Having made wine for the past 40 years, including some of the first chardonnays, pinot noirs and ice wines produced in Canada, Dave Sheppard is ready to step back. Since joining Flat Rock Cellars in Jordan, Ont., in 2017, the veteran vintner explains that part of his job was to ensure a seamless succession for assistant winemaker Allison Findlay.
A native of nearby St. Catharines, Ont., Sheppard says he fell into the wine trade while backpacking around Europe after graduation from the University of Waterloo. He ran out of money six months into his travels and was hired at small family-run riesling producer in the Mittelrhein region of Germany in 1980, where his interest in wine blossomed.
While conducting a tasting for a group of tourists that included a couple from Ottawa, Sheppard heard about the fledging industry in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont. The Canadian visitors wrote the names of Inniskillin and its founders, Karl Kaiser and Donald Ziraldo, on the inside of a matchbook cover.
When Sheppard returned home, he sought out Kaiser, who agreed to take a chance on him. Sheppard would work at Inniskillin alongside Kaiser for 21 years, learning his craft and watching the wine industry at home and across the country grow.
“It was a lot of trial and error in those early days, with an emphasis on error,” Sheppard says lightheartedly.
In 2003, Sheppard joined Coyote’s Run as founding winemaker where he worked for 14 years until that winery closed.
Flat Rock’s owner Ed Madronich Jr. sought Sheppard out in 2017 to take the helm of the winery’s 80-acre vineyard on the Twenty Mile Bench, which focuses on pinot noir, chardonnay and riesling. According to Sheppard, the chance to work with the riesling grape again was a big draw, as was the opportunity to act as a mentor.
“Over the last four years, I’ve looked back on the years I spent working with Karl,” Sheppard says of his working relationship with Kaiser at Inniskillin. “He was a consummate teacher that was quick to share everything he had learned. I have kind of carried that with me and helped to pass it along to the next generation as well.”
Sheppard’s tenure at Flat Rock concludes June 30 after which he will continue to act as a part-time consultant. The current release of Flat Rock’s estate pinot noir is one of this week’s recommended wines, along with a range of Canadian wines with ties to the early days of the industry, such as the latest rosé from veteran Okanagan winemaker Michael Bartier or white wines made with grapes from some of the older vineyards in British Columbia. There are also a few vibrant whites and rosés made in other parts of the world that are in tune with the warmer days to come.
Bartier Bros. Rosé 2020 (Canada), $17.99
A blend of merlot, chardonnay and gewurztraminer, this is an enjoyable rosé with an interesting mix of spicy, floral and fruity flavours. Made in a dry and medium-bodied style, this works equally well sipped by itself or enjoyed with a meal. The refreshingly clean finish adds to its satisfying nature. Drink now to 2022. Available in British Columbia at the above price or direct through bartierbros.com.
Decoy Rosé 2019 (United States), $24.95
Produced by Duckhorn, this attractive rosé from California is a blend of grape varieties grown in different regions to make a dry and refreshing wine. A mix of syrah, carignan and grenache is rounded out by the addition of vermentino to result in a balanced rosé with a nice core of berry and melon fruit combined with zesty and savoury accents. Drink now to 2023. Available in Ontario at the above price, various prices in Alberta. The 2018 vintage is $30.49 at select stores in British Columbia.
Domaine Agnès et Didier Dauvissat Petit Chablis 2018 (France), $26.95
This is a classic expression of chardonnay from Chablis, with refreshing and flavourful character. Richer honey and peach notes counter the citrus and green apple flavours, which makes for a bright, harmonious and delicious white wine. Drink now to 2023. Available in Ontario.
Flat Rock Cellars Pinot Noir 2019 (Canada), $22.95
Lighter in style, with savoury and tart red-fruit flavours, this Niagara pinot shows the cool character of the vintage. The medium-bodied wine’s bright and lifted aromas suggest strawberry and floral notes, with a mix of red and earthy flavours. Best enjoyed with a meal; serve slightly chilled. Drink now to 2024. Available in Ontario at the above price or direct through flatrockcellars.ca, $24.25 in Quebec.
Hester Creek Block 16 Old Vines Trebbiano 2020 (Canada), $22.99
Made with grapes from vines planted in 1968, Hester Creek’s Old Vines Trebbiano continues to be a unique and exciting white wine from the Okanagan. The new vintage follows the established form, with appealingly concentrated peach, honeysuckle and melon notes that are kept fresh by a zesty citrusy character. An ideal white to enjoy during the warm-weather months. Drink now to 2023. Available at the above price in British Columbia or direct through hestercreek.com.
Hillside Winery Heritage Series Muscat Ottonel 2019 (Canada), $26
Muscat ottonel was the first grape variety planted at Hillside in 1984. The dry white wine’s exotic floral and tropical fruit character is easy to appreciate. Drink now. Available at the above price in British Columbia or direct through hillsidewinery.com, various prices in Alberta.
La Giustiniana Terre Antiche Gavi di Gavi 2019 (Italy), $18.95
Organically grown cortese grapes from a historic estate in Piedmont are used to produce this bright, tangy and persistent white wine. The crisp apple character gains interest from nutty and floral notes, with a tart finish that balances the wine’s creamy texture. Drink now to 2024. Available in Ontario.
Vignerons des Grandes Vignes Les Fossiles Bourgogne Aligoté Les Fossiles 2018 (France), $17.95
Made from vineyards in the Macon region of Burgundy, this well-made white captures the lighter style of the aligoté grape, which is often overlooked for its friendly and thirst-quenching character. Fresh and vibrant, this makes the most of its citrus, apple and herbal notes. Drink now to 2023. Available in Ontario at the above price, $15 in Quebec.
Whitecliff Rosé 2020 (New Zealand), $14.95
Here’s an attractive rosé from Hawkes Bay in New Zealand that offers pleasing cherry and cranberry fruit flavours with some floral accents. It’s made in a dry and medium-bodied style that makes it a nice aperitif. Available in Ontario.
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