It’s not hard to spot Stratus. In a region filled with history and charming rustic wineries, it stands in stark contrast to its surroundings; a dramatic glass, steel and wood structure set amongst lush green vines. This is one of many surprising yet enticing contrasts you’ll find at this innovative winery. At first glance, you may find yourself wrapped up in the modernity of it all, but once you step into the world of Stratus, you’ll be surprised to find they’re as deeply rooted in all that’s new as much as they are to honouring winemaking traditions.
Nine years ago, Assistant Winemaker Dean Stoyka walked into Stratus’ state-of-the-art facility and like many first time visitors, found himself completely in awe. While walking around with award-winning winemaker J-L (Jean-Laurent) Groux, it was his simple words of wisdom that compelled Dean to carry out his co-op at the winery while completing his studies at Niagara College.
Locally Trained Niagara Wine Maker
“We toured around the winery and talked about what Stratus was doing to make premium wine. I was amazed because here was J-L, winemaker at this incredible state-of-the-art facility and all he kept talking about was how important the vineyard’s impact is on the wine— the winery was just a bonus,” shares Dean.
“The Niagara soil and terroir is what really got him excited about winemaking at Stratus.”
“This was a revolution in my young career because I had been learning so much about wine science and winemaking that I had neglected to realize how important the vineyard was, a very old-world concept,” he says.
With his father having worked in the wine industry for forty-one years, Dean was excited about all that encompassed winemaking from a young age.
“One of my childhood memories is my dad coming home from work and his work clothes would make the whole house smell like a wine cellar,” jokes Dean. “When I grew up, there was really no other choice than to get into the wine business because wine felt like second nature to me.”
Perhaps it is both J-L and Dean’s similar upbringings in heavily wine-cultured regions that helps the two work so well together.
While Dean has lived and worked in Niagara his entire life, Stratus winemaker J-L Groux hails from the Loire Valley region of France, where wine is celebrated and very much a part of everyday life. Having perfected his winemaking skills at the College de Beaune in Burgundy and the University of Bordeaux, he landed in Niagara in the early 1980s and has been here ever since.
View this post on Instagram
Niagara Wine Terroir
J-L was initially drawn to the region because of its climate, perfect for grape-growing, yet completely different from the vineyards he knew and loved in the Loire Valley. After joining Stratus in 2004, as Director of Winemaking, he has become renowned both within the region and internationally for the incredibly distinct wines he makes based on the old-world art of “assemblage”—blending more than one grape variety to produce wine that is a more complex expression of a vineyard’s terroir.
“Niagara had a huge impact early on from immigrant winemakers like J-L who brought their old-world techniques and varieties to Niagara to help build the local industry and wine quality,”
Now with local enology programs at both Niagara College and Brock University, the region has been continuing to establish itself with a new age of winemakers who are learning in the best schools along with mentorship from veteran winemakers in the area.
“Twenty-five years ago you would have to travel to another country to get training in winemaking but today you can get that training right here in Niagara at these world-renowned schools which have really helped grow our wine industry,” says Dean.
Open since 2004, Stratus operates on a mission to produce exceptional wines, never forgetting that “wine is made in the vineyard,” as J-L shared with Dean from the very beginning. With that, the winery is also committed to sustainable farming practices to create complete harmony in the vineyards. Their must-see facility designed by Architect Les Andrew, with engineering design by Alan Greer, was the world’s first LEED-certified winery and is completely heated and cooled by geothermal energy.
Although guided by new-age design and technology, their winery practices are still very much pridefully guided by taste and tradition. What makes Stratus particularly unique is its diversity of wine varieties. An impressive sixteen in total are planted on the 62-acre vineyard.
View this post on Instagram
“Our owner David Feldberg and J-L decided to keep our oldest plantings from 1985 of Merlot, Chardonnay, and Cab Sauvignon and then added clonal selections from France in different spots of the vineyard to take advantage of this diversity and add complexity to our wines,” shares Dean.
Must-sips are their signature wines—the Stratus Red and Stratus White. Dean notes both are complex blends of varietals crafted together to ensure the perfect balance of acidity, texture, structure and aromatics—all of which they have the land to thank for.
View this post on Instagram
“When the Wisconsin Glacier melted and receded 12,000 years ago, it turned up the soils throughout the region and left them scattered. So even a small 62-acre parcel (like ours) has varying soil types and textures ideal for growing tender fruit. You can’t find it anywhere else in the world, you have to come here to see it and try the wine and food that we grow in it,” explains Dean.
Stop by for a flight of wine samplings as they only produce limited quantities—and they go fast. These include their Tannat, Sangiovese, Tempranillo, or Malbec single varietals all rich and layered with flavour. With aging at least seven to 10 years, all wine lovers can taste the difference time and tradition make.
“Making wine, I think is such a slow and patient evolution, it’s a once a year event. Because of this, the art of winemaking and its evolution depends on information being passed down through the generations so that the incoming generation can have a head start by learning from the previous winemakers’ experience and building off of it,”
With Dean at Stratus, the winery truly embodies old-world meets new. Where the ancient art of winemaking through assemblage is brought into the new world with a new purpose—up and coming winemakers like Dean are eager to make their mark on the region, his home, and the very land from which every sip was inspired.
• • • • •
2059 Niagara Stone Rd, Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON L0S 1J0