From butter tarts to Gamay Noir: Welcome to 13th Street Winery
Here’s the thing about farmers: They’re not pie-in-the-sky people.
So when Doug Whitty, a third generation tender fruit grower, and his wife and business partner, Karen, traded one emblematic Niagara fruit — peaches — for another in grapes to become co-owners of 13th Street Winery in 2008, there were no misapprehensions about what was in their future.
There would be hard work, for sure. Sustainability for Whitty generations to come, too. And, given their knack and passion for marketing the best of Niagara’s harvests directly to consumers at the busy farm market they used to run on Fourth Avenue, there was the opportunity to build yet another destination in the region.
“It was a logical step for us because we were already doing direct marketing,” Doug recalled. “We were already doing that because of Karen’s involvement (with the farm market) so it made sense. Also, being farmers, we didn’t have unrealistic expectations.”
They did have experience, though. In addition to tender fruit, the couple was growing grapes for other local wineries when 13th Street owners John and June Mann called on them for a business partnership.
By taking the reins at 13th Street on St. Catharines’ westernmost periphery, the Whittys could help further Niagara’s winemaking identity at a time when the region was still trying to assert itself as a force in tipple production.
The Manns were known risk takers, focusing on only a few varieties, including Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, when they founded 13th Street at its original location on its namesake artery in 1998. They were also pioneers in a movement to make Niagara shine as a sparkling wine region, and for helping to establish under-appreciated Gamay Noir as a bona fide crown jewel of wine in these parts.
“We give the original founders credit for identifying full-bodied Gamay and sparkling as belonging in the vineyard and the cellar.(Gamay) is like Riesling. You can do a lot with it and it belongs here. It’s consistent and a more hardy winter variety.”
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Over the years, the winery evolved into a popular meeting place for visitors and locals alike to enjoy a glass while admiring pristine vineyards or celebrate some of Canada’s most renowned and thought-provoking artists whose work is showcased in a contemporary sculpture park, curated by the Manns, on the winery grounds.
Those needing to take a load off could lunch at the seasonal Farmhouse Bistro, helmed by chefs Josh Berry and Rachel Adams, or kickback on Burger Saturdays where the barbecue staple is served alongside live music and 13th Street vintages on long weekends in the summer. There would be more formal winemaker dinners that matched vintner Jean Pierre Colas’s work with the best of the season, too.
“He has this whole other life experience,” Doug said about Colas, who hails from Burgundy, France. “People can go to a winemaker’s dinner and hang out with an Old-World winemaker. Or come here and hang out with us, too. We have a very unique experience to offer.”
Gateway to Niagara Wine
Including for those needing more of a gateway to Niagara wine. They can take a seat in the tank room for an educational seminar led by sommelier Corinne Maund, who walks visitors through 13th Street’s vintages without pretence.
“People love to learn and it creates an opportunity to have a relationship with guests more than just a service experience,” Karen said. “The wine and food education component has allowed us to build bonds and make life a little better.”
Then there’s the bakery, turning out a dozen different kinds of butter tarts based on Karen’s family recipe. Ink all over the country has been spilled about those pastries, which range from classic plain, raisin and pecan to inventive raspberry-toasted coconut versions or plays on beloved Turtles chocolates. Those writing about them rank 13th Street’s butter tarts among the best of this most Canadian treat. (The homemade salsa — they sell thousands of jars — is the bakery’s savoury bestseller.)
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All in, it’s made wine, food and art the mantra of 13th Street as the winery has shifted from a simple tasting room with a farm market to an elegant and definitive representation of Niagara in a glass and on a plate, with the option of an overnight stay at the winery’s Airbnb for those who want an extended experience.
Through all the growth and change, no one has ever lost sight of this being an approachable, welcoming place “to pause, reflect and enjoy” and appeal to a “sense of discovery, decompression and exploration,” Doug explained.
“We took what was here and developed it based on what we’re passionate about,” Karen said. “We wanted to offer that farm experience. Obviously we’re passionate about wine and food. That’s our No. 1 passion. The art also makes it unique. But it’s authentic. It’s what we love. You can put art on a wall and create a beautiful space but this is who we are.”
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Have you visited The Gallery at 13th Street Winery? New exhibit opening this Saturday MODERN MASTERS 2020. Visit their website for details and a list of artists included in the collection . Www.TheGalleryat13thStreetWinery.com #canadianart #winefoodart #art #gallery #modernmasters #13thstreetwinery #winecountryont
Ditto for being community and culture builders in Niagara, who showcase the region at its finest, rather than simply market their own winery.
“We often say what we need to do here is create a winery experience,” Doug said. “Certainly, it’s high quality wine. There aren’t a lot of people exposed to Ontario wine, even now. If we can provide that, we can contribute not only to 13th Street but the whole industry.”
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13th Street Winery
1776 Fourth Ave, St. Catharines, ON L2R 6P9