What’s the perfect pairing?
In the food and wine business, we like to say ‘what grows together, goes together’.
Some examples? Spring strawberries and rhubarb (the best sweet/sour pie pairing ever), savoury Beef Bourguignon and red Burgundy (classic earthy flavours and aromas) and crisp, minerally Sancerre and creamy Crottin de Chavignol cheese (quintessentially Loire). While it’s true, this rule of thumb is often applied to food and wine, I’d argue ‘a perfect wine pairing’ extends to other kinds of collaborations. Like the for-profit / not-for-profit 10-year-vintage blend of Stratus Wines and Evergreen; a fruitful pairing that goes together, has grown together and places people, sustainability and innovation at the centre of their shared vision.
Stratus and Evergreen’s Sweet Pairing
Evergreen – and it’s marquee sustainability site, the Evergreen Brick Works – is my second home here in Toronto. It’s a gloriously green, 40-acre urban reclamation space steeped in the city’s brick-making history and reborn as an ecological land-stewardship site. It’s where I walk my dog, volunteer (above), attend visionary city-building conferences and shop for local produce and made-in-Ontario, VQA wine! Over the years, Evergreen’s green utopia has definitely contributed to my happiness index, growing exponentially when Toronto’s pandemic lockdown was implemented many months ago!
Stratus Vineyards – one of Canada’s most awarded and forward-thinking Niagara wineries – is the other half of this equation. Stratus and Evergreen have been partners in sustainability since the Brick Works opened its doors. Certified sustainable with a strong social responsibility mindset, Stratus has been selling their wines at the Brick Work’s famous Saturday Farmer’s Market since the Ontario government made this pairing legal in 2013. This year, however, with a COVID induced late start to the market, mandated reductions in attendance and the cancellation of hundreds of Evergreen Brick Work’s events, Stratus has stepped up their commitment.
The result is the Evergreen Wine Collection – a mixed case of 6 wines including Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot. All of the wines are produced using Stratus grapes and all are made at their inspiring Niagara-on-the-Lake winery. The wines are pure Stratus quality, VQA approved and reflect Evergreen and Stratus’s mutual commitment to sustainability. For every case of 6 Evergreen wines sold ($149), Stratus donates $25 back to Evergreen. They also throw in two complimentary tasting flights. So, by drinking ‘green’ you’re helping ‘green’ Canadian cities and support one of Canada’s most innovative and progressive charities.
How to order, you ask? Visit Stratus’s online store here!
Stratus will deliver these wines directly to your door or you can pick up the wine at the Evergreen Brick Work’s. Of course, if you need a Niagara vinous getaway, you can pick up your 6 or 12 pack (!) at the Stratus Winery and enjoy that complimentary Stratus tasting.
In Pursuit of a Common Goal… Meet the Players
Evergreen was both borne out of a vision to make cities healthy, more resilient, low carbon and sustainable at their core.
A Canadian charity started in 1991, Evergreen’s goals align with the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals for Sustainable Cities and Communities (SDG #11).
Evergreen creates amazing green spaces, supports the well-being of local businesses and communities and is leading the charge around building flourishing, sustainable, resilient cities. It’s ground zero for Future Cities Canada, an idea incubator and national collaborative of top foundations with a mandate to accelerate inclusive innovation in our cities. It’s also an educational institute, children’s nature centre, interpretive space, showcase for green design and a canvas for celebrating indigenous roots, diverse communities and sharing the importance of local food systems.
The hub of these ideals – is Toronto’s Evergreen Brick Works. Nestled in Toronto’s Don Valley, it includes more than 40 acres (16 hectares) of forest, nature trails, ravines, gardens and ponds. The 53,000 square foot brick-making factory – built in 1889 – has been transformed into the TD Future Cities Centre, featuring design that respects and reflects the industrial heritage of the site.
The Evergreen team runs some 80 community projects out of the LEED Platinum certified Centre for Green Cities building. Administered by the Canada Green Building Council (CaGBC), LEED certified buildings save money, are resource efficient, use less water, less energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions!
Evergreen Brick Work’s also hosts community-minded organizations like the Ontario Culinary Tourism Alliance and is home to Café Belong – a LEAF certified – (Leaders in Environmentally Accountable Foodservice) “Feast On” restaurant – recognized for local sourcing and its circle of sustainability. Of course, the farmers’ market – started in 2007 – has grown to become the largest Saturday and Sunday market in Toronto and is a staple for building a resilient local food system.
We need thought leaders and visionary organizations like Evergreen to thrive because we need our cities to thrive. Partners like Stratus help make that happen. Thirsty yet?
Stratus: Quality, Sustainability, Design
To understand Stratus’s commitment, you need to understand where the wine comes from.
Stratus is located in Niagara on the Lake (NOTL), a regional appellation hugging the south-eastern Niagara Peninsula wine region in Ontario. You’ll find 36 of the 87 Niagara wineries here, a destination rich in culture, gastronomy and raw, natural beauty.
With weather moderated by the Niagara Escarpment and 400-meter-deep Lake Ontario, the NOTL grape growing belt benefits from a climate that’s not too warm in summer and not too cold in winter. Described as “continental”, offering ‘cool climate’ growing conditions, the area boasts plenty of lake-affect winds, sunshine hours and heat units (1563 GDD for those who like a temperature-based metric with their wine). That combination of solar radiation, heat and wind provides perfect conditions for ripening grapes.
NOTL’s vineyards also lie adjacent to the world-famous Niagara Falls river canyon. Not surprisingly the limestone-based wonder of the world shares its diverse glacial soils with the NOTL wine region.
Add it up, and the appellation offers a terroir and extended growing season that promises ripe, full flavour grape development and wines with vibrant natural acidity…. the perfect conditions for growing a wide assortment of grapes and fresh, food-friendly wines.
Thoughtfully Grown Wine
Stratus put down roots on the outskirts of the charming community of Niagara on the Lake in 2000, opening their winery in 2005. Owner David Felberg, CEO of the internationally acclaimed workplace furniture design company Teknion, decided this wouldn’t be just another winery. Stratus’s founding principles would align with the deep-rooted values and sustainable development goals of Teknion, incorporating cutting edge innovation, sustainable design, positive change and social responsibility.
Five years after their first plantings, Stratus opened the world’s first LEED certified winery. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. It raised the bar and set a new standard for functionality and sustainability in wine production. “We wanted the winemaking process, the winery and the rest of our facility to operate in accordance with the most sustainable and environmentally friendly practices possible,” David Feldberg said.
The defining feature of the winery is the gravity flow winemaking feature which ensures kinder, gentler handling of the grapes. According to winemaker J-L (Jean-Laurent) Groux, eliminating pumps means less bruising and oxidation of grapes. “400 years ago there were no pumps,” he says pragmatically, as he tours a group of socially distanced wine club members (and me!) around the vineyard. “We’ve essentially created a virtual hillside, but instead we use elevators in our multi-level winery and they do all the heavy lifting.”
J-L Groux is a bit of a legend in the Ontario wine community. Raised in the Loire, schooled in Burgundy and Bordeaux, he brings an old-world sensibility and minimalist approach to wine making.
Sustainability is both a mindset and a practice, he says, and it extends from the vineyard to the shelf. “We take things from the vineyard – specifically, the juice from the grapes – but then we put it back through the pomace – the skin, the pips, the stems – in the form of compost. And then we also add biochar to the vines – organic charcoal produced from pruned vine limbs and trunks that’s rich in nutrients and carbon.”
Biochar is a highly valuable but under-utilized carbon sequestration tool that’s just starting to catch on in vineyards around the world. “Our biochar education and practices come from our fabulous Jamaican vineyard team,” says J-L. “They’ve been using these agricultural treatments forever, so we’re letting them take the lead.”
In the fall, Stratus also adds straw to the rows. “It brings organic matter and potassium back to the vineyard and keeps the soil open so the micro-organisms can breathe,” J-L advises.
Thoughtful vineyard management is about ‘give and take’, he says as he leads us up rows of netted vines. “Did you know grapes were designed for birds and not humans,” he asks, noting the distant rumble and shaking ground is a bird cannon and not a holdover from the war of 1812. “It seems birds like the red and sweet grapes of fall too, so although we wrap nets around the fruit, we make sure the birds get their share,” he adds with a wink.
J-L eschews the controversial term ‘natural’ winemaking. “I prefer to call it ‘traditional’ winemaking. Our goal is to produce the best possible wine with the smallest environmental footprint,” he says.
“We’re all about taste, quality, climate. And, we’re certified Sustainable (*Sustainable Winemaking Ontario) in our vineyards and winery. These are the things that are important to us.”
To craft the famous Stratus Red and Stratus White assemblage blends that Stratus is known for – you need diversity. Stratus Vineyards has 55 acres of vines (~23 hectares) parcelled into 44 distinct blocks. They grow 16 grape varietals at their estate – 10 red and 6 white – which they use in their blends and single-varietal, small-lot wines. “In the middle ages they understood very well that diversity in the vineyard creates complexity in wine, and that’s the model we follow,” says J-L.
Stratus also boasts a unique collaboration and collection of Rieslings sourced from hillside vineyards in the Niagara Escarpment region of the Niagara Peninsula. Under the ‘Charles Baker’ brand name (their Director of Sales), the wines are built on natural, cool climate acidity and produced with the same minimal intervention style of winemaking. These Rieslings join the Stratus signature assemblage and single-varietal wines as jewels of the Niagara region, expressing the exceptional quality and character of the wines and the winery.
“The wine we grow is dependent on the health of the land on which it is grown. We farm our vineyard and guide our winemaking as though our children’s future depends on it. Each vintage bottled is a reflection of this ongoing commitment.”
Stratus Environmental Mission Statement
I LOVE a winery with an Environmental Mission Statement.
They are, unfortunately, all too rare. Yet, the wine industry has a significant impact on the environment as do all types of agriculture.
This amazing pairing of Stratus and Evergreen is a fabulous example of sustainability in action and wine that’s creating positive change. You can see the breadth of Stratus’s sustainability on the Instagram posting above and you can meet them at the Saturday Farmer’s Market at Evergreen Brick Works. In the meantime, here’s a summary of the delicious Evergreen wines you can look forward to tasting:
Evergreen Riesling – 2017 Stratus Vineyards – VQA Niagara Peninsula – 10.3% ABV
This bright and zesty Niagara Riesling offers notes of green apple, white peach and honey with a distinct lime, citrus edge. Benchmark wet stone minerality and a lanolin texture frames this low alcohol, nicely balanced wine . Enjoy with dijon and maple grilled salmon.
Evergreen Merlot – 2018 Stratus Vineyards – VQA Niagara on the Lake – 12.6% ABV
A fresh, beautifully balanced, medium-bodied merlot that’s all about vineyard fruit. Sweet black cherry and black plum notes combine with a touch of sweet clove spice on the finish. An elegant, silky mouthfeel makes this a real Evergreen gem. Enjoy as a lovely fall pairing with roasted butternut squash and walnut risotto.
Evergreen Sauvignon Blanc – 2018 Stratus Vineyards – VQA Ontario – 12.0% ABV
On the nose – wow – gooseberry, elderflower, layers of citrus and a pleasant grassy freshness. The palate follows with lime zest, green apple, grapefruit and more herbal zingy goodness. Enjoy with a spicy Thai green chicken curry or lemon garlic shrimp pasta.
*Sustainable Winemaking Ontario Certified (SWO)
Established in 2007, Sustainable Winemaking Ontario Certified (SWO) recognizes the wineries and growers committed to enhancing the environment by using sustainable practices in their wineries and vineyards. In 2017, a third-party audit was added to the program ensuring validity for certification. To be certified, participating wineries are audited annually to ensure they are adhering to environmentally sustainable practices in their winemaking operations. Best practices include conservation of water, reduction in waste and waste water and implementation of energy efficiency programs including use of sustainable power sources.
Certified Ontario wineries must demonstrate community leadership, social responsibility and must be a good neighbour. SWO wineries must also produce VQA wines, which are always made from 100% locally grown grapes. There are currently 12 SWO certified wineries in Ontario and 6 wineries – Stratus, Southbrook, Malivoire, Pelee Island, Cavespring and Henry of Pelham and certified for their vineyard and winemaking operations.