Sparkling Spotlight: Hinterland Wine Company

This is #SparklingSpotlight, where we profile wineries with a focus on fizz! 🍾 These wineries strive for sparkling greatness, and make the world a more effervescent place. Sparkling wine production takes scientific precision, dedication and patience, and we celebrate those bold enough to craft it! So, without further ado, let’s focus our #SparklingSpotlight on… Hinterland Wine Co.!

Hinterland is a Prince Edward County OG (that’s “original gangster” or, as they may have said back in the day, “pioneer” 😜), located in Prince Edward County (Ontario, Canada) about 2.5 hours from Toronto. What we love about Hinterland is that it is The County’s first winery dedicated exclusively to sparkling wine. If we may be so bold, the first sparkling focussed winery in Ontario, as well!

Long before The County was the place to be seen sipping cocktails on fancy hotel patios overlooking the beautiful shores of Lake Ontario, Hinterland was making amazing sparkling wines with the philosophy that authenticity in their wines supersedes trends and that the wines are made in the vineyard. This respect for tradition, the vineyard and vines, as well as the view that each vintage is a snapshot in time (topped with a bit of that OG swag) makes Hinterland one amazing place to be. And, more importantly, makes it an amazing place to sample some lovingly crafted Ontario sparkling wine!

With this experience, it should come as no surprise that Hinterland’s sparkling wines are a real treat and most definitely among our favourites here in Ontario! From Ancestral to Charmat to Traditional Method, Hinterland covers the full spectrum of sparkling winemaking. And, it should come as no surprise that winemaker Jonas Newman and founding partner Vicki Samaras have some amazing insight into the world of County bubbles for our #SparklingSpotlight series!

At time of writing, Hinterland has 5 sparkling wines in their portfolio: the Borealis 2016 (Method Charmat Rosé), the Whitecap 2016 (Method Charmat), the Rosé 2014 (Method Traditional), the Sacrament 2011 (Method Traditional) and the Blanc De Blancs 2013 (Method Traditional) – cool, huh? But, more on those later! 😉

Sweet Dreams are Made of Fizz

So, we mentioned The County. Aside from the glitz and millennial focussed sheen that pervades most new establishments in this beautiful part of Ontario, it should be noted that this is hearty farming country, with a long tradition of growing tender fruit. And what that, it should come as no surprise that this history has lent itself well to some pioneering proprietors and winemakers. As Ontario’s newest VQA Appellation, Prince Edward County is filled with ambitious people making wine in often challenging conditions. From a rather unforgiving climate (which requires burying or “hilling up” the vines in winter) to a terroir which could move wines into unpleasant acidity if not handled appropriately, The County throws some curveballs. But, it should be said, it offers up hope, opportunity and conditions similar to Champagne, which are amazing for sparkling wine production and we have Hinterland here as living proof.

According to winemaker Jonas Newman, Hinterland is all about sparkling wine (although they produce one still wine – the aptly named “Red Herring“), and hey, we certainly love that approach! 🙌 The more bubbles, the better, we say! And, this is the guy that made Ancestral Method Gamay a thing here in The County. What can we say, other than “thanks” and “…we kind of wish we had a glass right now?”

We love that Jonas and Vicki have this huge passion for the sparkling stuff, so when we were greeted by Jonas this summer, we knew we were in good hands. Full disclosure though, we met Jonas back in 2009, when we took a trip through The County and it was just him, a small table set up out front of the winery and a few antler themed pictures to set the tone for Hinterland’s branding.

We popped by again in 2015, and things seemed to be moving along, with a partnership resulting in a new brewing facility (County Road Beer Co.) almost complete. Vicki took us through the facility and offered up some of their craft beers. It’s probably no surprise that we love a strong female lead (in the movie sense), so seeing Vicki in action was an amazing first hand experience of Girl Power. Women in wine, they do amazing things.

And so, from modest beginnings to new growth, we were happy to see Jonas and Vicki haven’t lost their passion for Hinterland as it continues to sparkle. The growth of the enterprise – which includes craft cider production, a larger tasting bar, a unique over-the-tanks galley style office, and a partnership resulting in a neighbouring brewery and restaurant – maintains the rustic, honest approach of Hinterland which we dig, 100%! Second round of full disclosure: Hinterland’s wine track, we mean, one track mind in the realm of sparkling wine has meant that we’re kind of obsessed. For real!

Aside from the wine track mind (aka the sparkling wine focus), we feel like Hinterland understands the value of branding. Aside from the great wines, the winery’s labels have conveyed a consistent, modern approach. The antler head is (at least in our sparkling wine minds) ubiquitous to Hinterland and the rustic, yet modern vibe of The County. And who doesn’t love a branded wine fridge, right? It’s a Sparkling Wino essential!

So, being the cool guy that he is, Jonas gave us a full Sparkling Wino experience. You may be wondering – what does that entail, exactly? Well, aside from a full tasting of the sparkling wines (which TL;DR are going to be explained in more detail at the end of the spotlight), he took us on a tour of the facilities and… drum roll… hand disgorged a bottle of soon-to-be Traditional Method sparkling rosé. For us, this was like hanging backstage with the band after a concert. Magic!

