Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery was established with our first vintage in 1988. At that time we were one of a very few estate wineries dedicated to producing premium quality wines made from 100% Ontario grown grapes. Our focus is on vinifera grape varieties. This family of grapes includes Chardonnay, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir to name a few. They have been cultivated in Europe for hundreds of years proving to produce wines of distinction.
In 1984 when our father, along with each of us (Matthew, Daniel and Paul), tore out the Concord and Niagara grapes at our own expense, people thought we were crazy. When we planted Riesling and Chardonnay under newly contoured hills and under drainage, many said they would never grow. We knew, after studying the heat scans and speaking with some of the other more progressive growers, that our vineyard was not only suitable for these special varieties but also located on the prime grape growing lands of the Short Hills Bench.
Great Wine is Grown, Not Made
While this has become somewhat of a cliché it still describes what is the most important element in making great wine. The winemaker is an assistant to the fruit. She helps and nurtures the fruit as a teacher nurtures a student. Similar to a teacher, the winemaker tries to bring out the best characteristics that the fruit has to offer without forcing it.
Integrating Technology into Tradition
The use of high technology and leading edge techniques in the vineyard and winery are the only way for us to maintain competitiveness while striving for quality. We are constantly searching and developing new ways of improving our art form. However, we have not lost sight of some of the more traditional aspects and techniques of winemaking. Since it is an art form based on nature, in many cases it is impossible to perfect. We continue to develop and refine our viticultural and winemaking techniques so that our wines reflect our unique soil and are truly wines of character and finesse.
Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery was a founding member of the Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA). The VQA is an “Appellation of Origin” system by which consumers can identify the wines of Ontario based on the origin of the grapes from which they are produced. With the VQA system, Canada joins other leading wine-producing countries in developing a body of regulations and high standards for its finest wines.
From the approved list of grape varieties we concentrate our efforts on Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon blanc, Pinot Noir, Baco Noir, and Riesling Icewine. Henry of Pelham has won numerous domestic and international awards, including those at VinItaly and the London Wine Trade Fair. Our wines are served in the U.K., U.S.A., Japan, and Denmark — and throughout the world.
Pioneers settle a new land.
Henry of Pelham Winery is family owned by the three of us, Paul, Matthew and Daniel Speck. We founded the winery with our parents in 1988, but the land was first deeded to our great, great, great grandfather, Nicholas Smith (ca. 1778). Nicholas was a United Empire Loyalist who fled his home in Pennsylvania to serve the Crown and defend Upper Canada. Part Iroquois and fluent in the language he served as a translator and a fifer (that’s the guy who plays the bugle) with Butler’s Rangers during the American Revolution. For his service he was granted lands and bought others which he settled, the same land which the winery sits upon today.
A new generation plants the first vineyards.
In 1842 Nicholas’ youngest son Henry built an inn, tavern and carriage house (which serves as our tasting room and wine boutique today). The construction of the inn approximately coincided with plantings of vineyards, some of Niagara’s first. When signing for the taverns liquor license Henry Smith dropped his last name, choosing the moniker Henry of Pelham to both recognize his ownership of the toll road he lived along and what must have been a tongue-in-cheek reference to the recent British Prime Minister, Sir Henry Pelham. The joking moniker stuck and Henry Smith was referred to thereafter in official archival documents as Henry of Pelham.
The descendants chase the sheep off of the land.
This is where we come into the story. More than two centuries after our Smith ancestors settled in Niagara, in 1982 our parents Paul and Bobbi Speck bought several contiguous parcels of the original family farm, which still remain the ownership of the family. Over the next few years, as teenagers, we spent weekends and summers clearing the land of Henry’s original vineyards, orchards and a sheep farm. We replaced the vineyards with modern wine producing grape varieties. The oldest shovel planted vines contribute much of the fruit for our Estate and Speck Family Reserve wines.
In 1993 our father passed away after a long illness, leaving all remaining operations in the hands of his three young sons. Since that difficult time we have expanded our family’s holdings to a total of 300 acres of forest and vineyard land, all in the premium Short Hills Bench. This land is stewarded with a minimal footprint.
You can learn more at the Dirty Hands Project website.
– The Speck Brothers, Henry of Pelham