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Forging a New Identity

Change comes to Trius Winery at Hillebrand

Recipes by Frank Dodd, Executive Chef, Trius Winery Restaurant at Hillebrand

Photography by Jeffery Kirk

  • Executive Chef Frank Dodd in his natural habitat
  • The Wine Country Rib Chop and sides
  • A lineup of Trius Red showcases the evolution of the label from first vintage to present release
  • Winemaker Craig McDonald in the Trius sparkling cellar
  • The dining room at Trius Winery Restaurant
  • Sides of pork await portioning
Trius has evolved from being a single red wine to become a hub showcasing the best of Niagara

Shortly after Craig McDonald took control of winemaking duties at Hillebrand Estates Winery, he realized he had something of a split personality on his hands.

The Niagara-on-the-Lake estate was home to wines made under the Hillebrand label as well as those produced and bottled under the Trius brand.

"Here at the winery, I would be known as Hillebrand's winemaker," says McDonald. "But on trips to western Canada, I would always be introduced as the Trius winemaker."

Hillebrand Winery's history dates back to 1979, when the estate was originally established as Newark Wines. Like the Ontario wine industry, it evolved over the years.

The Trius label was launched in 1989 with the first vintage of a specially blended red wine that is now known as Trius Red. The portfolio expanded to include sparkling wines as well as other offerings including Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Riesling.

The winery's twin existence has become more streamlined in recent months as the iconic Niagara property has been rebranded as Trius Winery at Hillebrand. The more popular and contemporary Trius label has taken the lead while the venerable Hillebrand name has been recast as the source of distinctive single vineyard wines crafted from vineyards owned and operated by the winery's owner Peller Estates.

As brand manager Adine Fabiani explains, "We would get emails from visitors who… wanted to know where they could buy the Trius wines where they lived." The same requests seldom came for Hillebrand's core portfolio.

There was something about the Trius look and label that captured people's imaginations.

Likewise, the growth of the Trius portfolio over recent years to become a significant Canadian brand begged some obvious questions, Fabiani added. If you lived in Alberta and British Columbia and loved Trius wines, you could actually visit Niagara and not know where they were made. The Hillebrand Winery wasn't always closely associated with the Trius brand, despite its longstanding connection.

As a result, the winery and its hospitality program has been reworked to reflect its new identity. Trius has taken the lead, becoming the namesake of the on-site restaurant and tasting room, while Hillebrand has been repositioned.

Trius continues to produce a broad array of wines — including the popular Trius Red and Trius Brut sparkling wine — while Hillebrand has been refocused around the successful Showcase Ghost Creek Riesling to include new single vineyard wines from sites located near the winery. The Hillebrand label now represents small batch wines from clearly defined areas, while Trius can come from a wider selection of vineyards, provided they deliver an expected flavour and aroma profile.

The new reality means a shake-up to the status quo in Niagara. One of the region's longstanding players has had a facelift that promises revitalized life in the coming years.

In the kitchen, however, the name change hasn't affected the culinary philosophy of Frank Dodd, who has served as executive chef at the property since 2006. He continues to offer seasonally inspired menus and maintains a personal commitment to sourcing the finest ingredients from the region and beyond to accentuate the wine country experience for visitors. Staying true to his training at some of the world's finest establishments, including The Savoy and Dorchester Hotels in London, England, Dodd personally cuts his steaks, fillets and other portions. His dedication to his craft has made him one of Niagara's best chefs, who is equally at home turning out high-class comfort food or fine dining dishes. When asked to supply recipes, he quickly settled on two of his most popular selections.

"We started doing Trius burgers on special weekends in the Fall years ago," Dodd explains, of the wine-infused meat patty which is served with the Trius Cabernet Franc. "It's easily one of the most requested items we have. People come from Ohio and beyond year after year to get that burger. I can only imagine the hate mail I'd get if we didn't offer them."

Trius Burger with Icewine Onion Jam
Makes 6 burgers

6 TBsp vegetable oil, divided 90 mL
3 large onions, divided
1 1/2 cups Trius Red 355 mL
3/4 lb ground Sirloin or extra-lean ground beef 375 g
3/4 lb ground Chuck or lean ground beef 375 g
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 cup white sugar 235 mL
1/2 cup brown sugar 120 mL
3/4 cup Vidal Icewine 200 mL
6 - 8 hamburger buns

In a large skillet, HEAT 2 TBsp oil over medium heat. SAUTÉ one chopped onion 5 minutes without browning the onion. ADD Trius Red, reduce heat and continue cooking until wine is reduced to almost nothing and cool. (Chef's Note: This can be done the day before burgers are to be prepared.)

COMBINE ground meats in a large bowl. Add cooled onions, SEASON with salt and pepper. FORM into 6 – 8 patties or use a cookie cutter to create desired shape of burgers. Let burgers rest for at least one hour before grilling.

In large skillet, heat 1/4 cup oil over low heat. SLICE 2 remaining onions. Sauté 5 minutes. Tip onions into a colander to REMOVE any juice. WIPE skillet and place over medium heat for 1 minute. Add white sugar and MELT sugar. (Chef's Note: Be careful as sugar is very hot.) When sugar has melted, add brown sugar. When brown sugar has dissolved, very carefully add Icewine. REDUCE mixture by half, return onions to skillet, reduce heat to low and cook slowly until consistency is a sticky marmalade. Cool.

GRILL burgers and serve on buns, topped with onion jam.

Wine Country Rib Chop

1 rib-chop steak, at least 4 cm thick
1/2 lb butter 25 g
1 tsp canola oil 5 mL
1 garlic clove, skin-on and crushed
1 sprig thyme
Sea salt and ground pepper to taste

Take the steaks out of the refrigerator 2 hours before you're planning to cook and allow them to reach room temperature. Pre-heat oven to 400°F.

HEAT a heavy-based griddle pan or frying pan over medium-high heat. Pat the steak dry with a kitchen towel then SPRINKLE with sea salt and coarse pepper on both sides. PLACE the steak flat-side down into the pan. COOK for 2 minutes on each side until both sides are well browned.

ADD the butter, garlic and thyme to the pan and, when melted, place in pre-heated oven for 8 minutes. REMOVE pan from oven and take the steak out. Leave it somewhere warm to rest for 5–10 minutes before serving.

Buttermilk Onion Rings

2 TBsp hot sauce 30 mL
4 tsp garlic salt 20 mL
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper 5 mL
2 cups buttermilk 475 mL
1 large Vidalia onion, sliced
2 cups flour 475 mL
1 tsp sweet paprika 5 mL
1 quart vegetable, canola or peanut oil for frying 946 mL

In a large bowl, COMBINE the hot sauce, 1 tsp of garlic salt, buttermilk and 1/2 tsp ground black pepper. ADD the sliced onions, cover and place in the refrigerator for one hour.

In a shallow bowl, combine the flour with remaining 3 tsp of garlic salt, 1 tsp paprika and 1/2 tsp of ground black pepper. DREDGE the onions in the seasoned flour evenly and shake off any excess. Put onions back in buttermilk mixture and dredge in flour a second time to create a thick crust.

HEAT the oil until it registers 360°F (180°C) on a deep fry thermometer.

FRY the onions in batches, turning them so they cook evenly and turn golden brown — about 3 minutes per batch. REMOVE the onion rings from the oil and drain on a paper towel.