Ontario – Wandering the Wine Route: Crown Bench Estates

Oct 26, 2009

At the very end of Aberdeen Road is another world. The air is fresh, the busy roads and highways of cities have disappeared. You’ll find vineyards and a two-storey house. Walk through the post and lintel entrance, across the great stone patio up to a blue door. Behind this blue door, inside, you’ll find a boutique store and tasting bar.

Behind that tasting bar, you’ll most likely find Livia Kocsis, the winery’s president.

I knew nothing of Crown Bench Estates other than that they made high quality wine. This is an understatement. They’re purists.

If you want to know Ontario wines, visit Crown Bench. They make wines only when the years have been kind to the vineyard. Peter Kocsis, the winemaker runs a tight ship. Typically, the crop is reduced from 5 tonnes to one and half to insure quality.

And you may wonder: why do wine producers reduce their crop? Well quantity rarely, if ever equals quality when it comes to wine. Just imagine you are a vine. You have a hundred berries in your bunch. You’re absorbing nutrients from the soil, drinking up the rain, growing in the sun. You have a hundred berries to pass off the nutrient goodness to. That’s a lot. Imagine, a third of your bunch is reduced. That’s a weight off your chest. Instead of giving your all to a hundred berries, you’re sending all that you can to just thirty or so berries, concentrating them.

Less berries, the more each one gets. When the harvest comes around, the grapes are fuller, richer and create a more charismatic, deeper, complex wine.

The wines come from these small batches.

“The wine is made in the vineyard,” Livia told me while I tasted their wine. “What good is the wine if you don’t have a good crop? All the work is done out there. We check the vineyards, prune for less buds. We keep it clean. No mildew, no bugs.”

If you want to get a good idea about the pulse of the Ontario wine market, talk to Livia. She knows this region high and low, from the politics to the players. She won’t give you the sugar-coated version of the strides growers and producers have made and the struggles they still have. Instead, you’ll get the truth of the matter. The romanticism of wine can often blind us from the hard work and dedication to the art of viniculture. Livia and her husband are on the side of the quality, not the mass market.

For many wine consumers, wineries are marketed with the customer completely in mind They are safe places. You roll up, you see the sights, you taste a bit of the history, you taste the wine, you become enamored. The experience is entertaining and gives you insight into the region but rarely do you see the everyday hardships.

Peter and Liva with their Crown Bench winery offer a different experience.

“One of the big corporate wineries had vineyards out this way. I won’t name any names but I will say, they left it in a bad state. They just don’t care. Slash and grab.”

I understood. Sometimes you have to call a spade a spade.

When I asked her what she thought of the Cellared in Canada wines she thought it was a shame.

“We’re the laughing stock of the wine world. How can we support our local grape growers, how can we support our own industry when wineries are doing this? We’re practically the only quality wine region in the world who does this. We’re embarrassing ourselves.”

She had a point, her argument was solid.

This is what I admired most about my experience at Crown Royal. Talking to Livia reminded me of how important it is to be devoted to our backyard, our Ontario.

I’m rarely ever objective about wines. It’s not that I don’t strive for objectivity, I simply believe a wine is a personal experience. But a personal experience that can be edified, that through time and practice, one can eventually learn to discriminate the quality, well, from the crap.

It’s the same with books and movies. The formulaic bestsellers and blockbusters satisfy the surface pleasures of your attention span – sex, drama, violence. But when you get tired of the same derivative plots, then you have to seek out the greater stories.

Wine offers a story. When a vineyard has been cared for, when attention and dedication have been administered the wine will tell this tale. Wine is a result of hundreds upon hundreds of decisions. In good writing, it is all about editing, about selection. The choices of the author is not unlike that of the winemaker – what do you sacrifice, what do you decide to make your end product tell the good tale? Crown Bench offers wines that are like good stories.

From vineyards planted back in the 1960s, this wine is mineral creamy apricot apple, with a very St.Veran Burgundian approach. Entered in the Chardonnay du Monde contest this local white came in 6th of 2,800 Chardonnays. Not too bad for a local Beamsville Bench offering. And like Burgundian whites, it can stand to age for another ten years.

While tasting with Livia, she informed me that the majority of their reds had recently been bottled. “Go easy, they’re quite young. You need to imagine where these wines will go.”

Merlot: A floral red plum with notes of coffee. This wine is destined to be beautiful. Highly recommended, but you’ll need to give it at least 6 months, if not a year or two before the wine fully blossoms.

Cabernet Sauvignon: Green olive, red fruit, smoky, svelte dark cherry with touches of spice, Livia recommended I decant this wine 24 hours in advance. I loved where this wine was going so I bought one.

Cabernet Franc: Of all the reds, I felt this needed the most time. At least a year. It’s still tight but once it has given its due, the black fruit, the chocolate raspberry will be fully shaped.

Meritage: Made from 50% Cabernet Franc, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon and 25% Merlot, this wine too will need a bit more time. The black fruit is there but it was hard for me to tell in which direction this wine will develop - either towards the fruity style of the New World or Bordeaux. Knowing the quality-minded devotion of the Kocsis, this wine will offer depth and excellence.

I do enjoy Icewine but not before noon and certainly, not without a hearty dessert. But there is a wondrous bevy of Icewines to try at Crown Bench.

I did get a chance to try a CABERNET FRANC ICE WINE JUICE. This juice is deliciously sweet and would pair wonderfully with a bramble berry pie. A great gift, unique for wine and juice lovers.

From their wines to their approach, Crown Bench Estates offers integrity and honesty. It’s good to support and root for our great local wineries.


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My focus is mainly on wine culture, history and education. I love the stories behind wine - the people, places and the regional personalities of the wine-countries around the world.

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