The words humble and accepting have been used in many tributes to winemaker Paul Pender, who died suddenly last week. A carpenter and cabinet maker who changed careers to winemaking after developing allergies to dust and solvents used in his former trade, Pender started at Tawse Winery as an intern in 2005 and became its winemaker the next year.
A graduate of Niagara College’s wine program, Pender’s first move at Tawse was to introduce organic and biodynamic farming practices to the Vineland winery in a bid to embrace a more down to earth winemaking style. Any use of pesticides, fungicides or chemical fertilizers stopped. Sheep and chickens were introduced to the vineyard to control weeds and pests around the Cherry Avenue estate, which was ploughed by horse.
A soil scientist was consulted to better understand what was happening underneath the vines. Pender and his team invested themselves in learning all they could to make the style of wines that winery owner Moray Tawse set out to make.
It is impossible to say whether these holistic approaches would have paid off as successfully without Pender’s overflowing passion for wine behind the scenes at Tawse and its sister winery, Redstone Winery, which was opened to the public in 2015.
With his beloved dog Maeve by his side, Pender nurtured an enthusiastic and driven team as Tawse’s production increased, vineyard holdings expanded and the portfolio grew, adding distilling and cider-making to the expansive offerings.
A 2,000-case operation when Pender arrived, Tawse now produces an estimated 30,000 cases of wine a year. Along the way, Pender’s title would become director of viticulture and winemaking for Tawse and Redstone.
The chardonnays, pinot noirs, rieslings and cabernet francs produced at Tawse consistently win top awards in domestic and international competitions. Pender was named Winemaker of the Year at the Ontario Wine Awards in 2011 and Tawse earned the title of Canadian Winery of the Year at the National Wine Awards of Canada multiple times, including a string of victories in 2010, 2011 and 2012.
“The thing you want to get as a winemaker is that balance,” he once explained about the key to his winemaking style. “You’re never going to have the same wine every year, but you always want them to be balanced.”
When a bottle of Tawse estate chardonnay from 2011 was hailed as one of the world’s best chardonnays outside of Burgundy on the cover of Decanter Magazine, Pender accepted praise, but quickly suggested that same credit applies to ones made by local colleagues such as Thomas Bachelder and Malivoire’s Shiraz Mottiar.
Condolences posted by fellow winemakers, sommeliers and consumers all convey how approachable and genuine the 54-year-old was. While he was one of Canada’s most celebrated winemakers, he was devoid of ego, greeting everyone with a welcoming smile, always ready to talk about wine or his other passions, such as cycling, food or coffee roasting, a business interest he pursued in recent years.
Pender made some of Canada’s best wines, which will be enjoyed for years to come, but his professional legacy is helping to put Canadian wine – wine, not icewine – on the map internationally with benchmark bottles that are sure to inspire future generations of Canadian winemakers to shine.
The recent release of the Quarry Road chardonnay from Tawse is featured as one of this week’s recommended wines.
Beringer Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 (United States)
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $46.95
Based in Napa, Beringer has owned vineyards in nearby Knights Valley since the 1960s and released its first cabernet sauvignon in 1974. Since then, this complex and structured red has become a staple, with an appealing mix of ripe fruit, coffee and herbal notes. Drink now to 2026. Available in Ontario at the above price, $49.99 in British Columbia ($45.99 until March 5, 2022), various prices in Alberta, $49.99 in Saskatchewan, $44.99 in Manitoba and New Brunswick, $40.75 in Quebec (2019 vintage), $60.20 in Prince Edward Island, $57.99 in Newfoundland.
El Enemigo El Mirador Single Vineyard Bonarda 2017 (Argentina)
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $21.95
This is 100-per-cent bonarda from El Mirador in Rivadavia in eastern Mendoza. It’s a warmer climate (compared to cooler pockets in Uco Valley or Pedernal) that fuels much of the bulk production for Argentina’s wineries. Co-owner Alejandro Vigil, whose full-time occupation is head winemaker for Catena Zapata, sees great potential in bonarda from this region. Made in a ripe and approachable style, this offers attractive cherry and berry notes with herbal accents. Freshness and a soft, silky texture add to its appeal. Drink now to 2028. Available in Ontario.
Inniskillin Montague Vineyard Chardonnay 2019 (Canada)
SCORE: 88 PRICE: $25.95
The Montague Vineyard in Niagara-on-the-Lake has been cultivated by Inniskillin since 1982. The original 50-acre parcel expanded to include an additional 50 acres in 1991. While the vineyard is planted with several grape varieties, it has enjoyed tremendous success with chardonnay and pinot noir over the years. This is an old-school style of chardonnay, with a ripe and rich character shaped by tropical fruit, peach and cream notes. Drink now to 2024. Available in Ontario at the above price or direct through greatestatesniagara.com.
Tawse Quarry Road Chardonnay 2019 (Canada)
SCORE: 92 PRICE: $36.95
This bright and flavourful chardonnay has long been the standout in the Tawse portfolio. Made with organically grown chardonnay from a site located right above a limestone quarry, this is always a refreshing and rich white wine, with appealing citrus and green apple notes that carry through to a lingering finish. Drink now to 2027. Available in Ontario at the above price or direct through tawsewinery.ca, various prices in Alberta, $37.98 in Newfoundland.
Tyrrell’s Hunter Valley Shiraz 2019 (Australia)
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $26.95
A terrific expression of shiraz from family-owned Tyrrell’s winery in the Hunter Valley and the great 2019 vintage. A different expression from the robust and concentrated shiraz style from wineries working in South Australia, this shows the ripe and focused Hunter style, with bright fruit, savoury complexity and a pleasing finish. Drink now to 2025. Available in Ontario at the above price, $24.99 in Manitoba.
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