Trius Winery Cabernet Franc 2017

Mention the word “Niagara” and the first thing that occurs to most people is Niagara Falls, of course. But this region, which straddles both the United States and Canada, is becoming increasingly well known for the quality of its wines.

Founded in 1979 by teacher, engineer, grape farmer,  and amateur winemaker Joe Pohorly on his family farm, Newark was the third winery at the beginning of the industry on the Niagara peninsula (after Inniskillin [1974] and Chateau des Charmes [1978]).

In 1982, Pohorly sold a majority share of the winery to a German company which changed the name to Hillebrand Estate Winery.   In 1983, Hillebrand was the first Ontario winery to successfully make icewine.  As icewine originated in Germany, I assume this was what the buyers had in mind for the acquisition.

In 1989, Hillebrand released Trius Red for the first time.  Inspired by Bordeaux blends, it was made from the winery’s best Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot grapes.  Just two years later, in 1991, Trius Red was the first-ever Canadian wine named as the ‘Best Red Wine in the World’ at the International Wine and Spirits Competition in London, England.  The accolade marked an important step not only for the winery, but for the Canadian wine industry as a whole, sending a signal that the country’s wines could stand on their own against Old World wines.

Trius Winery, as Hillebrand was renamed in 2012,  is located in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, in the Niagara Escarpment AVA.  Long a cherry-growing area, about 30 years ago grapes began being widely planted there. Because of its northern location, at first glance this region hardly seems suited to quality winemaking.  However, the climate is moderated by lake effect* from Lake Ontario.  Also, the Niagara Escarpment, an approximately 600-foot-high ridge that runs from east to west through the Great Lakes, retards winds coming off the lake. This makes for good air circulation and helps protect the local vineyards from frost and disease. (The escarpment is most famous as the cliff over which the Niagara River plunges at Niagara Falls.)

Nestled between the Niagara escarpment and Lake Ontario, Trius produces BC VQA** wines from grapes grown in the four appellations of Niagara-on-the-Lake, including Niagara River, Niagara Lakeshore, Four Mile Creek, and St. David’s Bench.

Photo: Emil Istrofor

Photo: Chen Shen

Photo: Emil Istrofor

The Winemaker

Australian Craig McDonald has worked at wineries in Australia, New Zealand, Spain, Oregon, and California. At one point on a trip to visit friends in Toronto, he made a quick detour to Niagara to check out the wine scene there. He was surprised by and impressed with what he saw and tasted. One of the wines he discovered on that trip was Trius Red.

McDonald became winemaker at Trius in 2010.  He noted, “I’m inspired by the fact that as a wine region we have so much untapped potential. Ontario wines keep getting better every year, despite the arduous conditions and challenges we constantly face. There is no sameness to our seasons, and we’re constantly adjusting our approach from grape growing right through the winery to blending.”

The Corporate Overlord

Trius is part of the Andrew Peller Ltd. conglomerate, which also controls Sandhill, Wayne Gretzky Estates, Red Rooster Winery, Calona Vineyards, Thirty Bench Wine Makers, Black Hills Estate, Gray Monk Estate Winery, and Tinhorn Creek Vineyards

Andrew Peller first arrived in Canada from Hungary in 1927 to pursue his dream that Canadians, like Europeans, could produce premium quality wines.  (How he came to that radical conclusion, I have no idea.) To that end, he finally established Andrés Wines Ltd. in 1961. In 1964, operations were established in Calgary, Alberta and in Truro, Nova Scotia. In 1970 Andrés purchased Beau Chatel Wines in Winona, Ontario. In 1974 Andrés moved into Quebec with the founding of Les Vins Andrés in St. Hyacinthe. In 1975 Andrés bought the Valley Rouge Winery located in Morris, Manitoba. In 1994 Andrés acquired Hillebrand Estates Winery, which eventually would become Trius.  2006 marked the 46th year of the company, and the name was changed from Andrés Wines Ltd. to Andrew Peller Ltd. in honor of the founder.

Trius Cabernet Franc 2017

Cabernet Franc is often used as a blending grape, but here it stands alone.  This medium-bodied wine was aged in a combination of French and American oak.  It pours a deep but transparent red.  The nose has bright cherry, a hint of spice (anise), and some subtle earthy notes.  It’s quite dry and rather lean on the tongue, with flavors of blackberry, cherries, and pencil shavings.  There are robust black-tea tannins.  It ends in a medium finish with a bit of cranberry bitterness.  ABV is an approachable 13%.

For now, Trius’ wines are unobtainable outside of Canada since the borders have been closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.  Hopefully this restriction will be lifted by 2022 at the latest.

