Sparkling Spotlight: Trius Winery

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… Trius Winery!

Trius is an iconic Canadian winery located in Niagara-on-the-Lake (Ontario) about 1.5 hours from Toronto. Without a doubt, Trius is a Niagara pioneer, as they’ve been crafting excellent VQA still and sparkling wines for more than 30 years. For our bubbling (er, budding) wine industry this is a substantial period of time! Today, this experience translates to terroir driven still and sparkling wines, made from grapes grown on the Niagara Peninsula. According to the winery, a visit to Trius is an unrushed sensory experience – a time out that lets you taste, feel and discover. Now that’s our kind of place!

With this experience, it should come as no surprise that Trius’ sparkling wines are amongst our favourites here in Ontario. All their bubbles are made in the traditional method, and it was our experience with these wines – and with head winemaker Craig McDonald – that inspired us to start this #SparklingSpotlight series!

At time of writing, Trius has 3 sparkling wines in their portfolio: The Trius Brut, Trius Brut Rosé, and the Trius Showcase “5”. But more on those later! 😉

A Fizz Filled History

According to winemaker Craig McDonald (who was awarded Canadian Winemaker of the Year… twice!), Trius Winery’s roots go back to 1979 and the Hillebrand Estate, which was originally founded by Dr. Joseph Pohorly as Newark Winery. The founders saw the potential in the Ontario wine industry, and were already planning for sparkling wine production as early as 1982. The winery produced wines under the Hillebrand Estate label and evolved over the years, introducing the Trius label in 1989. At this time, Trius produced one of the first traditional method sparkling wines in Ontario (yay!) along with their iconic Trius Red – made from a blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes. The Trius Red became a roaring success, taking home a trophy for the best red wine in the world at the International Wine and Spirits Competition in London, UK in 1991.

The strength of the Trius label led to a re-branding of the Hillebrand Estate, and the incorporation of the Trius brand into the on-site tasting room and restaurant. On that note… can we take a moment to talk about the Trius Restaurant? 😍 

Easily one of our favourite places for lunch or dinner in Niagara. It features locally inspired cuisine by Executive Chef Frank Dodd that pairs beautifully with the terroir driven wines overseen by Craig.

The culinary offerings are excellent, and the ambiance of the restaurant is stylish, but relaxed. It should come as no surprise then, that we found the Trius Brut Rosé to pair wonderfully with both the fish & chips and the steak.

The second glass (for the sake of research and this post, obviously!) was a perfect cap to our meal as well.

Much like the restaurant, Trius Winery is a sensory experience. The architecture is bold, but restrained and context specific through its use of wood and stone (can you tell one of us is an architecture buff?). The use of those elements (along with a unified colour palette) throughout the restaurant, tasting room and wine making facilities provides for an elegant experience.

The colour palette across all the winery’s buildings makes the vineyard’s hues of green pop and the graphics showcasing the wine making process on the side of the wine making facility were a nice touch, too.

This, coupled with the diverse range of excellent wines – including the Trius, Showcase, Sparkling and Icewine collections – makes for an unforgettable visit. All of the wines are available at the Trius wine shop, which includes an adorable (and Instagram-worthy) sparkling wine section!

Having visited the grounds, eaten at the Trius Restaurant, spoken to Craig and sampled the wines, it is no surprise to us that Trius Winery has received many accolades, including being named 2015 Ontario Winery of the Year!

Sparkling Specs

So by now you might be thinking “yes, Trius makes some excellent sparkling wines. Tell me something I don’t know!” Well, we’re Sparkling Winos – you can bet on us to love a good wine cellar. But what’s better than a wine cellar? A sparkling wine cellar! Did you know that Trius has the largest underground sparkling wine cellar in Canada? 😱

That’s right! Trius’ underground sparkling cellar is easily one of Ontario wine country’s greatest wine making feats, and a gorgeous pit stop. Really, it is it the perfect venue for storing sparkling wine. In fact, there are over 350,000 bottles of it stored at any one time, and according to Craig, they are stacked by hand. That’s certainly an exercise in organization and a testament to dedication. And, in case you’re a math person, those 350k or so bottles work out to about 262,500 litres of bubbly! 🍾

As with any sparkling wine made in the traditional method, Trius’ bubbles are bottled after the first fermentation, and secondary fermentation takes place inside the same bottle that you’ll eventually purchase in the store. Depending on whether it is destined to become a Brut or Brut Rosé, the wine will spend approximately 20 to 24 months resting on its the lees (the dead yeast cells remaining after fermentation) to add complexity and texture.

This is then followed by the riddling process, where the bottles are gently rotated over time until they reach a vertical position where the lees collects in the neck of the bottle (and is then disgorged). Traditionally, this practice used to take place by hand over the course of several weeks, but for the most part this job has been taken over by the mechanical gyropalette. This nifty machine performs the same task automatically in a much shorter period of time. While we love the romance behind a cellar worker exercising his or her wrists, we can appreciate that the world’s appetite for sparkling wine has necessitated to use of motors and automatic controls.

Luckily for us, Trius offers a unique range of winery experiences which includes a guided tour of their sparkling wine cellar. On the “Tasting Stars” tour, a wine expert guides you from vine to cellar to explore Trius’s dedication to sparkling wine. Craig generously organized a tour and included a guided tour of the wine making facilities (including the massive assortment of barrels and vessels) and a walk through of the underground sparkling cellar.

Descending into the cellar, the cooler temperature is immediately apparent, as is the striking sight of seeing a wall of sparkling wine bottles. Stacked perfectly, this makes the perfect backdrop for a fun photo. But, the benefits of this form of stacking go beyond practicality and aesthetics – it helps to promote longevity in the wine!

A trip into the sparkling cellar is complemented by a visually spectacular, full-sensory experience – which includes some pretty nifty light projections, music, and the chance to walk under stacked bottles of bubbly (which we failed to capture any clear photos of because we were too excited! 😜). The “walk through” allows you to see how deep the stacked bottles actually go – almost 4 cases worth! It also showcases the visual impact of the sediment settling in the bottle. Luckily, we are on the same wavelength as Trius, in that we love a glass of sparkling on any occasion!

Another treat was the sabrage – you know, that cool sparkling wine party trick you hear about? We had the opportunity to saber (and taste!) Trius’ Showcase “5” Sparkling – the spectacular 2009 vintage Blanc de Noirs that forms part of Trius’ Showcase collection. Jeff did a great job sabering!

But, what would a trip to Trius be without a bit more details about the Trius Brut, Trius Brut Rosé and the Trius Showcase “5”? 😉

The Wines

Trius Brut (NV)

Trius’ best selling sparkling, the Trius Brut offers the iconic tiny bubbles and crisp flavours of citrus and apple, along with a beautiful autolytic character and a lingering, refreshing finish. Of course crafted in the traditional method using a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, the Brut is aged on the lees for up to two years. The Brut pairs beautifully with fresh fish, chicken dishes in cream sauces and vegetarian dishes and cheese. Or, if you’re like us, have it on its own, served between 8 – 10°C!

And it is no surprise to us that the Trius Brut was a National Champion, winning a Gold Medal for Best Canadian Sparkling Wine at the Champagne and Sparkling Wine World Championships in the UK in 2015!

Trius Brut Rosé (NV)

Second in terms of volume of sales, but certainly no second fiddle, the Trius Brut Rosé offers a delicate pink colour, with red fruit, blood orange (our fave!) and beautiful autolytic notes on the nose. The palette is afforded refreshing flavours of red fruit, sour cherry and currant and lingering red fruit, citrus and yeasty notes on the finish. This wine is very versatile, and works well with roasted vegetables, a range of cheeses, risotto, shell fish and roast chicken. Or, you could go rogue like us and discover that it pairs beautifully with the fish & chips and the steak at the Trius Restaurant. So perfectly, in fact, that you might have to get another glass. Just to see if it holds up on its own, and definitely not because it’s so delicious you can’t leave the table without another sip. Nope. Definitely not. 😉

Like the Brut, the Brut Rosé has also received critical acclaim, taking home a Double Gold Trophy for Best Sparkling Wine of the Year at the All Canadian Wine Championships in 2013, the Gold Medal at the All Canadian Wine Championships in 2012 and the Best Sparkling Wine Award at the Cuvée 2010 in Niagara.

Trius Showcase “5” (2009)

And last, but certainly not least, we have the Trius Showcase “5” Sparkling! Produced by Trius as part of the Showcase line, this special 2009 vintage wine speaks to Craig’s skills and passion for sparkling wine. A Blanc de Noirs – or, white sparkling made from 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Pinot Meunier – the Showcase “5” is aged on the lees for five years (hence the name!). As Craig informed us, the Pinot Noir used in this wine is grown in the winery’s Lawrie Vineyard (located in Four-Mile Creek, near Niagara-on-the-Lake). We very much respect the wine making process cultivated by Trius, and this wine truly reflects Trius’ philosophy of offering unrushed sensory experiences. The extra lees aging requires unrushed patience, and adds a beautifully complex, yet approachable autolytic character that complements the red fruit aroma and palette with a luscious, creamy mouthfeel.  Earlier, we described it as super expressive and downright phenomenal. And… it really is!

Like its sparkling counterparts at Trius, the Showcase “5” has also been regarded and awarded by the wine world. In 2015, it was a Gold Medal winner at the National Wine Awards of Canada. Sip, sip, hooray!

Thanks for reading! To purchase Trius’ wines here in Ontario, visit their online store. And be sure to keep up with all things bubbling up at Trius on Instagram, Facebook & Twitter!

Still Thirsty for More?

Check out our “Heard it Through the Grapevine” interview with head winemaker at Trius – Craig McDonald!