Premium Wines from Pelee Island Winery

pelee island winery

The Savvy Team takes great pleasure in visiting wineries and meeting with the individuals whose dedication and foresight have ensured we have access to some of Ontario’s outstanding wines. We are delighted to once again feature Pelee Island Winery, and make available to our subscribers a selection of its well-crafted and lesser-known wines.

Pelee Island Winery’s Story

Pelee Island Winery builds on a long tradition of grape-growing and winemaking dating back to the late 1860s. The original grapes were imported from Ohio in 1866 by a settler family from Kentucky. With the help of an enterprising Ontarian, J.S. Hamilton, wines from the Vin Villa winery on Pelee Island were common through eastern Canada and the northeastern states in the late 1800s. The winery garnered widespread fame when one of its wines won a bronze medal at a competition in Paris. Changes in agriculture caused the industry to disappear from the area for many decades.

In the late 1970s, as interest in grape growing and winemaking surged in Ontario, Austrian Walter Strehn re-established the wine industry on Pelee Island. Vines were imported from Germany and, in 1984, the Pelee Island Winery was built just east of Kingsville. Walter Schmoranz joined the winery in 1985. A native of Germany, Walter was educated and developed his winemaking skills in the Rheingau. He came to Canada for a visit and was captivated by the country, as well as by the opportunity in southern Ontario. After 25 years, he is still passionate about the property and the winery. In the vineyard and in the cellar, he is ably supported by Bruno Friesen, viticulturalist, and Martin Janz, winemaker

Location & Viticulture

Located in Lake Erie and occupying its own viticultural area, Pelee Island is Canada’s most southerly land mass, at 42 degrees north, the same latitude as such well-known wine-growing areas as Burgundy and California’s Napa Valley, making it the ideal location for Pelee Island Winery. This region has the highest heat units in Canada – ideal for ripening delicate Vitis vinifera (winespeak: common grape varieties) – and the longest frost-free growing season in Ontario recorded at 196 days. The island has its own unique microclimate, influenced by its location 25 km offshore and the fact that most of the island is in fact below lake level. The vineyards are located in the centre of the island, where somewhat deeper soils ensure the root systems can become effectively established. The vines on the island are often planted in an east-west direction, taking advantage of the high winds which blow consistently across the vineyards, limiting humidity and associated fungal diseases. Grapes are grown according to the World Wildlife Fund’s strict sustainable vineyard practices, and over 100 acres are certified organic. With over 550 acres under vine, the winery is the largest private estate in Canada.

Deep Dive with Bruno Friesen

There’s something remarkably similar among the privately-owned wineries of Ontario, regardless of size, and that’s the enthusiasm and commitment you find, not only among the family members themselves, but among their staff. At Pelee Island Winery, for instance, President and Winemaster Walter Schmoranz has been making wine and directing the operation for 25 years, Martin Janz, winemaker, joined right out of university in 1996, and Bruno Friesen, viticulturalist, has been with the winery since returning to Canada from Brazil 12 years ago.

What inspires this kind of commitment and enthusiasm? In Bruno’s case, it’s the opportunity to work in a unique agricultural environment and to work with an organization whose owners and leaders are very open to new ideas. “Here, we want people to be happy in what they’re doing—then they put their all into it. And that comes back to the vines as well.”

Bruno is a resident of Pelee Island, with his own garden and greenhouse. He started working with grapes in Vineland as a teenager, went on to obtain a B.Sc. in Agriculture from University of Guelph and then spent several years working in his field, including promoting organic agriculture and grape growing, in his home country of Brazil. When he returned to Canada, he studied various areas of the country that might be of interest, and found Pelee Island particularly attractive – “I wanted to go as far south as I could but still be in Canada” he says humorously! In addition to this, Bruno says he was fascinated by the unique climate, geology and growing conditions on Pelee Island. “It’s one of the best places in Canada to grow grapes, so when the opportunity came up, I was excited to take it.”

For an agriculturalist, each season brings a new growing challenge, and Bruno finds intrinsic reward in his profession. “Putting a seed in the soil and seeing it sprout in the spring . . . that new life gives you great hope. Once you’ve had that experience, you’re hooked.”

