College’s new sparkling wine enhances skills for next generation of Ontario winemakers

Student pose with NCs new sparkling wine in the vineyard

Recent grads Gaurav Ashwani (Wine Business Management), Chelsea Whipps (Graphic Design) and Christian Scagnetti (Winery and Viticulture Technician) raise a glass to Balance Brut at a release celebration August 20. The trio worked on a label design for the Niagara College Teaching Winery’s inaugural sparkling wine as part of a student project, and their label was selected among four entries last spring.

Excitement is bubbling over at the Niagara College Teaching Winery with the release of its first-ever sparkling wine: Balance Brut.

Created by the first and only commercial teaching winery in Canada, Balance Brut hit the shelves at the winery’s retail store on August 20. It marks a significant milestone for the college’s Teaching Winery that serves to enhance the student experience and meet a need in the industry.

“Niagara College is always about two important things: a hands-on practical approach to learning and connecting with the needs of our industry. The addition of sparkling wine to our portfolio meets both these head-on,” said CFWI dean Craig Youdale. “We are very excited to launch what will soon become a key part of the NC Teaching Winery portfolio. Niagara is beginning to explode with new and exciting sparkling wine, and it’s vital that our students are exposed to the science and process behind this amazing style of wine.”

The name, Balance Brut, marks a continuation of the winery’s existing Balance label and follows the ‘Brut’ designation for the style of dry sparkling wine traditional to the Champagne region of France.

Bottle of Balance Brut

A bottle of Niagara College Teaching Winery’s first sparkling wine, Balance Brut, is pictured with a view of the college’s on-campus teaching vineyards in the background.

”It’s a really technical, really engaging form of winemaking, from the point of view of a winemaker,” said Gavin Robertson, who is also a graduate of the college’s Winery and Viticulture Technician program (2011). “With so many steps and stylistic decisions to be made, each sparkling wine expresses a unique character.”

The wine was made from 53% Pinot Noir and 47% Chardonnay from the 2012 vintage, with the majority of the fruit from the Niagara College Teaching Vineyard. The fruit was hand-picked, hand-sorted and gently pressed to yield a very high quality juice that was fermented to produce a base wine. Made in the traditional or Champagne method, its effervescence is a result of a secondary yeast fermentation that occurs in each individual wine bottle. It was aged in bottle on a yeast lees for two years, evolving to achieve a greater complexity and depth of flavour, and disgorged in August of 2015 – nearly three years after the fruit was first harvested.

“Balance Brut shows the ripeness of the 2012 vintage with really good fruit quality and a certain plushness on the palate. The fruit is counterbalanced by a creamy, biscuit, toasty quality that arises from the wine’s time on the yeast lees, and the structure hangs on a firm streak of acidity that holds it all together,” said Robertson. “The wine is fresh still and shows the high quality fruit that the 2012 vintage provided, but also offers some richness and some slightly more subtle, earthy notes, resulting in a really interesting wine that can accompany a wide variety of foods.”

Students were not only involved with the creation of the new wine, but in its label design. Teams of students from the College’s Graphic Design, Wine Business Management, and Winery and Viticulture Technician programs participated in a seven-week project, and the selected label was announced last spring. The label was designed by a team of three students who graduated in June: Chelsea Whipps (St. Catharines), Gaurav Ashwani (India), and student Christian Scagnetti (Timmins). [See: March 30 media release]

Balance Brut is available for purchase at the Wine Visitor + Education Centre retail store, located at the College’s Niagara-on-the-Lake Campus.

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.