A Brief History of our “Schatz” at Hessenland Inn

A Brief History of our “Schatz” at Hessenland Inn

The word “Schatz” is the German word meaning “treasure” …. but just like in many other languages, one word has many meanings! In the German language the word “Schatz” is also used as term of endearment…like my dear, my honey, my sweetheart and my darling. So “Schatz” is our “darling” vineyard and winery here at Hessenland.

But let us back up…

 

While attending the University of Guelph, I had the good fortune of spending an autumn semester in the south of France, Villefranche sur Mer to be exact, just on the outskirts of Nice…this place was paradise!

 

It was here under the guidance and teachings of our professor Ron Subden that I really developed a keen interest for wine and a love of the folklore and history that surrounds wine. Ron passed along of information, not only in the classroom, but more importantly over a glass of wine on his veranda 😊!

 

The other more significant event that happened on this semester abroad was meeting my classmate Elizabeth Cabral.  She made quite an impression on me…and perhaps we made an impression on each other…but then we returned to Guelph and that appeared to be the end of that.  Fast forward a few years and we met again at a class reunion …. coincidence, I think not!  A few years later we were married and the rest as they say is history!

…. Alright back to “Schatz” …

 

After graduating from Guelph, I moved back to Germany to complete my chef’s papers over the next 2 years.  During this time, we had opportunities to visit several wine regions, mostly the famous Rheingau Region and sample world class Rieslings. These experiences really embedded the term “terroir”.  Obviously, the region produced other wines, but at the time the Rieslings really stood out. After leaving Germany I returned to Canada to pursue my culinary career.  I spent a couple of seasons with Clublink, worked in Whistler, Switzerland, Australia, travelled in between and eventually returned to Hessenland. While out and about in the world there were always opportunities to taste beautiful wines.

Jumping ahead to around 2012, long time resident, restaurateur and Innkeeper Richard Fitoussi put forward the idea that this area would be suitable for growing grapes. The County of Huron, invested in climate studies, consulted with a number industry professionals to investigate this possibility.  They also hosted many meetings open to the public to get feedback and educate people on this new agricultural prospect…some of those meetings were hosted at our Inn.  Whenever possible I would sit in on these meetings and gather as much information as possible. The thought of one day having a vineyard at our Inn got me extremely excited. Honestly, initially it was just the “romance” of the wine industry that caught my attention…. with limited knowledge regarding what would actually be required to operate and run a vineyard.

 

At that time there were already individuals in our area that had planted grapes and were making wine. In 2013 I met Marc and Anne Alton, from Alton Estates Winery, located south of Forest, Ontario. The Alton’s started planting vines in 2005, Marc allowed me to come out to the winery, help with harvesting, initial processing, pressing etc. getting a first hand look at what is all involved in running a small winery…..there’s a lot! Thank you to Marc and Anne for allowing me to hang out, help and ask a lot of questions.

I met the Londesborough family in 2014, they started planting in 2009 and opened Maelstrom winery in 2013 and were the first winery in Huron County. Their winery is located just outside Seaforth Ontario. They have been very helpful, sharing a lot of their knowledge and “hands on know how” and they also processed our first 2 vintages. Thank you, Catherine, Jim, and Brian, for your words of advice and kind manner.

 

During this time, I also met Lloyd Schmidt…a particularly important individual in our Vineyard & Winery journey.  Lloyd was one of the pioneers in the grape and wine industry both in Ontario and B.C.  Lloyd was a man of great character and a “no nonsense” individual” he was direct and to the point! He was the one that helped me take off my “rose coloured” glasses regarding the wine industry.  He took us around to visit many wineries in Niagara and that allowed us to meet and speak directly with the owners/winemakers and see the “back end” of these operations firsthand.  He also encouraged us to visit the other grape growing regions of Ontario, because they are all different and unique. Lloyd was able to breath some real-life stories and experiences into my warm and fuzzy perception of running a vineyard and eventually a winery. He told me…. you are going to start out small, keep it manageable and grow into it…rather than grow out of it, ie. Going out of business!  He explained the initial capital investments required and the reality of no real returns for several years. Lloyd passed along a lot of his knowledge and wisdom and for that I am incredibly grateful.  We lost Lloyd in February 2019 and miss him dearly.

With the support of my wife Elizabeth and our family we started planning in 2015 and completed our last planting in 2018. We planted approx. 5700 vines, comprised of Frontenac Blanc, Frontenac Gris, La Crescent, Marquette, Petite Pearl, Riesling and single rows of Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc and Siegerrebe. Most of these are cold climate varieties.  Our winters are still extremely cold, and our growing season is shorter than Niagara. Our Vineyard is located less than 500m from the eastern shore of Lake Huron, so I have really learned about and appreciate the term “Mezo or Microclimate”.

 

At its core this is “simply” agriculture…once the plants start producing fruit, the plan is to harvest a healthy and sustainable crop every year.  In order to do this successfully we need to ensure that we plant the right varieties that will excel and thrive in this climate and soil…not just through the growing season, but more importantly survive the dormancy stage throughout our frigid winters.

 

We have managed to keep the vineyard alive for a couple of seasons, and on Oct.5, 2017 we had our first official harvest. Numbers, dates, and names have become an integral part of our story and the naming of our wines.  This first vintage of Petite Pearl was named 15-35…. why you ask?

 

Oct 05th is our wedding anniversary, Liz and I got married on that date 15 years ago back in 2002. It was also on that day 35 years ago that I immigrated from Germany to Canada with my mother Christa.

November of 2017, I had another important and pivotal meeting. I was introduced to Derek Barnett, an extremely well-respected winemaker from Niagara. Derek has decades of experience in the wine industry from Southbrook, to Lailey Vineyards and now his own label Meldville. Derek has a real passion for unintrusive winemaking, both with vinifera and cold climate varieties.  His expertise, knowledge and calming manner are never taken for granted….and most importantly he is just a great guy! Thanks for stepping into our lives; guiding and helping us make some great wines!

 

We have partnered with Dark Horse Estate Winery, located just outside of Grand Bend, to complete the initial processing for us, including, destemming, crushing, and pressing. We are truly fortunate to have this state-of-the-art facility so close to us and very thankful to be able to work with some great people.

 

Our focus going forward is to make great wines with varieties that we feel are most suitable for this climate and soil conditions and define our “terroir”. We see this as a great opportunity to stake our rightful place as one of Ontario’s most exciting grape growing regions. We are still in the very early stages of this vineyard, winery and indeed this region, but from everything we have seen, tasted and experienced from other local growers and wineries, the future looks very bright for Ontario’s newest emerging wine region.

 

Prost and Cheers!

Frank

Chef and Cellar hand

But let us back up…

 

While attending the University of Guelph, I had the good fortune of spending an autumn semester in the south of France, Villefranche sur Mer to be exact, just on the outskirts of Nice…this place was paradise!

 

It was here under the guidance and teachings of our professor Ron Subden that I really developed a keen interest for wine and a love of the folklore and history that surrounds wine. Ron passed along of information, not only in the classroom, but more importantly over a glass of wine on his veranda 😊!

 

The other more significant event that happened on this semester abroad was meeting my classmate Elizabeth Cabral.  She made quite an impression on me…and perhaps we made an impression on each other…but then we returned to Guelph and that appeared to be the end of that.  Fast forward a few years and we met again at a class reunion …. coincidence, I think not!  A few years later we were married and the rest as they say is history!

…. Alright back to “Schatz” …

 

After graduating from Guelph, I moved back to Germany to complete my chef’s papers over the next 2 years.  During this time, we had opportunities to visit several wine regions, mostly the famous Rheingau Region and sample world class Rieslings. These experiences really embedded the term “terroir”.  Obviously, the region produced other wines, but at the time the Rieslings really stood out. After leaving Germany I returned to Canada to pursue my culinary career.  I spent a couple of seasons with Clublink, worked in Whistler, Switzerland, Australia, travelled in between and eventually returned to Hessenland. While out and about in the world there were always opportunities to taste beautiful wines.

Jumping ahead to around 2012, long time resident, restaurateur and Innkeeper Richard Fitoussi put forward the idea that this area would be suitable for growing grapes. The County of Huron, invested in climate studies, consulted with a number industry professionals to investigate this possibility.  They also hosted many meetings open to the public to get feedback and educate people on this new agricultural prospect…some of those meetings were hosted at our Inn.  Whenever possible I would sit in on these meetings and gather as much information as possible. The thought of one day having a vineyard at our Inn got me extremely excited. Honestly, initially it was just the “romance” of the wine industry that caught my attention…. with limited knowledge regarding what would actually be required to operate and run a vineyard.

 

At that time there were already individuals in our area that had planted grapes and were making wine. In 2013 I met Marc and Anne Alton, from Alton Estates Winery, located south of Forest, Ontario. The Alton’s started planting vines in 2005, Marc allowed me to come out to the winery, help with harvesting, initial processing, pressing etc. getting a first hand look at what is all involved in running a small winery…..there’s a lot! Thank you to Marc and Anne for allowing me to hang out, help and ask a lot of questions.

I met the Londesborough family in 2014, they started planting in 2009 and opened Maelstrom winery in 2013 and were the first winery in Huron County. Their winery is located just outside Seaforth Ontario. They have been very helpful, sharing a lot of their knowledge and “hands on know how” and they also processed our first 2 vintages. Thank you, Catherine, Jim, and Brian, for your words of advice and kind manner.

 

During this time, I also met Lloyd Schmidt…a particularly important individual in our Vineyard & Winery journey.  Lloyd was one of the pioneers in the grape and wine industry both in Ontario and B.C.  Lloyd was a man of great character and a “no nonsense” individual” he was direct and to the point! He was the one that helped me take off my “rose coloured” glasses regarding the wine industry.  He took us around to visit many wineries in Niagara and that allowed us to meet and speak directly with the owners/winemakers and see the “back end” of these operations firsthand.  He also encouraged us to visit the other grape growing regions of Ontario, because they are all different and unique. Lloyd was able to breath some real-life stories and experiences into my warm and fuzzy perception of running a vineyard and eventually a winery. He told me…. you are going to start out small, keep it manageable and grow into it…rather than grow out of it, ie. Going out of business!  He explained the initial capital investments required and the reality of no real returns for several years. Lloyd passed along a lot of his knowledge and wisdom and for that I am incredibly grateful.  We lost Lloyd in February 2019 and miss him dearly.

With the support of my wife Elizabeth and our family we started planning in 2015 and completed our last planting in 2018. We planted approx. 5700 vines, comprised of Frontenac Blanc, Frontenac Gris, La Crescent, Marquette, Petite Pearl, Riesling and single rows of Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc and Siegerrebe. Most of these are cold climate varieties.  Our winters are still extremely cold, and our growing season is shorter than Niagara. Our Vineyard is located less than 500m from the eastern shore of Lake Huron, so I have really learned about and appreciate the term “Mezo or Microclimate”.

 

At its core this is “simply” agriculture…once the plants start producing fruit, the plan is to harvest a healthy and sustainable crop every year.  In order to do this successfully we need to ensure that we plant the right varieties that will excel and thrive in this climate and soil…not just through the growing season, but more importantly survive the dormancy stage throughout our frigid winters.

 

We have managed to keep the vineyard alive for a couple of seasons, and on Oct.5, 2017 we had our first official harvest. Numbers, dates, and names have become an integral part of our story and the naming of our wines.  This first vintage of Petite Pearl was named 15-35…. why you ask?

 

Oct 05th is our wedding anniversary, Liz and I got married on that date 15 years ago back in 2002. It was also on that day 35 years ago that I immigrated from Germany to Canada with my mother Christa.

November of 2017, I had another important and pivotal meeting. I was introduced to Derek Barnett, an extremely well-respected winemaker from Niagara. Derek has decades of experience in the wine industry from Southbrook, to Lailey Vineyards and now his own label Meldville. Derek has a real passion for unintrusive winemaking, both with vinifera and cold climate varieties.  His expertise, knowledge and calming manner are never taken for granted….and most importantly he is just a great guy! Thanks for stepping into our lives; guiding and helping us make some great wines!

 

We have partnered with Dark Horse Estate Winery, located just outside of Grand Bend, to complete the initial processing for us, including, destemming, crushing, and pressing. We are truly fortunate to have this state-of-the-art facility so close to us and very thankful to be able to work with some great people.

 

Our focus going forward is to make great wines with varieties that we feel are most suitable for this climate and soil conditions and define our “terroir”. We see this as a great opportunity to stake our rightful place as one of Ontario’s most exciting grape growing regions. We are still in the very early stages of this vineyard, winery and indeed this region, but from everything we have seen, tasted and experienced from other local growers and wineries, the future looks very bright for Ontario’s newest emerging wine region.

 

Prost and Cheers!

Frank

Chef and Cellar hand

Schatz Winery

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