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20 Questions with Derek Barnett from Meldville Wines

meldville wines

All of us in the Savvy Team have been long-time fans of Derek Barnett. We are always gung-ho to feature his Meldville Wines in our wine subscriptions and online store. A few years ago our founder, Debbie Trenholm, asked Derek these “20 Questions” about his career as a winemaker, and threw in some personal ditties to get the ‘dirt’.

20 Questions with Derek Barnett

1. What do you take in your morning coffee or tea? Coffee is black, no sugar. Tea is milk, no sugar

2. What drink would you like right this minute? Malt Whiskey – it is 11pm right now afterall!

3. When you were 10, what did you want to be when you grew up? Always wanted to be a farmer – just like both of my grandfathers.

4. What was the very first winery that you ever visited? I have to think it was Stoney Ridge in Beamsville (Niagara).

5. What wine got you hooked? Oh my, I need two!! German Riesling – Jos.Jos. Prum Graacher Himmelreich 1976. Later on, it was Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc

6. Take a few minutes and jot down the path to becoming the winemaker you are today: Winemaking started for me at Southbrook Winery back in 1991 when it was located in Maple, sourcing fruit from Niagara Vineyards. In 2001 my wife Judith and I, moved to Niagara to begin Lailey Vineyard with Donna and David Lailey, Tonya Lailey and Yves Starrveld. Making small batch wines from the 23 acre vineyard that eventually was planted with 15 different vinifera grape varieties. In 2015, Lailey Vineyard and the winery were sold. Soon after, Judith and I started Meldville Wines, a virtual winery working from Legends Estate Winery in Beamsville – still making small batch wines from just a few less grape varieties!!

7. What is your winemaking style in 3 words: Rich balanced wines

8. Do you have music playing in the cellar while you work? No Music – can’t hear the wines talking!

9. Favorite thing about the local wine industry: I love it all. We are making great wines so getting together to taste and chat is pretty special.

10. Favorite thing about growing grapes: That answer is easy. Got to love the awakening in the vineyard each and every spring and looking forward to what is ahead.

11. What part of winemaking are you always trying new things? For me, it is always the fermentation

12. What is the unglamorous thing about winemaking? Getting in the tanks for remove the tartrates, getting in the press to scrub it clean at the end of the day……

13. Who have been your mentors throughout your winemaking career: There have been many people who have helped get me to where I am today, but none more than Bill Redelmeier – founder of Southbrook Vineyard.

Derek Barnett with wines
photo credit: winesinniagara.ca

14. What about personal mentors? That would be my brother Malcolm

15. What wine region do you want to visit next? Oregon

16. One surprising thing that I’m really good at: Winemaking! – he says with a giggle

17. When is your birthday: Feb 20

18. My Birthday “Favorite Meal”: Risotto

19. What do you like to do when in you are not making wine? Golf. Long walks with my camera and bike rides with my wife Judith

20. Since you are lucky to live & work in 2 wine regions – Niagara and The County – what are 2 of your favourite places that you’d recommend to take a break from tasting and touring to do? You know…the ‘local inside scoop’ 

In Niagara – I love to visit lock 3 of the Welland Canal – check the museum, soak up some history and watch the freighters going up and down the canal. The other place to get off the beaten track for a while is the DeCew Falls. Oh and if you are still thirsty – many local breweries with great patios.

In PEC – I don’t have a lot of time to when I’m in the County to explore but I love going to Lake on the Mountain – Lots to do (good beer and food), some great walks and almost always quiet.

Learn More About Meldville Wines

Derek has been a hands-on winemaker throughout his entire career since arriving in Canada. With the sale of Lailey Vineyards where he was one of the founding partners & long time head winemaker, sparked the new beginning in his life – the decision to start crafting wines under his very own label!

As he was getting ready to launch his virtual winery, Savvy Sommelier – Monique Sosa, caught up to Derek for August 2016 Savvy Selections feature. She taps into what motivates Derek, his pursuit to owning and operating his own winery, and of course, enjoy the inaugural release of Meldville wines. So here is her interview with Derek…

Who is Derek Barnett?

“I feel lucky to have the opportunity to do what I do for work every day and I simply enjoy making wines for people who love to drink wine.”

Derek Barnett

Derek hails from a deep background in agriculture. Both his grandparents owned farms in rural central England where his first job in the business was milking cows. When Derek immigrated to Canada, he worked as a dairy farmer at Don Head Farms, north of Toronto. During the 1980s, Derek was proactive in the evolution of Don Head Farms from dairy farming to a thriving fresh local produce hub. By the early 1990s, as appreciation for local gourmet foods and fine wine spiked amongst Derek and his colleagues in the Greater Toronto Area, the owners of Don Head Farms seized the opportunity to obtain a license to operate a boutique winery. They sought to source the finest grapes from key quality producers in the Niagara Escarpment with Derek as their winemaker. In 1991, the doors to their winery – Southbrook Winery – opened with a small but proud inventory of 2000 cases of wine.

