Peach cobbler, pear salad, and a glass of wine… or two.  What do all of these have in common? Yes, they’re all delicious! But they’re also all made from tender fruits, which require strict conditions to grow.

Almost all tender fruits in Canada are grown in two regions: The Niagara Fruitbelt in Southern Ontario and the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia. Fortunately, the farmland in the Niagara Peninsula, where the Fruitbelt is located, is protected by Ontario’s Greenbelt and produces a variety of tender fruits for everyone to enjoy. Among my favourite are wine grapes – largely because of their health benefits, of course!

 

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I had the opportunity to travel to the Niagara Peninsula, accompanied by photographer Rhi More, and visit Southbrook Vineyards to learn about Bill and Marilyn Redelmeier’s holistic approach to wine-making and taste their VQA, Greenbelt-grown, organic, and biodynamic wines. Building on a proud agricultural heritage in Richmond Hill, the Redelmeiers purchased Greenbelt-protected land in 2005 to be a part of the wine-making community in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Upon arriving at Southbrook Vineyards, we entered a LEED Gold certified ground-to-ceiling glass boutique lit up by the radiating summer sun sitting in the middle of a lush and green vineyard. Bill welcomed us and led us through the vineyard while explaining the Southbrook approach.

 

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Starting at the bio-swales, Southbrook filters all septic and runoff water through 4 chambers, each 18 inches deep of soil, sand, gravel and wood chips. Since the vineyard is not part of the city sewage system, Bill wanted all water to return to the lakes clean: “No liquid leaves this property unless it’s fit to drink!”

Continuing on to the vineyard itself, Bill explained the biodynamic approach that sets the Southbrook winery apart.  Biodynamics is a step above organic as it is a holistic method of agriculture that seeks to create a self-sufficient system and recognizes the interrelationship between soil, plants, and animals. From aligning farming activities with the lunar calendar to specially preparing composts using fermented manure stuffed into cow horns (seen in the photo below), Southbrook Vineyard’s wine is one of a kind.

 

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One of the most interesting approaches that Southbrook takes is spraying the vines with a homemade herbal tea made from chamomile and shave grass to prevent mould and pests. They also allow sheep to graze freely in the vineyard. The sheep eat the suckering, leaves, and grass between the vines removing the need for intensive labour. The aim is to treat the vineyard as a complete living system with all parts working in harmony and producing incredible-tasting wine.

It’s true nothing goes to waste at Southbrook Vineyards. Their innovative and holistic approach to farming is what sets them apart from any other winery in Canada.

This serene escape from the busy life of downtown Toronto made me appreciate Ontario’s protected land even more!

 

What can you do?

  1. Continue to buy local – it’s better quality, better for you, better for small Canadian businesses, and better for your carbon footprint

  2. Educate yourself by visiting local farms and wineries

  3. Sign this petition urging Ontario to grow the Greenbelt and limit the sprawl that is eating up valuable farmland!