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Chardon-eh? Exploring West Ottawa's Wines

By  Vanessa Chiasson

Burgundian wine with Napa Valley stylings in the heart of the Ottawa Valley? It sounds like an impossible dream but the buttery Chardonnay and crisp Pinot Noir being poured in Kin Vineyards’ chic tasting room, located just 30 minutes west of downtown Ottawa, will have you pinching yourself to make sure you’re awake.

This improbable combination of grapes and climate find success through some innovative thinking and plenty of grueling work. The vineyard staff compensate for Ottawa’s challenging winters by carefully gathering and burying the vines underground before the snow falls. This time and labour-intensive process knows no shortcuts; however, the results are well worth it. Their level of TLC makes all the difference for the vine’s survival and ensures an emphasis of quality over quantity.

Fortunately, not all the grapes demand this level of protection. Like other vineyards in Canada’s Capital Region, Kin is also growing cold hardy varieties. These hybrid grapes, developed at the University of Minnesota, include the Frontenac and Mareschal varieties and are specially bred to withstand harsh temperatures. Now that’s something to raise your glass to!

But for all the vines at Kin Vineyards, noble and hybrid alike, outfoxing winter is just one part of a complex equation for growing and winemaking success. Hot, sunny weather is just as important as cold but with the opposite emphasis - the more, the merrier! Kin Vineyards’ southwest exposure, combined with Ottawa’s warm, sunny summers, helps them reach the critical number of “growing degree” days they need for optimal production.

When winemaker Brian Hamilton is asked about Ottawa’s summer weather in 2017 - July was unusually wet and overcast - he gives a wry smile. Clearly winemaking is not without its challenges. No matter how carefully the vines are treated or how advantageous their land exposure, vineyards are like any other local producer, hoping for the best and trying to prepare for the worst when it comes to coping with the elements.

The unique soil at Kin Vineyards offers some compensation for the inevitable stress and worry that the weather forecast generates. The sloping aspect of the vineyard hill offers exceptional soil drainage. And their location just outside Carp along the Hazeldean Fault features soil that’s an ideal blend of loam and clay at the top of the slope, tapering down to limestone in the middle. It’s this limestone, so similar to the quarry-like soil of Burgundy itself, that helps the Chardonnay and the Pinot Noir grapes feel at home in this rural area of Ottawa.

Kin Vineyards is the perfect west Ottawa day-trip destination. Its stylish tasting room showcases an organic, minimalist design that wouldn’t be out of place in a small Napa Valley vineyard. Add in a stroll through the fields with the hot sun warming the delicate grapes and you’ll be soaking in the spirit of Napa’s laidback, relaxing vibe - all in Ottawa’s bucolic countryside.

Between French flavours and Californian flair, you’d be forgiven for feeling that you’re far from home, but Kin Vineyards has a special neighbour that you won’t find anywhere else in the world. It’s next door to the Diefenbunker: Canada’s Cold War Museum! What used to be Canada’s Cold War emergency bunker for government operations is now a fascinating four-story underground museum. Combine it with a stop at Kin Vineyards for an unforgettable afternoon of exploration!

If you can’t make it to the vineyard in person, you can find them at their home-away-from-home, the Carp Farmers’ Market. Kin Vineyards credits the market for much of its early success, with enthusiastic wine lovers driving up sales until certain varieties were completely sold out. The sense of community is overwhelming at this market and the support shown to Kin and so many other newer producers is a testament to the region’s love affair with local food. With a few bottles of wine under your arms, you’re in the perfect spot to assemble a made-in-Ottawa gourmet dinner and celebrate the best flavours of the region. Let’s say “Cheers!” to that.

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