Stratus Vineyards brings together the traditions of winemaking along with the values of innovation and commitment to environmental sustainability. When you visit Stratus you will experience first-hand the importance of honouring the environment at the winery’s estate, in the vineyard and in the cellar.
The Stratus Vineyards Story
The commitment to sustainable practices is noticeable at every turn when you visit Stratus Vineyards. This winery is intentionally leading edge. On arrival, native plants grace the xeriscape (haven’t heard of this term before? It’s a style of sustainable garden with plants that do not have heavy reliance watering, fertilizer, etc.).
The dramatic glass, steel and wood structure sits lightly on the land and is the first building in Canada as well as the first winery in the world to be LEED certified (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). To achieve this first-of-its-kind status, the building that houses the winery, tasting room and cellar is constructed with a high percentage of recycled materials and super-insulation, the orientation of the windows optimize passive solar heat and light and there is a geothermal heating/cooling system. In the cellar, a pump-less wine-flow system assures gentle handling of the wine while the temperature and humidity in the 1000-barrel cellar are intricately managed through the geothermal system. But the genius behind Stratus Vineyards wines lies with the winemaker: J.L. Groux.
As an aficionado of fine wines and CEO of Teknion, Stratus Vineyards founder David Feldberg had a clear concept for the winery: “We had a vision to make wines of outstanding quality right in our own backyard in Niagara. We wanted a wonderful environment for people who visited our winery to taste our exceptional wines, so they would have a total experience that was out of this world. And we wanted . . . [everything] to operate in accordance with the most sustainable and environmentally friendly practices possible”. To bring this vision to life, David wooed J.L. who was at the time the winemaker at Hillebrand. J.L. consulted with David on the winery concept and design, then joined Stratus Vineyards in 2004 – a year before its official opening. In addition, J.L. brought to Stratus Vineyards his expertise and passion for the art of assemblage – the synergistic blending of varietal wines to create unique, sophisticated and premium wines.
J.L. (Jean-Laurent) Groux is a native of Loire, France who pursued oenology studies in Burgundy and Bordeaux before ‘touring the world’, stopping in a variety of places, including Niagara, to work in wineries and vineyards. He originally visited a family friend in Niagara in 1981, a time when the growth of the wine industry was just beginning. J.L. returned to Niagara several times, increasingly captivated by the changes he saw occurring.
Eventually, J.L. felt compelled to stay, joining Hillebrand, where he worked as winemaker for 15 years. His experience in Bordeaux was the inspiration behind Hillebrand’s highly sought after Trius Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc/Merlot blends. With these wines, his talent for assemblage began to show.
Assemblage is the art of creating a unique blend of wine, selected from the best barrels, to deliver the elusive character of the vintage and the vineyards. “David gave me an irresistible opportunity to be in on the ground floor and be involved in the creation of Stratus Vineyards. And to focus on creating premium wines by taking the art of the blended wine to another level using a wider array of grapes that bring their character to the glass”, explains J.L. Each vintage is unique as reflected in Stratus’ flagship wines: Stratus Red and Stratus White. Once the signature blends have been defined, J.L. turns his attention back to the wines he has sampled to then determine those that will be released as small-batch varietal wines.
J.L. marshalls outstanding raw materials to craft his complex, layered wines and he is very clear about the ultimate source of excellent wine: “Le vin se fait dans le vignoble” (the wine makes itself in the vineyard). When acquired, the 62-acre Niagara-on-the-Lake property was focused on growing grapes for yield rather than quality. While a limited number of vines were retained by the Stratus team – providing fruit from some of the oldest vines in Niagara region – all hybrids and many acres of low producing vitis vinifera vines were ripped out to make way for varieties personally selected by J.L. to craft unique Stratus blends.
A total of 11 red and 7 white grape varieties are now grown on 55 acres of the Stratus estate, Bordeaux varieties joined by the less-commonly seen – Viognier, Marsanne, Mourvèdre, Tempranillo, Sangiovese and Tannat. Great attention has been paid to variations in soil and moisture, as well as the microzones (mini-microclimates in the vineyard) to determine where each will flourish on the estate.
Location. Location. Location.
Stratus Vineyards estate is located on the southeastern border of the Niagara Lakeshore sub-appellation where it benefits from some unique properties. The vineyards are far enough away from Lake Ontario that grapes requiring warmer summer temperatures consistently ripen well, yet, still close enough that the ‘lake effect’ protects the vineyard from early fall frosts. The clay loam sits over a limestone bed, is rich in organic matter and drains what limited rainfall occurs, so the Stratus vines reach deep for moisture in the soil, putting down roots that draw the true essence of the vineyard into the ripening grapes.
Recognizing that the site is conducive to prolific growth, J.L. ensures concentration and quality in the fruit through a variety of ‘low-yield’ practices. These include a modified open-trellis system, cluster management and aggressive fruit thinning. And Status commitment to the environment finds its way into the vineyard as well, with farm equipment run on bio-diesel, residue composted for fertilizer, and the vines grown free of herbicides.
The vines are hand trained and trimmed, the fruit hand picked and sorted by Stratus Vineyards’ small team of vineyard workers. Once pressed, the wine begins its gentle journey through the pump-free and gravity-flow system into steel tanks and/or barrels. J.L. reiterated several times during the interview, “We are patient with our grapes”.
Be sure to visit Stratus Vineyards next time you are in Niagara-on-the-Lake…the experience at the winery is like no other!
Stratus Vineyards Tasting Notes
Great care is taken in the vineyard to ripen to a higher sugar level that results is subtle aromas, then the wine is aged sur lie (winespeak: remains in contact with the yeast) in well-seasoned barrels. “The complex aromas of this wine really evolve in the bottle”, explains J.L.
