In Niagara: Stratus Vineyards

Stratus veraison close up
Cabernet Franc grapes undergoing veraison

Stratus Vineyards will surely give you something talk about at your next wine party. Choose a topic: A) they were the first building in Canada to be LEED-certified B) They were the first winery in the world to be LEED-certified. (Both A and B are pretty big deal in the world of architecture, see below) C) They make premium assemblage wines with various international varietals in Niagara-on-the-Lake. D) They have really sexy Cabernet Franc grapes (shown on the right) that you can admire as you stroll through the vineyards while you taste! Or E) All of the above. Either way, you’ll be yapping away.

Located on the busy strip of Niagara Stone Road, the winery is minimalist in design but definitely a show-stopper. From the outside the winery is a simple structure: a black box of massive proportions. But as soon as you enter, things come to life: tall walls and tinted-windows light up the spacious tasting area and wine shop. You glide through the room as if in a dream where wine bottles are stacked ceiling-high and sexy people with wine glasses mingle about. Large windows and glass doors give views into the production area and the beautiful vineyards. Far from simple, it attracts wine lovers, architects and even some curious cats.

As the first LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified winery in the world, there was certainly lots of research and hard work put into this project. Designed and constructed using locally sourced and recycled materials, the facility uses geothermal technology to heat and cool different rooms at different temperatures. Energy efficient, it was constructed as a gravity-system winery where the grape juice flows down freely from one vessel to another. Due to the flat area of the region, a four-storey tank elevator was installed in order to move batches of wine up and down without needing to use pumps. And in the vineyard, they practice organic farming using estate-made compost, plant native cover crops to encourage biodiversity in the fields, and have a group of dedicated Jamaicans that tend to the vines with much care and respect. As a whole, it is a sustainable winery and part of David Feldberg’s, owner and CEO, philosophy.

Stratus Vineyards also practices the art of assemblage (see tasting notes below). That is, the winemaking technique of blending different lots (separated by varietal, vineyard parcel, harvest date, etc) and finding the perfect balance of all components for the final wine. A popular technique in Bordeaux and Portugal, it is akin to a balancing act of a tightrope walker. In finding the right balance and without missing a step, the winemaker, in this case the Frenchman J-L Groux, must taste all the different lots and understand the subtleties of each. He must recognize the strengths and the weaknesses of each and then unleash his maddening creativity to bring all the elements together in a harmonious way. With 16 different varietals on 55 acres, including the usual suspects of the region but also some so completely out there varietals like Tempranillo, Tannat, Sangiovese and Malbec, Groux has plenty of options. Wait, what? Tempranillo and Malbec? In cool-climate Niagara? ..Why? How? Believe it, but according to research done by viticulturalists and consultants for Stratus, the soil and climate are suitable for these varietals. The location of the estate is the hottest in all of the Niagara region, thus these varietals can fully ripen and mature. All within reason, of course, as Groux is still experimenting, tasting and testing to make sure they add complexity to the blends.

Not a fan of award shows, Stratus is a boutique winery that caters to those who know what they are looking for or those ready for a new experience. Of course all visitors are welcome and Marketing and Retail Director Suzanne Janke has designed various tastings, tours, and dynamic experiences for the curious and the connoisseurs alike. I’d recommend doing the Stratus Signature Experience, which is a great way to understand how food and wine work together to bring out the best elements of both. But I’ve yapped too much. Be sure to check them out in beautiful Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Cheers!

Stratus tasting areal
Stratus Signature Experience

Tasting Notes

2013 Stratus White

37% Chardonnay, 34% Sauvignon Blanc, 26% Semillon, 3% Viognier

Medium straw yellow colour. The nose is very aromatic with lots of tropical fruit and white flowers, some lemon in the back. The palate is dry with good body and fresh acidity, a meaty texture and nice spicy, floral flavours to finish off. 13.8% abv

2008 Stratus White

37% Chardonnay, 28% Semillon, 23% Sauvignon Blanc, 6% Gewurztraminer, 6% Viognier

Medium golden color with nice thick legs, this one needs a few minutes to open up in glass. Once a little warmer it reveals rich and ripe tropical fruit, vanilla spice and some oak aromas.  Full-bodied, creamy texture and round. Flavours of vanilla and tropical fruit repeat on the palate, ending with pleasant toast finish. 13% abv Very good

2013 Stratus Chardonnay

Nose is fresh and crisp, but also sweet smelling of vanilla ice cream and peaches. I also got some steelyness lingering about. The palate is dry, medium bodied, buttery but balanced with stone fruit and waxy texture. Finish is on the medium side but very good overall. 13.4% abv

2012 Stratus Semillon

Warm and cozy aromas come out of the class: honey, peach, apricot and floral notes. Really lovely mouthfeel, rich and textured, lots of body and riper, tropical fruit mixing with honeyed flavours. Very well integrated 14.7% abv Outstanding.

2012 Stratus Red

29% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Cabernet Franc, 26% Merlot, 13% Petit Verdot, 3% Malbec, 3% Tannat

This bad boy is really something. A deep ruby plummy colour, the nose has layers upon layers as does the palate. Aromas of ripe red fruit, strawberries and blueberries, as well as smokeyness, herbal fragances and lingering sweet spice. The palate is equally interesting; dry, smooth and round there is also some tension and grip from the tannins. The berries, raspberry, strawberry and blueberry, find a nice home in the ashy,dry tannic finish. Still young but drink now or cellar 13.8% abv

2008 Stratus Red

39% Cabernet Franc, 29% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Merlot, 6% Petit Verdot

Medium garnet color in glass with some red lights. The nose is earthy, herbal and leathery with some red cherries and bit of vanilla. Palate is dry, medium bodied and getting more fruit flavours like red and black cherries, blackberries on the palate. Finish is ashy and dry. 13.5% abv

2013 Stratus Cabernet Franc

A bright ruby-purple colour, the nose is juicy and fruit-forward. Lots of red fruit, strawberries, blackberry, licorice and after a few minutes in glass you get some herbal notes. The palate is beautiful with same fruit as nose, medium body, bright acidity and firm tannins to get it some structure. 13.5% abv Very good.

2012 Stratus Syrah

Deep ruby color, a pronounced nose of black pepper, blackberry and lots of ripe red fruit. Dry and red fruit-forward on the palate with firm but well-integrated tannins. Medium acidity and just everything in balance, harmonious with long dark fruit finish. 13.1% abv

2013 Stratus Icewine Red

42% Cabernet Franc, 33% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Mourvedre, 10% Syrah

A beauty queen, she’s lovely and sweet. Nose is of strawberry pie, sweet jam and hint of earty minerality. On the palate, medium sweet, medium bodied and fresh acidity to balance everything. It’s warm and inviting but also really fresh. 13.8% abv

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