Our tour started with a preview of the cellaring facilities, which are located above the tanks and bottling facilities. The cellaring facilities hold thousands of bottles, which rest above the tanks. Crates from some years hold more bottles, and less so for unruly years. Aside from the unforgiving winters, wine making in The County can also be at the mercy of frost and hail. We walked by a small crate, half filled with wines. Bottles there represented a small portion of the harvest that was unaffected by that year’s hail. Jonas’ insight is a reminder of how tough it can be out here, doing the stuff you love. But, in keeping with the philosophy that every year’s vintage is a snapshot of the season, we loved that Hinterland produced wines in a year where there wouldn’t be enough wine to hit the market. That’s what we call dedication!

One of the other things we love about Hinterland is its commitment to the growth of County sparkling. As one of the first wineries on the scene, and certainly to make sparkling, Hinterland has invested in the facilities to produce Charmat Method sparkling wine (aka pressurized stainless steel tanks) and facilities to finish the Traditional Method process, where secondary fermentation occurs in the same bottle that it is sold in. Having seen the winery back in the day and today, it was kind of amazing to see Hinterland grow in its technical capacity and bid to be a “one stop shop” for sparkling, even in the sense of bottling.

Facilities aside, let us tell you about the amazing sturgeon skin hanging over what might be the coolest and most open concept administrative office we’ve ever seen. Made by King of Caviar, which specializes in sustainable seafood harvest, it hangs like a proud beauty above the sparkling wines as they cellar and Hinterland’s staff as they go about crafting the fizz we love. There’s also a canoe. All in all, a wonderful cross section of all things County – paying homage to tending the land and working the rivers and lake that surrounds the winery, meanwhile, maintaining a total sense of unbridled cool. Ok, we’re kind of obsessed.

And now, for that magic we were talking about. You know, where you’re behind the scenes with the band and someone throws a guitar pick at you and you remember how much a specific bass riff transports you back to 90’s grunge and a… err, where were we? Right, the tour. So Jonas was kind enough to take us through the tank room and to let us sample the base wine for the Traditional Method Brut Rosé, before it’s bottled. There’s definitely something, dare we say, effervescent, about trying a wine straight from the tank before it’s bottled and finessed.

And, to totally amp up the unbridled cool factor, Jonas also hand disgorged a bottle of resting wine for us. In the Traditional Method of sparkling wine production, hand disgorging was once the common way to remove the cap and sediment from a resting bottle of wine, before adding the dosage and final cork. Labourious, time consuming and (some would say) inefficient, this process has a certain romance and uniqueness that automation lacks.

So, how do you disgorge?

First, you hold the bottle upside down, with the neck turned towards the ground and the lees (sediment) resting at the base of the neck. When the bottle – and most importantly, the neck – is cooled to a certain temperature, the lees are captured and expunged at the opening of the cap. If the lees are frozen with an ice cap, they fly out given the pressure in the bottle, and if they are cooled, you get a festive spray. Who doesn’t love festive?

We can’t say we’ve seen this done in person and Jonas was clearly the man for the job.

If you’re wondering what happens following the disgorgement, normally the winemaker would top the bottle up with the dosage (or “liquer d’expedition”), a mixture of sugar and wine to determine the desired residual sugar levels in the finished wine before it’s given the final cork.

And, if that wasn’t bad ass enough, Hinterland also has an adjacent restaurant. A gorgeous, semi-outdoor space with a full food and wine, beer and cider menu, the restaurant offers meals throughout the year.

Having visited the grounds, checked out the County Road Beer facilities and the restaurant, and of course spoken to both Jonas and Vicki, it’s no surprise to us that Hinterland has received so much love. What kind of love, you may ask? Well, aside from being a (much deserved) critical darling, Hinterland was visited by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the editorial team at Vogue. Clearly, you don’t need to be a Sparkling Wino to fall in love with the wonderful team at Hinterland.

From the Hinterland to the Hear of it All

So by now you might be thinking “yes, Hinterland is cool but what about the wines?” Not to worry, we’ll take you through Hinterland’s sparkling wines on offer at the time of writing: the Borealis 2016 (Method Charmat Rosé), the Whitecap 2016 (Method Charmat), the Rosé 2014 (Method Traditional), the Sacrament 2011 (Method Traditional) and the Blanc De Blancs 2013 (Method Traditional). Keep in mind these wines are limited releases (and very popular) so not all of them may be currently available. Visit Hinterland’s Online Store for current availability. 🙌

The Wines

Borealis 2016 (Method Charmat Rosé)

The Borealis 2016 Method Charmat Rosé is named after the pink Aurora Borealis seen by Hinterland’s winemaking team while picking Chardonnay in late October 2003. The wine is made in the Charmat Method, and has become a staple of restaurants and bars in The County. Served as a welcome cocktail at The June Motel and our choice for dinner at The Courage, this wine – in our humble, Sparkling Wino opinion – has the palette and aromatics to suit both as an aperitif and dinner wine. We had it with steak frites. It was the bomb dot com.

