A Kiwi puts down roots in Niagara
- Site Inspection: Ross Wise is getting a handle on the distinctive flavours that come from different parts of the vineyard at Flat Rock
Ross Wise, Winemaker
Flat Rock Cellars
Location, Jordan, Ont.
Ross Wise discovered his love for Pinot Noir while working at Felton Road in Central Otago. But the New Zealand native fell even harder for the capricious grape after a stint at Flat Rock Cellars. The potential for the estate’s Pinot as well as its Riesling and Chardonnay inspired him to call it home, although his Canadian wife might have also factored into that equation.
Winemakers have often said that harvest is the best of times and the worst of times. Do you agree?
Eighty percent of the winemaking process happens during that period, so it’s the most fun part. Everyone’s covered in mud, but it builds a great team atmosphere. It’s amazing how much beer can be consumed by a small group of people in a period of eight to 10 weeks.
You are entering your third vintage at Flat Rock. Do you have a handle on what the vineyard can give you?
I’m not a lab-based winemaker, I’m based on taste and that starts in the vineyard. In 2009, that was the big learning curve for me, finding where the flavours in the grapes changed depending on the profile and slope of the vineyard. In 2010, I had a chance to refine that knowledge even more. I am starting to have my favourite parts of the vineyard, but you could do this job for 30 years and still have a new challenge.
What is it about Pinot Noir here that excited you about this project?
We could make 15 different Pinot Noirs from this property each year. To have so many different terroirs on the property is a lot of fun. It’s a lot of work too. I think it’s a variety that demands the most work. It certainly makes you work for it. I worry about it more than anything else. I think Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are just finding their feet, but are getting better all the time.
What’s the best thing about your new home?
A lot of it is the soil and how that quality imparts itself on the wine. Sure the climate gives you challenges, but that’s part of the fun too. There are variations row to row, block to block. In New Zealand, the whole block has the same soil. Subtleties are what makes it more fun. The smaller size of the winery really allows you to work with that. And, I like the winter. Shovelling snow is still a novelty to me.