Sue-Ann Staff Estate Winery
Presented by Sommelier Susan Desjardins
Sue-Ann Staff ‘s name precedes her reputation in the Canadian wine industry. Growing up on the family farm, it was natural to pursue a degree in horticulture and biotechnology from the University of Guelph. Shortly after graduating, she headed to Australia to complete a graduate degree in oenology at the University of Adelaide.
With her graduate studies as the launching pad for her winemaking career, she worked the harvest at a winery in Australia’s Hunter Valley, then returned home to Niagara, beginning her career as assistant winemaker at Pillitteri Estates under the guidance of Joe Will. Within 6 months, she was named winemaker, spending 10 years crafting internationally recognized award-winning wines. When the newly founded Twenty Bees Winery came calling with an ambitious icewine program for Sue-Ann & she accepted. “I learned a huge amount about operations, planning and governance, and got great experience that led me later to decide to establish my own winery”. Through the years, she’s also visited and worked in France, Germany, Andorra & South Africa.
Following what seemed an inescapable destiny, she founded Sue-Ann Staff Estate Winery, and took on the role of Winemaster for the John Howard Cellars of Distinction, producing wines for the Megalomaniac brand. Already marked in her winemaking career, she has been acclaimed Winemaker of the Year (2002) by the Ontario Wine Society and has twice been recognized as one of the top four ‘Women in Wine’ by the International Wine and Spirits society in the U.K.
Rooted in her land, makes quality wines
Growing up on the farm, Sue-Ann developed an intimate understanding of the interplay between the land and the wine. “It seems like a cliché, but I’m a farmer’s daughter.” She has lived the evolution of her family’s property: the growth of juice and table grapes, the impact of Canadian-US Free Trade agreement, the vine pull-out program & the disappearance of local processing plants. Stubbornly, the family has continued to plant vinifera grapes.
Of the 140 acres on the home farm, 35 are under vine. Taking a conservative approach, the reliable Riesling and Baco Noir grapes were planted 15 years ago, followed by Pinot Gris 6 years later. Cabernet Franc, Vidal and Viognier followed 5 years ago, although, says Sue-Ann “Viognier is a stretch up here on the Beamsville escarpment”. Recognizing Niagara’s cool-climate terroir, Sue-Ann identified and planted those varietals most suitable to the region and the property, the parcels specifically selected to optimize the chosen varietal. The property sits astride two Niagara sub-appellations, 20-Mile Bench and Vinemount Ridge. The Ridge lies just above and south of the brow of the Niagara Escarpment, a long narrow moraine whose subtly undulating landscape creates many shallow, east- and south-facing slopes that provide ideal sun exposure and early spring warming to the deep clay soils. The Bench exhibits a recognizable double bench formation and short varied slopes that roll to the brow of the escarpment. Sheltered north-facing slopes & moderated temperatures due to the lake effect create ideal growing conditions.
A winery with a conscience
Sue-Ann Staff Estate Winery is a designated sustainable winery, where low water use & conscientious efficient use of resources and materials ensure a minimal impact of grape growing and winemaking on the estate environment. In this commitment, she follows in the footsteps of her ancestors, who have been stewards of the land for two centuries.
Sue-Ann produces VQA wines from estate-grown grapes, her goal to create enticing, vibrant whites, intriguing reds and luscious icewines. Coming back to the land, she reminisces, “after 10 years at Pillitteri, I had forgotten how rewarding it is to cultivate a vineyard, to nurture my own vines, to watch the entire grape maturation process—this is one of the great satisfactions in my life.”
With her first crush in 2008, she produced 2000 cases (approx. 24,000 bottles). She anticipates that 2011 will yield an increase to 3000 cases, with a goal of 6000 cases by 2013. After that, it’s a matter of scale, and Sue-Ann will have to decide where she wants to take her estate winery.
“It’s the first time I’ve been responsible for the entire process. It’s a satisfying day when the harvest comes in, & the sense of personal satisfaction continues when the wine is bottled. It’s a bit like your children graduating from university.” We’d say these graduates are magna cum laude!
Enjoy this month’s Savvy Selections!