Bill and Marilyn Redelmeier, Southbrook Vineyards
By Lisa McLean
When Southbrook Vineyards opened for business in its new Niagara-on-the-Lake facility in 2008, owners Bill and Marilyn Redelmeier had something to prove: that biodynamic and organic viticulture practices and other green initiatives can work in Ontario vineyards. Now, five years after the new location opened for business, Bill Redelmeier has one request: just don’t call them “sustainable.”
“I don’t like that word because there’s no definition for it,” says Redelmeier. “A winery in Chile can claim to be ‘sustainable’ because they use lightweight bottles to save fuel on shipping. But if sustainability was truly a core commitment, then they might not ship to Ontario at all.”
The Redelmeiers have made Southbrook green – in principle and on paper. Southbrook is Ontario’s first winery to earn the prestigious Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold designation for its architectural design. And, the entire 150-acre property is now certified organic. Southbrook has taken its production practices to another level, by being the first Ontario winery to be certified biodynamic, a practice that involves the use of specially prepared composts, the addition of ingredients such as herbal teas and the alignment of farming activities with lunar energy.
“Organic and biodynamic production practices are a niche market that is an important opportunity for Ontario, and we believe they’re the right thing to do when it comes to viticulture,” Redelmeier says. “Organics and biodynamics force us to keep yields low and focus on quality. In the end we get better wines.”
Prior to opening Southbrook Vineyards in its Niagara-on-the-Lake location, the Redelmeiers ran a popular Toronto-area farm market that sold products grown on-farm or on neighbouring farms. They started making and selling wine on premises using a blend of Ontario and California grapes. But when they reached the decision to sell the family property, they bought 150 acres in Ontario’s Niagara region and focused on crafting wine that is 100% Ontario.
Buying local is another key priority for Southbrook, where staff uniforms are manufactured in Canada, and Southbrook offers local grape farmers a market for organic grapes. All Southbrook wines carry the VQA label, noting the bottle contains 100% Ontario grapes. A recent study by KPMG noted that every bottle of Ontario VQA wine sold in the province contributes $11.50 in added value to the Ontario economy, compared to $7.72 for every “Cellared in Canada” bottle and only 67 cents for each imported bottle.
“I’m a Canadian farmer, and buying Canadian is important to me,” says Redelmeier. “If we don’t support each other, we’re in trouble.”
Southbrook Vineyards produces a variety of wines that are available through the LCBO, including Organic Red Connect, Organic White Connect and Southbrook Framboise. Southbrook has received many awards, including the 2011 Premier’s Award for Agri Food Innovation Excellence, the Niagara Entrepreneur of the Year Award in 2012 for Environmental Enterprise, and 2012 Winery of the Year at InterVin International Wine Awards.