As Pelee Island’s viticulturalist, Bruno is at the heart of many of the initiatives taken to maintain the health of the vines and the soils, to experiment with new methods and different crops. The approach is to assess the attributes of the environment, experiment with specific elements, analyse the results, and then implement those practices which are most promising. For instance, a substantial investment has been made in organic agriculture. A variety of crops have been grown to create natural compost to be used on the vineyards. Bruno has learned that the island has a mineral quality that provides ideal nutrition for the vines. Through experimentation, he has discovered that alfalfa is an ideal compost ‘crop’ as it concentrates a variety of nutrients that can be returned to the vineyard soils, optimizing the health of the vines and the quality of the fruit. Similarly, he has 6 acres of Riesling, Cabernet Franc and Bianca under organic cultivation in order to learn how the vines grow under these conditions. And with the first organic crop, there is also experimentation in the cellar with wines from those organic grapes.

In discussing the 2008 vintage, Bruno indicated that the growing conditions in the latter part of the summer of 2008 were quite dry, but that there was rain later in August and a warm fall which gave the grapes a longer period to mature. “We had a good crop and great quality”. Each season is unique, and each varietal offers its own challenges. As an example, Bruno discussed Pinot Gris. “It’s very unpredictable and a bit unstable because it’s a clone of Pinot Noir. It often has difficulty getting started, but once it gets going, it’s fabulous. Depending on the vintage, some years we let it hang, others not.”

If you’re planning to visit the beautiful Lake Erie North Shore, stop for a tour at the Kingsville winery, or take the M.V. Jimaan to Pelee Island Winery’s Pavillon!

Savvy Sommelier Tasting Notes

Pelee Island Winery’s Private Selection Sauvignon Blanc VQA

This Sauvignon Blanc is a treat for the senses, with an intensity and depth of flavour attributed by the winemaker to a brief period of aging in oak casks.

We are excited to bring to you this particular wine as it is one that the winery makes available only to restaurants. During the Savvy Selections panel tasting, our Sommeliers couldn’t believe the price & its quality. We hope that you enjoy it too.

Savvy Sommelier Tasting Notes:  Clear and the palest of straw, this wine has an enticing breadth of aromas—grass, herbs, citrus, minerality and a whiff of orchard fruit. Light-medium bodied and nicely balanced, the aromas replay on the palate, with grapefruit and peel lingering on the finish

Suggested Food Pairing: It’s a lovely sipping wine, but would also pair well with classic matches such as grilled white fish or soft cheeses.

Cellaring: Why wait? Enjoy it now!

Pelee Island Winery’s Pinot Gris Vendange Tardive VQA

Vendange Tardive translates to late harvest & typically you would expect a sweet wine, yet this one is certainly not that, it is crisp & dry. The extended hang time on the vines long after the typical harvest period delivered more intensity of aromas and flavours in the fruit which creates more weight on the palate.

Savvy Sommelier Tasting Notes:  Golden in colour (reminiscent of the colour of peach skin), this wine is as appealing as it is unexpected. Richly aromatic and complex—think of luscious honeyed stone fruit, tropical notes and a hint of nuts—it’s medium bodied with a silky, round texture. Spicy orchard fruit and some hints of heat on the mid palate carry through on the velvety full-flavored finish. Notes of marzipan and nougat linger. Delicious!  

Suggested Food Pairing: We recommend to definitely have at least one glass of this wine on its own to enjoy its texture and flavors. It will pair well with lobster salad, roast chicken with a honey-lemon glaze or chicken tagine. Your tasting panel enjoyed it with the chicken and pear salad provided below.

Cellaring:  Enjoy over the next year or two.

Pelee Island Winery’s Vinedressers Meritage VQA

A classic blend of Bordeaux varietals – Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot & Cabernet Franc – this wine was crafted from hand-selected fully ripened grapes of fifteen year or more old vines, and aged in French and American oak for sixteen months. It joins other premium Vinedressers wines, such as the Shiraz and Cabernet/Petit Verdot that we offered as an optional wine as it received rave reviews when we featured Pelee Island Winery in 2008.

Savvy Sommelier Tasting Notes:  Clean mahogany tones characterize this mellow blend of the Cabernets and Merlot. Lifted aromas of leather, plum, kitchen spice and cedar, as well as alluring earthy autumnal notes drift from the glass. Medium-full bodied and dry, the texture is silky and the palate is awash with dark berry, plum, smoky spice and white pepper. Fine acidity delivers freshness while the pepper and spice provide warmth on a lingering finish. Deftly balanced.

Suggested Food Pairing: Serve with rare prime rib or herbed rack of lamb, or enjoy with hard cheeses.

Cellaring:  Drinking well now.

Pairings for These Pelee Island Wines

With Private Selection Sauvignon Blanc…

Smoked Trout Rosti with lime flavored sour cream

Smoked Trout Rosti with lime-flavored sour cream

From Weekend Cooking, Ricardo Lacroix
Serves 4


3 parsnips, peeled & grated
2 potatoes, peeled & grated
6 Tbsp butter
1/3 C sour cream
1 Tbsp lime juice
2 Tbsp fresh chives, minced
Tabasco sauce, to taste
salt & pepper
¼ lb smoked trout or other smoked fish, thinly sliced
Chives for decoration

  • In bowl, mix parsnips & potatoes, for a total of 4 cups of vegetables. Season with salt & pepper.
  • Divide vegetables into 4 even parts. In a non-stick skillet, melt half the butter over low-medium heat. Add 2 parts vegetables, shaping them into 5” circles. Brown for 10 minutes, flattening well with spatula. Flip over carefully & brown for another 10 minutes. Transfer cooked rösti to plate or serving dish & keep warm. Cook remaining rösti in remaining butter.   
  • In a small bowl, mix sour cream, lime juice, chives & Tabasco. Season with salt & pepper.
  • Place each rosti on a plate. Add a little flavored sour cream & a few slices of smoked fish to each. Decorate with chives & season to taste with salt & pepper. Serve & sip!  

With Pinot Grigio Vendange Tardive….

Baby Greens with Chicken Dried Cherries Pears Pecans

Baby Greens with Chicken, Dried Cherries, Pears & Pecans

From Fine Cooking.com, Lori Longbotham
Serves 4


1 medium clove garlic
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
Freshly ground kosher salt & pepper
1 medium firm-ripe pear, peeled, cored & cut into 1/2” dice
1/3 cup dried tart cherries
8 oz. package mixed baby greens
2 cups shredded cooked chicken
½ C pecan halves, toasted

  • Chop the garlic, sprinkle with ½ tsp salt & mash to a paste with the flat side of a chef’s knife. Put the paste in a large serving bowl & whisk in olive oil, vinegar, thyme and ¼ tsp pepper.
  • Gently stir in the pear & cherries. Add the greens, chicken, pecans and toss to coat.  
  • Season to taste with salt & pepper and serve immediately with crusty bread.

With Vinedresser’s Cabernet Sauvignon…

Bison Bourguignon

Bison Bourguignon

Adapted from Derek Benitz, Benitz Bistro (Ottawa restaurant)
Serves 4


2 Tbsp canola oil
2 lbs. bison stewing meat, or other red stew meat, diced 1”
1 medium cooking onion, diced
2-3 medium carrots, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 C mixed fresh mushrooms, sliced
¼ cup dry porcini mushrooms
3 Tbsp flour
3 sprigs fresh rosemary, leaves only
8 juniper berries (optional)
2 bay leaves
1/3 C + 2 Tbsp Madeira wine, or equal parts port & sherry
1 C red wine
3 C beef stock
salt & pepper to taste
Handful tender baby mixed greens

  • In a hot, heavy Dutch oven, heat canola oil & brown bison well in batches, making sure not to overcrowd (remember Julia Childs!). Transfer meat to a colander placed over a dish to drain & catch juices while browning the remaining meat.
  • In the same Dutch oven, sauté onions, carrots, celery, garlic & sliced mixed and porcini mushrooms. Return meat to Dutch oven and sprinkle with flour. Add herbs & spices in order listed.  
  • Deglaze pot with Madeira, blending well. Add wine, stirring, then add beef stock. Gently bring to simmer, then cover & bake in preheated oven at 325F for 2 hours or until meat is tender.
  • Remove stew from heat and rest 30 minutes before serving. Just before serving, fold in mixed baby greens. Serve with a medley of roasted root vegetables.

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