Tucked away at the end of a seldom travelled road, in the shadows of the escarpment’s treeline, one will find the entrance to an enchanting winery. Illuminated with a lantern, lit night and day, by natural gas escaping from long-gone creatures; one might feel though entering a fairy-tale realm and glimpsing a distant unicorn. The perception is not far off, once realizing the wines housed within are just as unique as a unicorn would be.
The Crown Bench Estates is a small boutique winery located in the Beamsville Bench Sub-appellation of Niagara Peninsula. It is owned and operated by Peter Kocsis and his wife Livia Sipos, both Hungarian-born Canadians, who in 1995 purchased the vineyard and in 1999 opened the doors of their small artisanal winery to the public. Both, Peter and Livia, grew up in the Beamsville Bench area and while Livia comes from a family of farmers, Peter developed his appreciation for the land during his student years, while working on orchards and vineyards for his summer jobs.
. Though Peter’s career path of an international lawyer took them to Ottawa, their ties to rural living and an early retirement package, brought them back to Beamsville and enabled them to open up a winery. With the help from a consulting winemaker Deborah Paskus, Peter’s ability to self-learn, to do research and to think outside of the box allowed him to develop winemaking skills and do produce a set of products, for which the winery received ‘Canada’s Most Innovative Winery’ award. Also, for her viticultural practices, in 2004, Livia was awarded the prestigious title of ‘2004 – 2005 Grape King’.
Grape King – a yearly award handed out by the Grape Growers of Ontario
to celebrate and commend outstanding viticultural practices.
Today, the land including the vineyard belonging to Crown Bench Estates spans 25 acres. About half of the vineyard was planted before the 1995 purchase and includes one of the oldest Chardonnay plantings in the Beamsville Bench, dating back to 1968. The population of vines include: the whites – 6 acres of Chardonnay and 3 acres of Vidal; and the reds – 3 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, 4 acres of Merlot and 1 acre of Pinot Noir. Before Crown Bench was established, grapes from the property were sold to Thirty Bench Wine Makers for their high quality. Nowadays, vines (with the exception of Vidal) are pruned to produce yields lower than 2 tones/acre, allowing for the production of up to 12 thousand cases a year, though recently ~4,000 cases is the norm.
Crown Bench produces a variety of grape products including: single varietals and blended wines, flavoured wines, vinegars, wine jellies and sauces – for which they have received numerous awards including international gold and silver medals.
– All single varietal or blended wines are aged in oak for lengthy period of time and further aged in a bottle, before they are finally released for sale; some wines that are currently available for purchase are 10 years old! Also, Peter concentrates the fruit flavors in his late harvests using ‘Noble Rot’ to produce regionally unique gems:
– one, named Eros – is a cold harvested Vidal that is aged in oak barrels for 10 years before release.
– another is Livia’s Gold – a late harvest Chardonnay.
Noble Rot – grapes are allowed to become infected with Botrytis cinerea, a benign type of fungus that affects grapes during wet growing conditions and that causes the grapes to dry out, thereby concentrating the fruit flavors within. Wine growing regions utilizing this natural process to produce sweeter, fruit-intense wines include Tokai in Hungary or Sauternes in France.
– Flavoured wines are blends of cold harvested (-10°C) Vidal and one of: chocolate, five-kinds of hot peppers, cranberry, blueberry, raspberry and ginger – many winning one or more awards. Unique wines include Ambrosia – a chocolate flavoured Icewine and Hot Ice – hot pepper wine.
– Verjus – vinegars produced from non-fermented grape juice from most varietals grown on the property.
– Wine jellies are spreadable jellies made from wines.
– Sauces – products not made from wine.
Most products are available for tasting at the winery and all of the collected tasting proceeds get donated to children’s fund.
With so many products, it is not surprising that Crown Bench was named Canada’s Most Innovative Winery.
Click image to go to the next one
My thank-you to Peter Kocsis and Livia Sipos, for taking the time to show me around and letting me sample their products.
For recommended wines that can be purchased at the winery, see http://grapeselections.com/grapeselections/wines-from-wineries/
For other wineries in the Beamsville Bench Appellation
and the rest of Niagara Peninsula see
Location and growing characteristics:
Beamsville Bench sub-appellation has these characteristics important for wine growth: 217 days/year that are frost-free; 1420 growing degree days and precipitation of 544 mm/year. The soil is composed of clay loam and silty loam that contributes towards the wine’s minerality composition.
Note: Values represent yearly averages normal for the Niagara Peninsula; information mentioned here as well as the Appellations map was obtained from http://vqaontario.ca and is used with permission.
Crown Bench Estates
3850 Aberdeen Rd.
Beamsville, ON Canada