Brothers John Neufeld Jr., left, with his dog Rae and Charles Neufeld with his dog Penny. Their winery, Palatine Hills, is dog-friendly.Somer Slobodian

Original Published on Jul 22, 2022 at 16:29

By Somer Slobodian, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

It’s not every day your hard work earns one award, let alone three.

When Palatine Hills Estate Winery entered the 2022 WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada, the thought of winning three awards was far from their minds.

“We weren’t expecting anything,” said John Neufeld Jr., who runs Palatine Hills with his brother, Charles.

“So it’s nice to kind of have some recognition,” he  added.

They were excited to win not just silver and bronze, but also gold at the WineAlign competition.

John Jr. called it a “team effort.”

About eight years ago, he had the idea to plant Semillon and Viognier grapes. He said it takes about five years to get a full crop, one to two years in a barrel, then some time in the bottle.

Finally, after years of hard work, they were able to harvest Semillon and Viognier in 2020. This harvest was their first vintage as winemakers.

At the awards, the 2020 White Meritage won gold, scoring 92 points – an excellent result especially considering it’s the first time they have ever made it.

A blend of 50 per cent Semillon and 50 per cent Sauvignon Blanc, it’s unique. They age it for 12 months in a combination of new and neutral French oak barrels.

The brothers worked hard. From planting the grapes, to harvesting them, to finally being able to sell it, but it paid off.

“Pretty exciting to see a plan come to fruition, (to) see something that you’ve kind of been working towards, (that) you get some recognition for,” said John.

The 2021 Wild and Free Riesling won silver, and the Wild and Free Viognier took bronze. The Viognier also was the first of its kind for Palatine Hills and only 25 cases were produced.

John, 38, has been working in the family business since 2008.

Though he learned from his dad from a young age, he also studied winery and viticulture at Niagara College. In 2009, he spent some time at Hardys Tintara winery, near Adelaide in South Australia.

His younger brother has been officially working at the winery for about five years. Now 30, Charles went to McMaster for engineering and worked in North Toronto for a while before deciding he wanted to join the family business.

About two years ago the brothers took over the winemaking duties.

They’re proud to not only be a family-owned business, but also family-run. Their grandfather bought the property four decades ago and helped shape it into what it is today.

Their parents, John Sr. and Barbara, still own the business, but the brothers have taken over running it.

Though the atmosphere at the vineyard is casual, there’s nothing casual about their wine. During their cornhole tournaments on Friday nights, John said the first thing a lot of members do when they arrive is take their shoes off and get comfortable.

The brothers are not afraid to try something new. Recently, they made a Chardonnay with beer hops added. With this, they’re hoping to bridge the gap between the beer and wine drinker and, in turn, converting the people who aren’t wine drinkers.

The brothers want their winery to be a place where people can come and hang out while having fun and enjoying some quality wine.

“We’re just looking forward to building something here that we can have people from the community really attached to,” said John.

The winery is also dog-friendly. Both brothers having young dogs of their own and they bring to work with them.

A photo of every dog that visits goes up on the wall at the entrance, said Charles. He called it the “Pups of Palatine.”

The brothers have spent the last year expanding their patio for guests. While many businesses have been had temporary patios throughout the pandemic, they opted to make a permanent one.

They’ve planted trees that will eventually produce lots of shade, and they have a fire pit for guests to sit around.

Besides the Friday cornhole tournaments, they have live music on Sundays.

The brothers have been focusing on the ins and outs of daily business, and though it hasn’t been smooth sailing the past couple of years with the pandemic, they’ve managed to come out thriving.

“We have been very blessed to have a great winemaking community in NOTL,” said John, adding that area wineries have been helpful while they navigated running the family business.

“We try to be the same way to. If someone else needs something, or needs our help, we’re more than willing to do what we can,” he added.

This item reprinted with permission from The Lake Report, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario