Westmeath — What is probably Ontario’s most northerly winery is now open in the community of Westmeath in Whitewater Region.
The Whitewater O’Brien Winery (WOW), at 214 Synton Street, welcomed the public for the first time on Saturday. The public debut was followed by a ribbon cutting, part of an evening reception.
“The opening day went extremely well,” said Jason O’Brien, who with his wife, Lioutsia operates the new venture. “We had about 150 people attend the public part of the day and another 70 to 80 people for the ribbon-cutting.”
Going forward, the winery is scheduled to open Saturdays from 12 noon until 5 p..m, ending for the season on December 5.
The idea of the winery resulted when the O’Briens noticed wild grapes growing high up in the trees, some as much as 30 feet off the ground. Jason, who teaches high school in Arnprior, began to research grape growing in colder climates and found grape varieties that had been developed at the University of Minnesota that withstood temperatures as low as -30 Celsius.
In 2014, the O’Briens took the plunge and planted the first vines to establish what would become the Whitewater O’Brien Winery. Nested on the shores of Lake Allumette, a widening in the Ottawa River, the vineyard stretches for nearly a quarter of a kilometer and basks in the constant westerly breeze blowing over eight kilometers of open water.
“The westerlies ward off late spring and early fall frosts and act as air conditioning in the summer,” Jason says. “This natural advantage enhances the moderating effect of cool nights and hot days which is similar to many of the great vineyard locations of the world. The riverbed soil’s gravel/clay rock combination and the mineral-rich bedrock lends a distinct terrain to the vineyard, nurturing cold-hardy grape varieties of Frontenac, Marquette, Petit Pearl, Louis Swenson, Le Crescent, St. Croix, and St. Pepin. In pursuit of crafting exceptional wines, we blended our grapes with well-known varieties from Niagara, skillfully fermenting them side by side. This harmonious combination defies the harsh Canadian winter hazards, resulting in excellent wine.”
Lower Allumette Lake’s place in history is secured because it is where explorer Samuel de Champlain crossed with a flotilla to meet Algonquin Chief Tessouat in 1613. After founding Quebec in 1608, he left Montreal in 1613 to travel up the Ottawa River in search of the “Northern Sea”. The meeting occurred on Morrison Island, then known as “the fortress”, where the chief ruled the Algonquin Nations and forged an historic alliance with France.
The O’Brien Farm has a rich history as well, settled in the 1830s by Patrick O’Brien and a group of settlers from the United States in search of timber and fertile land. Today, the farm, spanning 700 acres, is under the care of Jason and his brother Brendan, who have been operating it for 33 years. It has been certified organic for the last two decades. As such it is one of the earliest and largest certified organic farms of the Ottawa Valley.
“We have become stewards of the land, carefully managing in a sustained way, and have transferred that knowledge to our vineyard,” says Jason.
Most of the grapes that go into making WOW wine are grown on the Westmeath vineyard, with only a small proportion of the ingredients brought in from the Niagara area in barrels to round out the flavours.
“But officially our wines are made from a blend of our own grapes,” says Jason.
Four wines — two whites, one red, and one rose – are available now for tasting and for purchase on site. Online ordering for once-a-week delivery is also under development.
Jason is the winemaker and Lioutsia is the store manager. Both are intermediate level sommeliers.
Gift cards in varying denominations are available. There is also a WOW club providing home delivery four times a year and qualifying members for complimentary tastings.
Special guests for the opening ceremonies included John Yakabuski, MPP for Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke; Ron Gervais, a native of Westmeath and currently serving as Mayor of Pembroke, and Gary Serviss, Mayor of Petawawa.
Neil Nicholson, Mayor of Whitewater Region, shared his excitement at the new venture.
“Whitewater Region is proud to be part of this announcement, to see a new business come to our region and to our county as a whole,” he said. “Over nine years in the making!”
He added it was also great to see visitors coming from as far away as Ottawa for the opening on Saturday.
Jason says there is a good crop of grapes this year. All will be hand-picked.
“We’re planning a harvest party around the end of September when we’ll have volunteers come in to help,” he said. “Details will be publicized on ourwebsite at https://whitewater-obrien-winery.square.site/ .
You can also connect with the WOW at 613-633-7027 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Marie Zettler, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Original Published on Sep 06, 2023 at 10:19