Savvy Sommelier Tasting Notes: Beautifully crafted and proffering tantalizing rose petal aromas, notes of tropical fruit, melon and exotic spice, this is a dry, spicy, juicy medium-bodied wine. The palate is silky with a touch of warmth, the rich, ripe tropical fruit complemented by clean, fresh acidity that flows through the long, cleansing finish. Absolutely lovely!
Suggested Food Pairing: Classic matches are spicy Asian foods Phad Thai or curries. Susan suggests to enjoy with the roast chicken – with a twist.
Stratus Vineyards Wildass Merlot 2011 VQA, $27.95
The fruit for this wine reflect the warm summer months of the vintage – full ripeness with concentrated sugar and displaying good tannins and acidity. This Merlot was aged 2 years in oak and is a blend of wines from the fruit of original and more recently planted vines.
Savvy Sommelier Tasting Notes: Ripe fruit, sweet spice and hints of smoke waft from the glass of this attractive Merlot. Dry, medium bodied, it’s complex, with oodles of black cherry, black berry and plum notes, spice, vanilla and white pepper mingling with a touch of dried herbs. There’s underlying structure for balance and cellaring, well-integrated oak, and juicy acidity for verve at the finish.
Suggested Food Pairing: Lamb or other roast meats will be a fine match. Susan selected a Lamb Shoulder recipe she enjoyed at a Tinhorn Creek winery on a recent BC wine tour.
Cellaring: This wine will cellar a further 3-5 years.
Stratus Vineyards Tollgate Red 2011 VQA, $26.00
This blend is a unique assemblage of separately vinified and aged Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Syrah and Malbec – all grown on Stratus Vineyards estate. Aged 12 months in barrel, it is designed to be paired with food.
Savvy Sommelier Tasting Notes: Here’s a wonderful red blend that offers intriguing aromas of woodsmoke, cherry/berry, earth and mineral. It’s dry, yet mellow on the palate, offering dark fruit, dried fruit, rich, toasty oak and notions of five spice and dried fruit. Subtly structured, it displays great balance, depth and impact, with a long, full finish.
Suggested Food Pairing: Sip away, or serve with veal chops with a mushroom sauce.
Cellaring: Ready now, it will cellar 3-5 years.
Where do the names come from?
The name Stratus is inspired by a high-atmosphere cloud, as represented on the premium label.
Wildass is the second tier label, is a bit irreverent – as the back label says “full of personality and best enjoyed with friends”.
Tollgate is the restaurant brand, was named for a tollgate historically operated near the winery’s property.
Pairings for Stratus Vineyards Wines
With Stratus Gewürztraminer…
Classic Roast Chicken with a Twist
A Matter of Taste Cookbook by Lucy Waverman & James Chatto
2 Tbsp butter, melted (or olive oil)
4 lb. chicken, butterflied
1 Tbsp chopped tarragon
1 tsp grated lemon rind
2 tsp kosher salt
3 tsp cracked black pepper
2 C. chicken stock
21 tsp tomato paste
Salt & freshly ground pepper to taste
½ tsp chopped tarragon
2 Tbsp butter, diced
- Preheat oven to 400F and brush melted butter (or oil) over chicken skin.
- Season both sides of chicken with tarragon, lemon zest, salt & pepper then lay chicken on a rack in a roasting pan, skin side up.
- Bake for 1 – 1 ½ hours, or until skin is crisp and juices run clear. Transfer chicken to carving board to rest 10 minutes while you make the gravy.
- Remove all fat from roasting pan. Add stock, tomato paste & tarragon to pan, scraping up any bits from bottom of pan.
- Bring gravy to boil over medium heat & boil for 3-4 minutes, or until slightly thickened. Remove from heat & stir in butter until absorbed.
- Season with salt & pepper to taste. Cut chicken into 4 pieces & serve with gravy, roast baby potatoes & asparagus.
Slow Roasted Lamb Shoulder
1 large bone-in lamb shoulder
1 tin anchovies
3 cloves garlic
1 bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley
½ C grainy mustard
½ C extra virgin olive oil
- In a blender, purée anchovies, garlic, parsley, mustard and oil.
- Season lamb with the mixture, rubbing it all over. Place in a baking dish & cover with foil then bake 3-5 hours at 225F, or until the meat falls off the bone.
- Serve with roasted root vegetables.
Roasted Veal Chops with Mushroom Sauce & Truffle Oil
A Matter of Taste Cookbook by Lucy Waverman & James Chatto
WOW your Valentine’s sweetie with this recipe!
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 French-cut Veal chops (about 1 ½” thick)
Salt & freshly ground pepper
2 Tbsp olive oil
6 oz wild mushrooms, trimmed & sliced
1 Tsp finely chopped garlic
¼ C mushroom or beef stock
½ tsp truffle oil
½ C olive oil
12 fresh sage leaves
- Preheat oven to 450F. Heal oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Season veal with salt & pepper.
- Cook chops for about 2 minutes per side, or until browned then transfer to a metal baking dish & bake for 8-12 minutes, or until just pink.
- To prepare mushroom sauce (while veal is cooking), heat 2 Tbsp olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms & sauté for about 3 minutes, or until limp. Add garlic & sauté for 1 minute longer. Add stock & bring to a boil. Drizzle with truffle oil
- Heat oil for garnish in a small skillet over high heat. Add sage leaves & sauté for about 30 seconds or until crisp. Drain on paper towels.
- Serve chops with mushroom sauce & sprinkle with sage leaves.