If you are looking for a memorable experience that is off-the-beaten path, consider heading to Burning Kiln Winery in the up and coming wine region of Norfolk County on the north shore of Lake Erie. Just minutes from the picturesque lakeside town of Port Dover, Burning Kiln Winery is rapidly attracting attention for its wines as well as its ambience. Lunch at the winery’s charming outdoor café offers a sweeping view of the UNESCO-designated Long Point World Biosphere Reserve and the charming beach front community of Turkey Point. For an adventurous touch, try an aerial tour by zip lining through the treetops just across the road – before the wine tasting!
Burning Kiln Winery is the inspiration of lawyer Mike McArthur, who came home to the nearby town of Simcoe to practice. He and several partners bought up land from a local tobacco farmer, Frank Deleebec. After realizing that the sandy soil and underlying limestone base would provide equally good drainage for vineyards, they replanted 26 acres of tobacco with vines in 2006 and opened a state-of-the-art winery in 2010. Their first vintage wine, Burning Kiln Strip Room 2010, was chosen as the Ontario Legislature’s official red wine for the 2011-2012 session.
Burning Kiln’s winemaking philosophy builds on the area’s tobacco heritage. Award winning winemaker Andrzej Lipinksi is known for producing wines in the Italian “appassimento” style, where a portion of the grapes are dried on mats to concentrate the fruit flavours. The result is more full bodied, complex wines, with elevated alcohol levels that can easily reach 15%. He has applied this signature ‘appassimento’ winemaking technique at numerous Ontario wineries, including Megalomaniac, Foreign Affair and Organized Crime. At Burning Kiln, Lipinski is trying a variation where he dries the grapes in re-purposed tobacco kilns instead of on mats. Since Burning Kiln’s production is only 7,000 cases, Lipinski now shares his time as winemaker at Colaneri Estate Winery and at his own recently opened Big Head Winery in Niagara.
Peering into the glassed-in cellar, you can see cigar-shaped barrels which Lipinski is experimenting with. These longer, thinner barrels provide more wood contact to the same volume of wine than traditional barrels, which helps him introduce a deft touch of oak, while preserving the fruit flavours in Burning Kiln’s wines.
Since joining Burning Kiln from Colio Estate Wines last February, the personable Vice President and General Manager Doug Beatty has repositioned the winery’s marketing effort, emphasizing the winery’s tobacco heritage. Beatty has introduced tobacco terms into their labels and wines are now offered in three tiers –Green Kiln screw cap wines under $20, Red Kiln wines between $20 and $30 and Ghosted White Kiln wines over $30. These are only available through the winery.
Burning Kiln Harvest Party White 2012 ($15.95; 13.8%) is a partially dried white varietal blend of 50% Chardonnay, 17% Sauvignon Blanc, 14% Gewurztraminer, 11% Riesling and 8% Savagnin (a lesser known white varietal that originated in France’s Jura region). Highly aromatic, this versatile food wine shows appealing flavours of pear, melon and white peach, balanced out with subtle oak and good underlying acidity.
Burning Kiln Stick Shaker Savagnin 2012 ($24.95; 14.9%) is a 100% Savagnin varietal wine. There are only 10 acres of Savagnin grown in Canada and Burning Kiln has two of these. Fifteen days of kiln drying explains the intense complexity of this wine, with its orange blossom aromas and smooth palate of honeysuckle, banana and apricot flavours.
Burning Kiln Riesling 2011 ($19.95; 12.4%) was a challenging vintage because of the wet weather, so drying 10% of the fruit helped to elevate the aromatics of this wine. It has a subtle herbaceous aspect that frames a core of white grapefruit and green apple notes, with a seam of minerality in the clean finish.
Burning Kiln Horse & Boat Riesling 2012 ($19.95; 10.8%) also included 10% fruit that was dried for 11 days to provide greater complexity. Floral aromas give way to lemon and lime characters, with an herbal trace and hint of petrol in this off-dry Riesling.
Burning Kiln Table Gang Gewurztraminer 2012 ($24.95; 14.9%) is an Alsatian style wine with incredible power from kiln drying 10-15% of the grapes for nine days. Intriguing aromas and flavours of cardamom, nutmeg and spice underpin the fruit core of apricot and lychee.
Burning Kiln Broken Needle Rose 2012 ($15.95; 11.8%) is a blend of 70% Cabernet Franc and 30% Pinot Noir that is so deep in colour, one might easily mistake it for a red wine. Well structured, this impressive rose has intense rhubarb and strawberry flavours, with a touch of caramel in the mellow finish.
Burning Kiln Pinot Noir 2010 ($29.95; 13.4%) is a beefier wine, with a deep colour that delivers a full fruit medley of Bing cherries, black cherries and Damson plums with accents of spice in the elegant finish.
All scores out of five apples.
Margot Ritchie is a Toronto-based journalist, whose articles focus on wine and culinary trends. A member of the Wine Writers’ Circle since 1997, she has travelled throughout many of the major wine growing regions of Europe and North America. These include Austria, France, Italy, and Portugal, as well as California, New York State and Ontario. Spirits, sake and beer are also highlighted in her writings, where her travels have extended to Scotland, Japan and the Czech Republic.Margot’s wine columns have appeared in Del Condominium Lifestyle, Elite Wine, Food and Travel, Modesty Magazine, International Women’s Forum (IWF) – Toronto Chapter Newsletter and the Portuguese Post . Margot also advises on private wine cellar management.