Lydia’s wine journey started at the young age of 18 when she enrolled in the prestigious Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture (CCOVI) Program at Brock University. Over the past 20 years, she has worked at some of Niagara’s most prominent wineries including Hillebrand Estates (now Trius Winery), Henry of Pelham, Jackson Triggs and Burning Kiln Winery.
Lydia is a celebrated winemaker in the Niagara wine industry with a passion for Riesling. She has received countless awards and accolades–not only for her Rieslings but for the dynamic range of wines she has produced across many appellations. But beyond her impressive resume, Lydia is a true leader within her community. She helped start a foundation dedicated to improving cancer treatment and also created the LocaLove Garden Project, an initiative aimed at combating childhood hunger in a local elementary school.
In this installment of our “Vintner Profile” series, Nelson Gerena sat down with Lydia to learn about what drew her to Ravine Vineyard, her love for Niagara Riesling, and the inspiration behind the LocaLove Garden Project.
What drew you to Ravine Vineyard?
Lydia Tomek: The land. The farm estate here is so magical and it’s easy to understand why it has been able to be farmed for over 150 years. There’s also something to be said about the care and hard work required when growing organic grapes. It’s not easy but the long-term rewards are far more important; to be able to make wine from an organic raw material, it’s a great starting point when wanting to explore a site’s terroir. At Ravine, the farm comes first. All the real experiences that people have here come as a result of loving the land and taking care of it. We truly have a farm-to-table philosophy. When it comes to preservation, that is something the Lowrey-Haber family stands by strongly.
What makes Ravine Vineyard unique?
Tomek: The estate is technically made up of ten different blocks, each unique in soil composition, slope, and elevation. Each block has its own varietal and clone, which is something a wine geek absolutely loves to explore and compare.
Can you describe your approach to winemaking in five words or less?
Tomek: I’ll give you six words. Balanced winemaking respecting science, nature, art.
You are particularly passionate about Niagara Riesling. Why is that?
Tomek: That is my reference variety. Whenever I want to understand a place or a specific time, I’ll open up a bottle from my cellar and my mind will start to reflect. Almost always, I’ll be able to appreciate the purity of the variety, discover something new, and get inspired in the cellars or in the field. It is my no B.S. grape that is resilient in the vineyards as it is in the bottle. It’s the terroir-talker and personally, I just find its aromatics and flavors gorgeous, classic, and clean.
What makes the Ontario wine industry special?
Tomek: The Ontario wine industry is special for a few reasons. Niagara is my home and so to me, I think we are blessed to grow grapes on some of the most prime land in Canada. First, we are able to grow grapes in what is technically a cool climate, and therefore, we are able to create wines with vibrancy, character, and freshness. We’re also able to hit those warm growing degree days in the summer and fall that allow for the fruit to develop ripe flavors and depth. The land here has many differences in soil composition as a result of how the glaciers melted and receded (sandy loam, clay, limestone) over time. There are also variances in elevation and we are surrounded by two large bodies of water. All of these factors play a part in making each wine special and the wine is the medium that is able to unveil all these nuances and character.
Can you tell us a bit about the LocaLove Garden Project?
Tomek: Loca is my nickname and I love to garden and was fortunate to have my parents teach me how to garden and love the earth. Gardening and understanding how things grow is a life skill and something we all should know how to do. Also, no child should ever be hungry. A few years back, I was heartbroken to find out that there were hungry kids attending an elementary school in my old neighborhood. My family didn’t grow up with a lot of money but one thing was for sure–if we couldn’t buy food, Mom and Dad knew how to grow it. I was blessed in that I never went to school hungry or in that I always had lunch. Sadly, that is the case today and I wanted to change that and help the school out. I took old odds and ends that I was able to find around the winery and built garden boxes and I collected seeds. Every week, I went to visit the kids, I taught them about gardening, and they helped me as I built them their garden. The garden was made up of four sections: a prayer garden, a pumpkin patch, a tomato patch, and a green veggie patch. The garden is still there after six years and has a beautiful fence around it. The vegetables and flowers are used to raise money for the school and to feed kids who need it. For example, children will make tomato sauce that is used for pasta fundraising nights or for lunches for the other kids. Flowers are sold outside of the school’s church. It’s important work and I am hoping to expand this project with other schools. Kids need to know where their food comes from, how to eat healthy, and how to grow. I have a Facebook page and all the garden stories are posted there. I am also working on a book about the LocaLove project to share these stories and to provide guidance for anyone interested in starting a garden.
2019 Patricia’s Block Riesling
Lydia’s love for Riesling shines through in this thirst-quenching wine. Produced from fruit sourced from Patricia’s Block, a unique vineyard in Niagara known for its susceptibility to botrytis, this wine comes in at a cool 10.5 percent alcohol. It has a fair amount of residual sugar but is balanced well by loads of acidity.
Notes of lemon, grapefruit, and honey mingle together with subtle notes of minerality. Enjoy now with classic Thai dishes such as tom yum soup, pad thai or spicy red curry.
2019 Ravine Sauvignon Blanc
This wine was made with fruit sourced from two sites located in the Four Mile Creek VQA. The fruit came from three picks, each a week apart, both hand- and machine-harvested. The machine-harvested fruit was sorted into three batches, with three different skin-contact times and three separate fermentations in both barrel and stainless steel. The resulting wine is beautifully complex with prominent notes of tropical fruit and an herbaceous punch rounded out by tertiary notes of coconut and spice. An excellent expression of Niagara Sauvignon Blanc. Enjoy now.