A Family Affair at Westcott VineyardsVictoria Westcott tasted only one thing the first time she took a sip of wine made from grapes grown in her parents’ Jordan vineyard. It was sweet satisfaction. “I was relieved when I took that first sip of wine and it was good,” Victoria said. “To taste it, it was ‘Thank God it’s good-tasting.’ ” It’s not that the teacher by profession doubted her parents Grant Westcott and Carolyn Hurst could tease something amazing from Niagara’s terroir. But Victoria knew how much work it took just to create something for her to sample that fateful day. Westcott Vineyards was supposed to be her parents’ retirement project and it took nearly as much effort as some people put into their entire careers to get from planting Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapevines in 2006 to having something to show for it when the winery released its first vintage in 2012, and officially opened its doors two years later. “I knew it wasn’t just plant vines, make great wine and have it work. I knew this is farming. It’s fancy farming but it’s hard work,” Victoria said. Still, they’d come a long way from her first visit to the vineyard in 2006 when she saw the expanse filled with stubby, baby grapevines and felt a little skeptical about it all. “I said ‘What are you talking about?’ The building wasn’t here. It was literally a field of tiny grapevines. They were so proud.” Still, planting a vineyard and opening a winery after calling it a career in banking and IT in Toronto wasn’t entirely out of their element. Hurst’s family tree is deeply rooted in dairy farming in south Niagara. Both she and Grant had unparalleled work ethic, a prerequisite to make it in anything, but especially building a winery, quite literally from the ground up. Also, “My parents are really passionate about Niagara,” Victoria noted.
Passionate about Niagara
In particular, they’re passionate about the region’s potential and prowess when it comes to making superlative Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Prior to breaking ground on their eponymic vineyard, the couple spent a lot of time visiting Niagara and noticing how much and how quickly it was changing, especially when it came to producing tipple on par with more established wine regions elsewhere in the world. They eventually set their sights on a property originally owned by legendary grape grower, Howard Staff, and next to the vineyards of Le Clos Jordanne, upheld as a pinnacle of Niagara winemaking. The land boasted all the characteristics for turning out top-notch Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, two of Niagara’s flagship wines. “Really, it’s all about Niagara producing some of the best Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in the world,” Victoria said. “To be part of that is exciting.” It wouldn’t be long before the couple’s retirement project would become a family affair. After teaching in the United Kingdom and working in film with her sister in British Columbia, Victoria moved to Niagara to help build the winery. Her brother, Garrett, joined the effort as vineyard manager and assistant to winemaker Casey Kulczyk. It felt like a homecoming, Victoria recalled. “I, like any 40-year-old woman, had a lot of experience tasting wine but this was just to support my family,” she said. “The thing I’m interested in is Niagara has some of the best food and wine. You know when you taste an Ontario peach how good it is? Or corn? We grow some of the best food here and who doesn’t want to enjoy that with a glass of wine?” On a textbook summer day, the answer is not many. Even on a Friday night in winter, there’s not a vacant seat to be found in Westcott’s 200-Mennonite barn that serves as its tasting room and the backdrop to its beloved Fireside Friday dinners cooked by a rotating roster of Niagara chefs and eaten in the glow of an imposing wood-burning fireplace. “The worse the weather is, the better it is in here,” Victoria said as her dog Alfie slumbered under the solid wood frame of a communal dining table. “You get out of the car and can smell the fire right away. You walk up and open the door to a room of people who are going to become your friends by the end of the night. You meet some amazing people. Sometimes there are after-parties. I have yet to see a marriage proposal at the table. That’s my dream. One day.”View this post on Instagram
Together, the family built a destination in a “premium, small, hand-crafted winery on the bench” with Grant and Carolyn taking their cues from their travels to other wine regions. They attended winemakers’ dinners in Zambia, filing away the experience for future reference. In South Africa, they purchased a Bedouin tent that protects from the sun’s heat. In Jordan, it makes the Westcott patio a stunning reprieve from July’s high heat and a comfortable spot to enjoy a leisurely FeastON-certified lunch prepared on a wood-fired grill by in-house chefs Ricky and Olivia, and paired with a vintage from the winery’s focused portfolio. “(The patio) is one we feel is very Niagara and we feel deserves international recognition and even local recognition. A lot of people don’t even realize this is here and when they get here they say, ‘It’s just like Burgundy’ or it’s just like somewhere else, except it’s Niagara,” Victoria said. “It’s celebrating that, celebrating our season, which is short, but it’s celebrating how great that season is.” The family hasn’t just demonstrated that to the people who come through the winery door in Jordan. Westcott vintages are on wine lists at Michelin-starred restaurants in the United Kingdom. Fine dining establishments in Singapore and Barbados are also pouring Westcott wines.View this post on Instagram
It’s a point of pride for Victoria, and one of irony, too. “We sell more (wine) to the U.K. than Vintages in the LCBO. We just can’t meet the demand because we’re a small-lot producer. The quantity is not huge but the quality is there, which is what everyone’s after,” she explained. “It’s the Canadian conundrum — we embrace our own when they have success overseas but I’d love it if we embraced it more locally.” The family could have tried to be everything to everyone to help in that quest. But they were determined to pursue what they felt Niagara does best when it comes to wine. That’s why Pinot Noir and Chardonnay dominate despite toying with the idea of planting Gamay Noir, which goes into their Temperance red blend. And that’s why Victoria’s first sip all those years ago tasted the way it did. “We definitely want to keep our focus and not be a winery doing 20 products,” Victoria said. “We were so fortunate all these farmers and grape growers did everything before us because it it weren’t for them, we wouldn’t know what grows well here.”
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