Heard it Through the Grapevine: with Jonas Newman

We first met Jonas Newman (Founder and Winemaker at Hinterland Wine Company) very briefly back in 2009, during our first visit out to the winery when we were just baby Sparkling Winos. Hinterland is located in Prince Edward County, and is the County’s first winery dedicated exclusively to sparkling wine production. Hinterland’s focus is on the farm. Their philosophy is that wine is made in the vineyard, and that authenticity is far more important than following trends. All of their wines are vintage dated, providing a snapshot of what happened on the farm in that particular year.

We visited Jonas at the winery again this past summer (check it out! 🙌), and had the chance to sit down with him for an interview after an excellent panel discussion on the “Explosion of Canadian Fizz” at the Terroir Symposium back in May. It’s been such a treat to enjoy Hinterland’s bubbles over the years – from Traditional, to Charmat, to Ancestral – they are truly pioneers in Ontario sparkling winemaking. We were super excited to chat about Hinterland’s history, their winemaking philosophy, and the growing interest in Ontario sparkling wine. Check out our full interview with Jonas below!

Can you tell us a little bit about Hinterland’s history, and a fun fact that most people might not know?

We planted our vineyards in 2005, and we started making wine in 2007. What people might not know about Hinterland is that we made a Pinot Noir in 2007, and a Riesling and Chardonnay in 2008. Other than that it’s always been sparkling! The Riesling was made from fruit purchased from Niagara, and the Pinot Noir was from our home farm. By 2009 we stopped making still wine all together to focus on sparkling. In 2011 we bought tanks to make Charmat Method wines, so we started making Charmat wines that year with the 2010 vintage – and we’ve been working at it ever since!

As a winemaker, do you consider your approach to winemaking different than your peers?

I don’t know if there’s much that differentiates me from other winemakers, it sounds cliche but we’re a vineyard first. We vintage date all of our wines, we do that because we really want to say something about what happened on our farm that year. We really concentrate on the farm. When the grapes come in we handle them carefully and gently. I think everybody does that. I think most people have roughly the same philosophical approach of gentle handling, pressing schedules, and all of that… they’re very dialled in. You’d be hard pressed – no pun intended! – to find somebody who’s not thinking that way. In the beginning we didn’t have the financial backing that one requires to make a ton of mistakes. So for the first couple years we really “followed the recipe”, and in 2009 I started feeling like I wanted to take some more risks.

Interest in wines coming out of Prince Edward County has exploded in recent years. Have you seen many changes or a growing interest in County sparkling wines?

Yeah! I’ve seen a couple more wineries pick it up as a part of their program. Some of them in a significant way. I hope more wineries do it, I think it’s a great thing to be doing out here. I think there are great Pinot Noir’s and Chardonnay’s out here too – don’t get me wrong! I’ve made the mistake of saying that sparkling is the only thing to do out here, and I don’t necessarily think that’s right. The thing with sparkling is that it takes a little bit of pressure off the vineyard, you get something that you know is going to be good, and that you know is going to be proper. Whereas when you’re trying to hang those reds out until October, it’s a lot more of a risk. Y’know? There’s a couple wineries out here that make really great wine, but the wines were awful in the beginning. Since then they’ve been bought and sold to new owners, but they’re still fighting the stigma of what the property used to be. And that’s why we we’re like “let’s follow the recipe, let’s not screw this up”. You have to start with nice clean wine when you’re new in the game, and then once you start feeling your oats you can start messing around a bit. I think that sparkling is a natural way to do that. You can do it out here just by virtue of the fruit that you take off the vine.

Beyond bubbly, your cider has also become very popular, and County Road Beer has set up shop up next door too! Can you tell us a bit about that?

We make a little bit of cider every year, we have the tools to do it, so we do! We took on some partners next door at the brewery – another husband and wife team named Chris and Effie. Together we built that building, and they started making beer last year. There was a lot of blood, sweat and tears in the early days, and my wife Vicki and I finally got to a point where we we’re like “Okay, we’re not cruising – but we’re good. All the bills are paid, and the next expansion is gonna require some sort of investment.” And we just could not have imagined selling half of Hinterland considering how hard we fought for it and all the times that we were like “f*** it, let’s just throw in the towel!” So it was a much easier decision to say “Let’s do something different, let’s do the brewery instead.” It adds a different energy to the property too. Beer dorks come by now, as well as wine geeks. And we love that!

Now for our favourite question… besides Hinterland, if you were to order a glass of sparkling wine at a bar or restaurant, what would it be?

13th Street! Almost every time. Outside of Ontario, in terms of a bigger producer, Bollinger is making beautiful stuff. And a lot of smaller growers, like Fleury, are making beautiful bubbles. I drink a little bit of Moscato d’Asti too… is that weird?! 😆 I like Moscato d’Asti now and again!

Still Thirsty for More?

Check out our full “Sparkling Spotlight” post on Hinterland Wine Company!

Jonas Newman

For more on Jonas (and to buy his sparkling wines) visit Hinterland Wine Company online!