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Seeing Red

A New Vision for Hillebrand Winery

  • Cellar-worthy: McDonald looks forward to taking Trius Red into the future, by crafting wines with subtle power and restraint.
  • Trius Red cellar
 

Craig McDonald
Hillebrand Winery
Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario

As a self-proclaimed gut-driven winemaker, rather than a scientist, Craig McDonald has kept an open mind during his first few harvests as head winemaker for Hillebrand Winery. The native Australian spent as much time as possible in the vineyards while taking over the reins at the winery that just brought Gretzky Wine Estates into its portfolio, hoping to develop a feel for vineyard and wine potential. He’s happy with the results from his nearly two years at one of the most fruitful wineries in Ontario, but braving new ground is one thing — facing the Canadian cold is quite another.

How do red wines fit into the Hillebrand portfolio?
Reds have always been top of mind, especially when you become the custodian of an icon wine like Trius Red. We have a dedicated winemaking, vineyard and cellar team who all understand the importance of our red winemaking program. Truth is, we are all excited about red wine potential in Ontario and as our vineyards get older and more quality focused we start to see improved results.

How has Trius Red evolved under your direction?
Darryl Brooker (Cedar-Creek Estate Winery) and J-L Groux (Stratus Vineyards) both did fantastic things for both Hillebrand and the whole industry through Trius Red. As a lifelong student of wine I try to respect and honour the past but look to the future. My style will see a balance of approachability and long-term cellar potential. The best of both worlds; showing subtle power, but restraint. Just wait for 2010, mate!

Which red varieties do you believe do best in the Niagara region?
Time and time again Pinot Noir and Merlot seem to overdeliver. Merlot is a little cold sensitive, but gives the winemaker so many options as a stand-alone wine or to add complexity to a blend. Cabernet Franc is our workhorse, but sometimes gets a bad rap because it can overcrop. Gamay is an underdog that I’d champion also.

How have you acclimatized to the Canadian winter?
I try to do what all people in Ontario do well — work all the time. Before you know it, it’s March. We are kind of lucky in Niagara because the lake and the Niagara Escarpment keep us relatively mild. I really like a fresh run outside on a crisp clear morning, but loathe being stuck in traffic during a snowstorm, especially without winter tires that I’m always late to put on.



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