification for their production process and became the only fully certified winery in Canada.
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