* As the spring growing season begins, the lake’s cooling effect retards the vines from budding until the spring frost season is over. The lake stores daytime heat as the growing season continues. The effect of the warming water lessens the variation between day and night temperatures, which can lengthen the growing season by as much as four weeks. As summer draws to an end, the stored warmth of the lake water delays frost that might damage  the vines or fruit in the early fall. In winter, the lake also causes heavy, moist snowfall, which blankets the vineyards, insulating and protecting the vines from the frigid air.

** BC VQA (Vintners Quality Alliance) is the appellation of origin and quality standard for British Columbia wine, established in 1990.  It has since been expanded to cover wines from Ontario as well.  BC VQA certified wines must meet standards with respect to their origin, vintage, and varietals.

Top of page:

Keenan Winery Cabernet Franc 2012

Keenan Winery Cabernet FrancAs a reviewer and source of reliable information, I am supposed to be as objective and unbiased as possible. But not today.  Keenan wines have long been some of my favorites. If you need impartiality, please come back soon.  If not, read on.

Certain that mountain-side vineyards in Napa Valley could produce world class wines, in 1974 Robert Keenan purchased 180 acres in the Spring Mountain District at an elevation of 1700 feet. Located on the eastern slope of the Mayacamas mountain range, Spring Mountain District gained recognition as an American Vineyard Appellation (AVA) in 1993. The low vigor soils unique to the region were known to create a stressful environment for vine growth, setting up perfect conditions to encourage vineyards planted on the steep, rocky, mountainsides to produce wines of great concentration, structure, and pure varietal flavors.

The original acreage Keenan acquired included the crumbling Peter Conradi Winery, founded in the late 19th century and one of the first pioneering properties established on Spring Mountain. Peter Conradi had originally planted the vineyards to Zinfandel and Syrah, but they declined when the property was abandoned during Prohibition, and by the time Keenan arrived in 1974, none of the original vineyards were producing. Keenan cleared the estate of tree stumps and rocks, extended the original vineyard acreage, and replanted the property to Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. He built a new winery using the existing stone walls from the old Conradi building, and brought in Keenan Winery’s first harvest there in 1977.

Like many such operations, the winery is a collaborative affair. Keenan’s son, Michael, took over leadership of the estate in 1998. As a young boy, he was eager to learn about winemaking and began honing his winemaking skills “on the job” under the leadership of his father, as well as renowned winemaker Joe Cafaro. Michael Keenan works in concert with General Manager Matt Gardner, Cellar Master Aristeo Garcia Martinez, and Assistant Cellar Master Ricardo Segura. Matt has been with the estate since 1995. Together, they establish winemaking protocols, aging, and the finished style of Keenan wines.


In the tasting room and winery itself, Michael’s wife and Artistic Director Jennifer Keenan ensures that visitors enjoy the full experience of the winery through her creative and playful interior design and sumptuous event design. She is responsible for the classic Keenan image and created the unique label design for the brand.

The Keenan’s son, Reilly, predictably has been immersed in wine culture from a very early age. He became a member of the team at age sixteen, and works during grape harvesting, hosts tastings for visitors on the estate, pours for wine events, and is the dedicated point person for many consumer and trade events.

Under Michael Keenan’s supervision, the vineyards have been systematically replanted to increase grape quality. The program focused on increasing soil health throughout the vineyards, using superior farming methods combined with organic compost and cover crops. Matching each varietal clone to its optimum location, every acre is sustainably farmed and planted with specially selected rootstock. In addition, close attention has been given to row orientation on each site, combined with efficient irrigation. The winemaking team takes a conservative approach, to encourage the varietal flavors to stand out in each bottle of wine.


Keenan Winery produces four wines exclusively from grapes grown on the Spring Mountain Estate: Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, Cabernet Franc, and a Merlot Reserve from the Mailbox Vineyard. Keenan also offers wines produced from estate fruit blended with grapes grown in carefully selected Napa Valley vineyards: Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, and the Mernet Reserve, which is a proprietary blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc. The Summer Blend, an annual spring release, is composed of mostly Chardonnay and blended with small amounts of Viognier and Albarino.

Keenan Winery Cabernet Franc 2012

This wine was produced exclusively from grapes grown on the Keenan Estate located in Napa Valley’s Spring Mountain District. The fruit was hand-picked then, after de-stemming, the must was inoculated with Montrachet yeast and fermented in stainless steel tanks. The wine aged in French and American oak barrels for twenty months.

A dark plum color in the glass, this Cabernet Franc has a nose of blackberries, black currant, and a hint of leather.  This is followed by tastes of bing cherries, and a bit of cedar, cocoa, and dust. There is snappy acidity and somewhat recessive tannins, all wrapped up in a medium to long finish.  Let this wine breath for two hours for maximum enjoyment.

