The best thing you can find in a vineyard is a footprint. A wine’s character comes from the terroir, it’s personality comes from the vintage. But quality comes from the influence of man.
Wines of Origin from The Short Hills Bench
The origin of the grapes used to make wine has long been important in traditional winemaking regions to both winemakers and wine drinkers. The combination of location, soil, topography and climate—the terroir—is an important factor in determining the character of a wine and, in many cases, its quality.
With the premise that fine wine is grown, not made, we consider ourselves fortunate to be on the gentle slopes of the Short Hills Bench. Our vineyards owe their distinct combination of soil, topography and temperature—perfect for growing grapes—to the Short Hills. Simply making a good wine is not good enough. We want our wines to be distinctly Niagara, distinctly Henry of Pelham. They must represent the soil, the climate, and the grape variety as it is grown and made in Niagara.
The clay-silt soil of the Short Hills Bench has a major influence on the quality of the grapes grown. Numerous streams originating from the base of the Niagara Escarpment and those flowing through the escarpment, such as Fifteen Mile, Sixteen Mile and Twenty Mile Creeks, provide excellent drainage of waters in the vineyards.
The perfect grape needs a long, warm summer and a dry, sunny autumn. Grapes need to ripen slowly to achieve a good balance between acids and sugars. Only 7 km south of Lake Ontario, the lake effect provides shelter to our vines from the winds of the Niagara Escarpment. With unobstructed sunlight throughout the year, we enjoy warm, dry days with light breezes, not cold, wet or damp, while the grapes work their way toward maturity. A well-ripened grape produces fine wines with a nice mixture and concentration of flavours for your enjoyment.
Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery is located in the southern tier of the Short Hills Bench. All of our estate vineyards are concentrated in this one area making us the largest single grower in this small sub-appellation. It was first settled and then farmed by various branches of our family dating back to 1794.
As a Carolinian Climatic Zone the Short Hills Bench has been recognized for its unique soils, topography and climate, not only by the government body of the Vintner’s Quality Alliance of Ontario (VQA) but also by the United Nations as a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve. The north truly meets the south in this unique region which supports flora as diverse as willows, tulip poplars, coniferous trees and fauna including possums, coyotes, mountain lions, wild turkeys, pheasants and deer.
To picture the Short Hills Bench imagine a shelf of land jutting out of the Niagara Escarpment midway up and bounded to the east by a valley of “short hills” carved by small creeks. This valley, now the Short Hills Provincial Park, was the original pre-glacial course of the Niagara River and site of Niagara Falls. To the south and west the Short Hills Bench is bounded by the limestone and dolostone rock-face of the Niagara Escarpment while its’ northern boundary is an open plain that ends at the top of a series of steps leading to Lake Ontario.
In general the Short Hills Bench is blessed with a shale and limestone basin, 30 – 40 feet of glacial clay and silt and a 1 – 2 foot mixture of clay-mixed top soil. Air and water flows to the east and the north but we are required to under-drain the vineyards to remove excess moisture from the slow drying clay. This same clay naturally restrains the vines’ tendency to produce large crops. It is typical for vines to produce small yields of tiny berries with high concentrations of sugars, acids, minerals and other flavour compounds. Still, the non-uniform glacially deposited soils do contain different minerals at different depths and locations. This results in wines with unique flavours from each parcel of land, particularly as the vines grow older, sending their roots deep into the uncharted minerally depths.
The Short Hills Bench has many of the south and south-east facing slopes in Niagara leading to more intense sun-exposure and ripeness in the fruit. Both the high altitude (above the cooler lake winds of summer) and the distance south of Lake Ontario leads to a quick warming of the ground each morning. This is a benefit to the vines as it stimulates them to photosynthesize, essentially “waking them” early in the day and “putting them to bed” later in the evening. Thus the region gets more growing time in an otherwise short but intense season.
During the winter the high elevation of the Short Hills Bench allows it to benefit from rising warm air currents blowing south off of Lake Ontario, in much the same way as the lower lying coastal sub-appellations do. This warm air has a moderating effect on the mesoclimate, protecting the tender buds from potentially damaging frosts.