The wine is made using Gamay Noir (which Jonas kinda sorta pioneered as suitable for sparkling in Ontario, despite reservations among his peers), the production method helps to preserve its fruity character, which includes red berries. Dry on the palate, it maintains a rich character despite being made in the Charmat Method, largely from daily stirring of the lees during its 40 days of fermentation.

Whitecap 2016 (Method Charmat)

The Whitecap 2016 Method Charmat is, as its name suggests, made in the Charmat Method and is Hinterland’s most popular wine. Made from a blend of Riesling, Pinot Gris, Vidal and Muscat, this wine returns to its roots as four grape blend (previous vintages have been without the Muscat, which adds a floral nose). Delightful and ready for immediate consumption, it’s kind of like Hinterland’s nod at Prosecco. Except made with entirely different grape varietals. And grown in an entirely different climate. With incredibly different soils. So, scratch that, but think: easy, approachable wine for immediate enjoyment. Lots of citrus and tree fruit on the nose, a bit of florality, and a balanced acidity on the palate.

The Whitecap is the sister of the Borealis Rosé, and is named after the white caps of Lake Ontario. Still confused about the reference? A whitecap refers to the white bubbles and streaks made by waves when they crests and break.

Rosé 2014 (Method Traditional)

The Rosé 2014 Method Traditional is, as the name would imply, a Traditional Method sparkling wine. No surprise, since Hinterland’s portfolio contains both Charmat and Traditional Method wines! Made from 80% Pinot Noir and 20% Chardonnay from a rather temperamental vintage year, this wine shows beautifully. It is brut zero, meaning that no dosage was added after disgorgement, and it is wonderfully dry and expressive. Overall, this wine is rich in the nose and palate, offering a clean experience that’s complemented with red fruit and that classic County minerality (thanks in part to the limestone soils). With a round, creamy mouthfeel, it maintains the pleasurable experience of Hinterland’s Charmat Method wines but offers more depth and a lingering, citrus rind finish. All in all, this wine captures The County to a tee – a little bit funky, a little bit fresh, rich in minerality with refreshingly high acidity.

And, what can we say, we may be biased having seen a wine from this vintage be hand disgorged by Jonas himself. Kind of everything.

Sacrament 2011 (Method Traditional)

Our current favourite at Hinterland is the Sacrament 2011 Method Traditional, made from 50% Pinot Noir and 50% Chardonnay. The wine is made from the best fruit of the 2011 vintage at Hinterland, and is aged on the lees for 60 months. The extended aging – at five years – results in an amazingly autolytic wine. With fresh pasty, citrus and a bit of white flower on the nose, and a crisp but complex and creamy experience on the palette, the Sacrament is something special. And, it’s expected to continue to develop for the forseeable future. Hinterland recommends laying it down for at least a year before enjoying it. It’s going to get even more awesome with some age and patience!

The wine also has a cute back story, and we are kinda suckers for a good one! According to Jonas, the inspiration for the Sacrament came from his marriage to Vicki. Funnily enough, in Quebec the term Sacrament is also a swear word. In the case of Hinterland, there’s a winery in the mix and that of course can be challenging and lead to a few expletives here and there. Nonetheless, we agree with Jonas and Vicki that the union, along with the wine, is something to celebrate.

Blanc De Blancs 2013 (Method Traditional)

So the Blanc De Blancs Method Traditional 2013 is already sold out. Sort of. Released in a small quantity with the remainder of the bottles held for further aging, we hope to see a late-disgouraged version of this wine pop up in a few more years! Why? Well, first of all, the Chardonnay grapes were grown in Hinterland’s Hillier Clay-Loam soils, producing a base wine that proved excellent for sparkling. And, to add to it, 2013 was (according to Jonas), a pretty great year for harvest.

We may be complete sparkling wine nerds, but the soil composition and Jonas’ commentary on previous harvests aren’t what got us all excited. Nope, rather, it was that the wine was aged in barrel for 10 months prior to tirage (or drawing of the wine from the barrel). The wine was also left in bottle for 30 months to age, with disgorgement this past winter. So, what’s to be said about a barrel aged Blanc de Blancs? Well… with a lovely mineral nose and a creamy, lively mouthfeel, this wine was a true delight. Well balanced, round and with hints of white tree fruit, citrus and pastry, we drank our bottle right away. And… now we have to wait for another release to enjoy it again! I know we said Sacrement was our favourite, but this one is a close second. Ok, it’s a tie.

So, with that, we hope that this #SparklingSpotlight feature on Hinterland Wine Co. was insightful, entertaining and… sparkling! If you’re not up for a visit, you can always check out Hinterland at one of Toronto’s many Farmers’ Markets. From the Evergreen Brickworks, to Leslieville, to Sorauren… Hinterland is all over Toronto!

If you’re looking to purchase Hinterland’s wines here in Ontario, visit their online store. And be sure to keep up with all things bubbling up at Hinterland on Instagram, Facebook & Twitter!

Still Thirsty for More?

Check out our “Heard it Through the Grapevine” interview with winemaker at Hinterland – Jonas Newman!