Serve with Chicken Vesuvio, Rabbit with Mustard Sauce, or Beef Tenderloin with Bordelaise Sauce.

Top of page:

Viader Proprietary Red Blend

Viader Vineyards and WineryAlthough I’ve never met Delia Viader, founder of Viader Vineyards and Winery, she is by all accounts quite a remarkable woman.

She was born in 1958, the first child of a wealthy Argentinian engineer, Walter Viader. In addition to his expertise in aerodynamics and telecommunications, he also traveled the world as a diplomatic attaché. As soon as Delia could read, her parents encouraged her to pursue her innate curiosity, recommending a number of books which they could discuss together.

When Delia was five years old, she was sent to a German girl’s boarding school, where she would receive the beginning of her formal education over the next twelve years. It was a thoroughly classical curriculum, including learning ancient Greek and Latin for Mass. She also gained a fluency in English, German, Italian, French, Spanish, and Portugese. And she remained very inquisitive. As she has said about her never-ending questioning, “I guess I had no fear. I always asked, politely, ‘And why is it this way, and not that way?’ I wasn’t being rude; I just had questions, because the nuns only provided beginnings, which led to my many more questions about everything.”

In Latin American cultures, a young girl’s fifteenth birthday is marked by a quinceañera, the traditional celebration (usually a Mass followed by a big party) which symbolizes her transition from childhood to adulthood. Already the shrewd investor, Delia told her father that she had no interest in something so fleeting as a party, but rather wanted to use the money to buy land. “I want to get a piece of dune by the beach with a view of the ocean,” she announced. He was at first taken aback, but her father agreed. When they went to visit the property Delia had in mind, Walter paid for her lot, and purchased the one next to it for himself as well.

After boarding school, Delia was off to Paris. There at the Sorbonne, she took a Ph .D. in philosophy, with a concentration in logic. While still at university, she married her sweetheart of four years. At just 19-years-old, she bore a son, Paul, who was born with Down syndrome. “When Paul was born, that definitely made me realize that there is a purpose in life,” she emphasizes. By the time she graduated, she had two additional children and the marriage had ended.

Casting about for her next act, she asked her father to pay for three more years of education at MIT, where one of her younger brothers, Walter Jr., was already enrolled. Always the doting father, Walter agreed, and Delia was accepted into the Executive Financial program at MIT’s Sloan School of Management.

After MIT, she and Walter Jr. decided to move to California. She immediately fell in love with Napa Valley, but just for the beauty of the area, rather than any winemaking ambition. However, in 1985 Walter Sr. was approached by a local he had met about forming a partnership to develop a parcel of land on Howell Mountain by planting a vineyard and creating a winery. But Delia had another idea. She said, “Dad, if you put up the money, I think I can make this work by myself.” When her father replied, “After all the money I poured into your education, all you want is to become a farmer?” she assured him, “Yes, Dad.”

And so Viader Vineyards and Winery was launched. Delia drew up a comprehensive business plan, as her father’s money was an investment rather than a gift.

Delia soon discovered that preparing the property to become a vineyard was going to be a big challenge. The place was nothing but mottled rock and poison oak, on a steep hillside. Knowing she would need expert help, she quickly assembled a top-notch team. The first task was preparing the soil itself. To make it suitable for planting, “low to the ground” explosives, followed by jackhammers, were used to break up the most stubborn rock outcroppings.

Next came vineyard layout. At that time, most vines grew on the Napa Valley floor. The few hillside vineyards were terraced, running in a north to south orientation. Because of cost, the fear of erosion, and her instinct for the vines from her years in France, Delia rejected terracing. Instead, the rows were planted up and down the mountain, with an east to west orientation, which allows for more even distribution of sunlight. Although quite innovative at the time, this sort of layout has become commonplace for hillside sites in Napa today.

In addition, Delia and her team opted for a high-density planting of 2,200 vines per acre. 1,800 or less is more the norm. There are cover crops between rows. As is done in Burgundy rather than California, the hanging fruit zone is much closer to the ground. Because of this, the grapes have to be hand harvested, with the workers toiling on their knees. This is always done at night, further increasing the effort. But low-hanging grape clusters also mean that the fruit benefits from heat radiated from the volcanic rock in the soil right after sunset. The cumulative effect is that the grapes mature seven to fourteen days ahead of neighboring properties, and well before the late-autumn rains that can ruin a harvest.

