A couple of days ago, my husband and I drove out to Niagara for the day. As usual I had to stop at a couple of wineries. I just can’t help myself. One stop we made was at Stratus.
As you can see in the picture (which was taken in the summer), the building that houses the winery and hospitality centre looks rather industrial and cold from the outside. Inside it’s the ultimate in state-of-the-art and environmentally friendly design and equipment. The building is LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified. A geothermal system of wells dug deep into the ground uses the earth’s energy for all the winery’s heating and cooling requirements.
The winery uses only gravity flow to move the grapes, must, and finished wine from one place to another in the gentlest manner possible. No harsh pumping is required. The grapes are moved to the top level of the winery by elevator at first and then naturally flow down to the lower levels for their next stage of production, the finished wine ending in the barrel cellar in the basement for aging. When it’s time for bottling the wine is then transported back up by elevator.
The winery and vineyards were founded in 2000 and is owned by a group of investors. The winemaker is J-L Groulx. J-L hails from the Loire Valley in France and trained in Burgundy and Bordeaux before making the trek across the ocean to settle in Niagara. He was the winemaker at Hillebrand for many years before teaming up with winery consultant, Peter Gamble, who is now involved with Ravine Vineyard, to design Stratus.
J-L Groulx believes in long hang times for the grapes in order to maximize ripeness. That was certainly obvious when I walked by the vines last weekend. I was very surprised to see grapes still hanging on in the vineyard surrounding the winery. I was told by the gentleman at the tasting bar that those are “not for icewine.” The grapes are Cabernet Franc meant to be used in the dry table wines. J-L feels that they are not yet ready to be harvested so he is waiting a bit longer for the acidity to drop a bit before picking.
I am always impressed by the wines made at Stratus. Some may feel they are a bit pricey and they may be; however, I believe you’re getting your moneys worth.
Here are the tasting notes from my last trip there:
2008 Stratus Riesling: The grapes grown for this wine come from vineyards high up on the Escarpment. A very pale straw colour with citrus aromas dominating the nose supported by a steely minerality. It’s crisp and refreshing and slightly off dry to balance out the acid. A lovely example of Niagara Peninsula Riesling. I heard that this may be the last vintage Stratus makes this Riesling as they would like to concentrate on the production of the excellent Charles Baker Rieslings.
2006 Stratus White: A blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, and new for 2006, Viognier. The Chardonnay and the Sauvignon Blanc were barrel fermented giving soft and integrated oak characteristics to the wine. This is a beautiful creamy, buttery wine with aromas of tropical fruit, pineapple and apricot. The texture is full-bodied, creamy and soft and lifted with a vibrant acidity. A very long length and a balanced and complex finish make this an excellent wine.
2008 Stratus Gewurztraminer: This wine was finished in seasoned oak to soften it up but not add any oak flavours to the wine. Pronounced aromas of lychee, rose petals, and tropical fruit make this a great example of Gewurztraminer. It’s slightly off-dry and smooth and fruity on the palate. Very delicious.
2007 Stratus Gamay: This big-boy Gamay was aged for 20 months in oak. The hot and dry 2007 produced Gamay grapes that could handle extra oak. A deep ruby colour with intense aromas of cherry, cream soda, white pepper, strawberries and other red berries. It’s quite full-bodied which is unexpected for a Gamay, but there are lots of wild berry, cream soda and white pepper flavours with supple tannins. A pleasant toastiness on the finish. It would be hard to identify this as a Gamay in a blind tasting.
2007 Stratus Cabernet Franc: Another big wine from the superb 2007 vintage. I like this Cabernet Franc for what it doesn’t have. There’s none of that green, stemmy, herbaceous character that Cab Franc can have if not ripened fully which was obviously not a problem in 2007. This wine has a beautiful floral perfume with dark fruit and brown spice – perhaps nutmeg. The ample velvetty tannins could use a bit of time in the cellar, but give it at least 5 years and this will be one spectacular wine!
2006 Petit Verdot: This is another wine that needs some time in the cellar. There are aromas of black olive, smoked meat and ripe dark fruit. There’s still a tart acidity on the palate which will mellow with about 5 more years of aging. I can’t wait to try it then!
2007 Stratus Riesling Icewine: The first sniff of an icewine always makes me melt. The rich, intense aromas do it to me every time. This wine has pronounced aromas of baked pear and spice, apples, and spice cake. It’s luscious and rich on the palate with a vibrant acidity that helps cut the sweetness. A very long length and a delicious wine.
2008 Stratus Icewine Red: It smells just like strawberry-rhubarb pie! There are also supporting aromas and flavours of cranberry, raspberry, and pomegranate. Sweet but balanced with a long, lingering finish.