Niagara College grads shine at the Ontario Wine Awards

Graduates from Canada’s first Teaching Winery had reason to cheer at the 2015 Ontario Wine Awards.

Niagara College not only won an award but celebrated the success of many of its graduates currently working as winemakers in the Ontario wine industry.

“Niagara College’s participation in the Ontario Wine Awards is very gratifying, especially since the students are taking home medals,” said wine and food author Tony Aspler who established the Ontario Wine Awards. “These awards show the effectiveness of their instruction and their commitment to the wine industry.” 

The Niagara College Teaching Winery’s 2013 Balance Sauvignon Blanc was announced as a silver winner in the Sauvignon Blanc category. Behind its success is winemaker Gavin Robertson who is a graduate of the College’s Winery and Viticulture Technician program (2011).

“One of our goals at the Niagara College Teaching Winery is to craft wines that stand tall amongst the best that the region has to offer and so it’s a real honour to be recognized by the Ontario Wine Awards for the 2013 Sauvignon Blanc, particularly when it’s in the company of such an impressive lineup of Ontario wines that make me, for one, proud to work in this young – but growing and thriving – industry,” said Robertson. “More important than the award however, is the way that we use the production facilities, and the professional expertise available to us at the Teaching Winery and Canadian Food and Wine Institute to help our students develop into industry professionals in their own right, who will in turn make their mark on Ontario wine, and often beyond.”

Several Niagara College graduates who are now working as winemakers were also honoured at the Ontario Wine Awards ceremony. Jay Johnson at Flat Rock Cellars won several medals: gold for Flat Rock Cellars 2014 Riesling; gold for the winery’s 2012 Chardonnay; silver for its 2014 Pink Twisted; and bronze for its 2014 Nadja’s Vineyard Riesling. Dianne Smith at GreenLane Estate won bronze for the winery’s 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon; and Martin Werner and Ben Minaker at Ravine Vineyard Estate won bronze for the winery’s 2013 Chardonnay. NC graduates who are working as assistant winemakers also shared the success of award wins including Hunter Kangas at Huff Estates (gold for 2010 Cuvée Peter F Huff, gold for 2013 Pinot Noir, and silver for 2012 South Bay Chardonnay); and Chris Frey of John Howard Cellars of Distinction (bronze for 2014 Rosé).

“With graduates working throughout the Ontario wine industry in a number of capacities, it is exciting and inspiring to note the substantial impact of the Niagara College Teaching Winery,” said dean of the Canadian Food and Wine Institute Craig Youdale. “The graduates are a testament to the success of our programs and are an inspiration to our students following their path into the Ontario wine industry.”

Established in 1995, the Ontario Wine Awards are designed to award excellence in the Ontario wine industry and also to showcase VQA wines to the public. The 2015 Ontario Wine Awards were held on May 8 at Queen’s Landing in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

The NC Teaching Winery, which opened its doors in 2002, has won numerous awards over the years. Last year at the Ontario Wine Awards, a student-designed label for NC Teaching Winery’s 2012 Balance Sauvignon Blanc won gold for Best Label Design. It has won at Cuvee, the All Canadian Wine Championships and Canadian Wine Awards, InterVin, and more. In October 2012, it was announced as one of the Top 25 wineries in Canada in Wine Access Magazine’s Canadian Wine Awards Winery Performance report; named number 18, applauded for its excellent range of wines and its research as a key component.

The Canadian Food and Wine Institute, located on Niagara College’s Niagara-on-the-Lake Campus, is the college’s centre for food wine and beer education. It is home to Benchmark, the college’s teaching restaurant, as well as the Teaching Winery and Teaching Brewery. It is also home to Junior Culinary Team Canada, to represent our nation at the 2016 World Culinary Olympics.

Niagara College offers more than 100 diploma, bachelor degree and advanced level programs at campuses in Welland, Niagara-on-the-Lake, and Niagara Falls; as well as more than 600 credit, vocational and general interest Continuing Education courses. Areas of specialization include food and wine sciences, advanced technology, media, applied health and community safety, supported by unique learning enterprises in food, wine, beer, horticulture and esthetics. For more information visit

Picutred right is Gavin Robertson, winemaker at the Niagara College Teaching Winery and a graduate of the College’s Winery and Viticulture Technician program, is pictured with a silver certificate at the Ontario Wine Awards.