As the vineyard was being established, the next task was to build a home for her family, a higher priority than the winery itself. (For her company’s first 11 years, production was at rented space at Rombauer Vineyards.) During the winter of 1989, the house was built just above the vineyard, with views of the vines, the valley, and the lake below. That same year, Delia brought in the first vintage of “Viader,” her signature wine, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Production was a mere 1,200 cases.



Interestingly, Delia opted to concentrate selling the wine not in the U.S., but in Europe, where she felt more comfortable. Being a polyglot didn’t hurt, either. Every other week throughout the 1990s and 2000s, Delia was on the road, traveling to more than thirty countries and opening accounts in every market by herself. “I wanted to present my wines in the bigger pond of the world rather than what I considered the smaller pond of the United States. It keeps you honest and humble to work side by side with brand owners who have over two hundred years of history over you,” she says. During this time, the winery itself was constructed, as well as a system of interconnected tunnel cellars.

All of the effort paid off at the end of 2000, when Wine Spectator named the 1997 Viader the #2 of their annual Top 100 Wines. The following year, the Spectator ranked the 1998 Viader as the #3 Top 100 wine of 2001. Success seemed assured as people started clamoring for Viader’s products.

As almost all of us eventually learn, life dispenses struggle as well as triumph. In 2005, because of ongoing construction at the winery, Delia was obligated to transfer the entire stock of bottled 2003 vintage wines to an off-site warehouse. This facility was a major storage and distribution center for many other wine and food products vendors as well. It was later learned that a warehouse employee was engaged in fraud and embezzlement. On October 12, 2005, he was in the warehouse attempting to destroy evidence against himself with a propane torch. The fire got out of control, leading to an eight-hour-long five-alarm fire. Viader’s 2003 wines, worth $4.5 million, were totally destroyed. Other companies suffered major losses as well, including a number of other small wineries that were subsequently forced out of business.

Delia rallied the family, and the decision was made to press ahead, almost starting over, really. There was insurance money, but it was slow in coming. Delia began to sell off the winery’s reserve library of wines, going direct to customers instead of through distribution to maximize profit. She continued to travel to restaurants and wine shows, determined to keep Viader in people’s minds. The hard work paid off, and Viader survived to release the 2004 vintage a year later.

The entire family has been actively involved in the business. First, Alan, Delia’s second son. After working the land during summers and completing internships, in 2002 he graduated from UC Davis with a degree in viticulture and became vineyard manager. Next came responsibility as winemaker, with the 2006 his first vintage. He became brand ambassador as well, and in that capacity he followed in his mother’s footsteps by traveling the world to promote the family’s wines. In 2007, daughter Janet joined the company full time, taking over the sales role. She also served as one of the youngest elected members on the Board of Directors of the Napa Valley Vintners Association.

Today, Viader’s estate vineyard is planted to 28 acres of vines and includes Petit Verdot, Syrah, and Malbec, as well as many of the original Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc vines. “We’re not 100 percent organic, but we are mostly organic,” stated Alan. He noted that organic is not always a “silver bullet,” because of potentially nasty organic chemicals. He also finds that strictly following the guidelines of biodynamic certification doesn’t result in quality in line with costs, so he abandoned that after a six-year flirtation. Sustainable practices do include the use of beneficial insects to help eliminate the need for pesticides; raptor roosts and falcon kites to help patrol the property for rodent, snake, and pest bird infestations; and solar paneling to power sensors in the vineyard. The property is carbon negative also, and the soils are never tilled.

Continuing to stay in their separate lots, the unblended wines age in concrete tanks or French oak barrels for 14 to 24 months. During this time, the wine goes through secondary, malolactic fermentation and is racked once, at most, during the aging process. Once final blending occurs, the wine continues to rest in barrel until bottling, which takes place in-house. The wine sees further bottle age for about a year before being released.

Viader Proprietary Red Blend 2014

With just 1811 cases produced, and at the upper end of Napa prices, this is the cult wine you’re looking for. The flagship wine from Viader put this unique mountainside winery on the map as one of the first in Napa to tackle and successfully showcase Cabernet Franc as a deserving companion with Cabernet Sauvignon. This blend has been referred to as “liquid cashmere.”

It is 72% Cabernet Sauvignon and 28% Cabernet Franc. Cabernet Sauvignon provides the backbone, structure, character, and aging potential, while Cabernet Franc instills a balance and early approachability. The wine was aged for two years in 70% new French oak. It shows firm structure influenced by the rocky volcanic soils of the eastern slopes of Howell Mountain, and an elegant yet intensely rich profile. Big, hearty tannins wrap around flavors of succulent dark fruit, clove, and sage, with hints of floral notes. Cellar for up to 12 years.

Top of page: