July 2, 2003, The Toronto Star, Gord on Grapes (auth. Gordon Stimmel)
My mission in Niagara was to survey new experimental grape plantings, including very exciting results from syrah vines at several locations. And I wanted to follow up on the revolutionary use of Canadian oak for winemaking at six wineries.
Derek Barnett of Lailey Vineyard was the first winemaker to commercially release a wine fermented and aged in Canadian oak. The pioneers were cardiac surgeon Dr. Jim Hedges and biologist-geologist Dr. Mike Risk, who did the first experiments with wine in tiny barrels in 1999.
Barnett now has five wines a chardonnay, pinot noir, cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon and vidal icewine aged in Canadian barrels. The oak species is the same as American oak, but tighter grained wood means it tastes more like French Vosges oak. Barnett says it shows a fennel and licorice root character but is being fine-tuned.
The wood is grown, harvested, air-dried and milled near Ancaster, then shipped to Missouri coopers, and the finished barrels are sent back to Canada. Marynissen, Malivoire, Thirty Bench, Featherstone and Lenko wineries are now conducting trials.
The 2002 Lailey wines are slated for release in September, with a chardonnay ($29) and a pinot noir ($35). I rated both 90 in barrel tastings at the winery.