Visualizing what became the first breaths of Derek’s dream career path, I asked him if it was challenging for him to take on such a role? “Not really,” he responded. Derek is proud to admit that he nurtured his craftsmanship on the job. He may not have been educationally trained but he enjoyed drinking wine, he had a trusted palate, and he understood how to make table wine that people enjoyed drinking. Vintage after vintage, as his skills and reputation expanded, while Derek recognized that being a winemaker meant far beyond just turning grape juice into wine. He recognized that being a standout winemaker included growing grapes, making wine with those grapes, and successfully selling the wine made from those grapes. “To achieve these goals, you need to connect with people,” explained Derek. “Understanding consumers, what they like and how to connect with them is what motivates a winemaker to make great wines.”

Welcome to Meldville Wines

With several decades of experience in winemaking at Southbrook Winery and Lailey Vineyards – and currently Karlo Estates in Prince Edward County – Derek came face to face with another career first, owning and operating his own virtual winery.

Meldville was the name of his family homestead in Swinford, England. It was coined by his family from combining the first initials in each of their names:
• M for Malcolm (Derek’s brother)
• E for Edward (Derek’s father)
• L for Lucy (Derek’s mother)
• D for Derek

Ever since Derek committed this name to his imaginary winery, it became a constant twinkle in his eye.

What finally sealed the deal? “Well, after Lailey, I felt like it was too soon for me to retire. Suddenly, with an abundance of free time that fell on my plate, I thought to myself, there’s no time like the present,” Derek explained.

At present, Meldville Wines is a virtual winery producing wines under the license of Legends Estate Winery. The three grape varietals in this inaugural release are sourced from the Lincoln Lakeshore sub-appellation in the Niagara Escarpment. Derek chose to work with Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet France because he finds these wines to be very textural, flavourful and showcases attractive levels of acidity. Derek has had experience working with Legends Estate Winery during his years as the head winemaker at Lailey and he appreciates that he still has the support of his community and the opportunity to continue to work with such fine fruit.

What’s on each bottle of Meldville Wines?

Meldville Wines label close-up

Something to note about the wine, are the stories behind the labels. The front and back labels both depict symbols that are important to the conceptualization of Meldville Wines. The layout of the front label depicts the first page of the first edition of the Meldville Wines story. The symbolism behind the skeleton key represents an invitation to unlock a little bit of Derek into your glass. On the back label, you will find a photo of what once was the Meldville homestead in England. Altogether, it is a unique welcome symbolizing the inaugural release of Meldville wines.

This is just the beginning. Derek has many plans and ideas for his winery. Some that include plans to expand his portfolio of grapes to include Pinot Noir and Riesling. He also loves working with small lot vineyards so we can definitely expect to find rare reserve releases in the future as well.

Is Derek really only about wine?

“Mostly!” says Derek with a grin. To which I asked, “what do you tend to keep in your cellar Derek?” Derek responds, “I am a huge fan of Riesling.” He lit up when he described all the enticing German Rieslings he grew up drinking. Chardonnay is another top grape for Derek along with Sauvignon Blanc from the Marlborough region in New Zealand. As for red wines, Derek loves Northern Rhone reds. He says he has quite the coveted collection in his cellar. Aside from wine, Derek is a ‘mega fan’ of craft beer and whisky. He shared with me warm stories of how he enjoyed spending many hours touring the highlands of Scotland while tasting a dram or two along his journey.

Tasting Meldville Wines

These tasting notes were provided by Savvy Company’s founder, Debbie Trenholm.

Meldville Wines 2nd Edition Chardonnay VQA

Meldville Wines bottles

Tasting notes:
Absolutely lovely with aromas that reflect the tastes of apricots, pears, nectarine & warm apple crisp. Well rounded with light acidity & satin texture. I’m so glad that I have a roast chicken with a trivet of root vegetables planned for dinner tonight. This wine would be a perfect pairing.

Meldville Wines 2nd Edition Cabernet Franc VQA

Tasting notes:
Medium to full-bodied impressive red wine that is expertly made by Derek. “Always a tough grape to get ripe”, he explained. Yet he nailed it! Complex aromas of dried cherries combined with espresso, and cocoa, with a hint of roasted red peppers on the taste that lingers forever. Great with stews, pulled pork & spicy sausages

Meldville Wines Barrel Select Syrah VQA

Tasting notes:
At our last Taste & Buy event everyone….I mean EVERY-one was talking about this wine. Swiftly after this event, I made sure that Derek put a stash away you. Intense full bodied red wine that has deep aroma of red & black cherry, boysenberry wrapped up with a ribbon of campfire smoke. Each sip unveils a different taste of dark chocolate, cassis & a ‘dash of black pepper’ said Susan during our tasting panel. This is the wine to serve with your Sunday roast, or when you brave the cold to BBQ a steak.

Meldville Wines Canadian Oak Chardonnay VQA

Tasting notes:
This unique wine was left to age in barrels made from native Canadian oak trees, resulting in a taste of oak that is elegant with aromas of toasted coconut, warm spices, fresh ginger, brown butter & a gorgeous texture.

Meldville Wines 2nd Edition Sauvignon Blanc VQA

Tasting notes:
Aromas & tastes of crunchy apples, lime & lemongrass, this wine has lots of verve & personality that will melt away all thoughts of windchills.

Meldville Wines 2nd Edition Pinot Noir VQA

Tasting notes:
Intense earth & cherry aromas dominate this medium-bodied Pinot Noir. There is a thread of cloves with soft silky tannins that’s no wonder everyone in the Ontario wine biz is talking about this wine. If you are a Pinot fan…you’ll want to get some of this wine!

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