Where can you sit in a cherry orchard and sip on some of the best icewines in Niagara-on-the-lake? At Pillitteri, you can. Pillitteri Estates Winery produces the celebrated Carretto Vidal Icewine, Reserve Cabernet Franc Icewine, Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Icewine, and Team Canada Vidal Icewine. You really know summer is here when you’re in their luscious cherry orchard full of ancient trees heavily laden with ripe, sweet cherries. In other words, when you’re enjoying yourself in Pillitteri Winery’s outdoor restaurant, BarrelHead Wine Pizza Patio.
Pillitteri’s passion for icewine and winemaking revolves around high quality and innovation. Excellence is their hallmark. Before opening the winery in 1993, the Pillitteri family operated a fruit farm for over 30 years.
What makes icewines the best in Niagara-on-the-lake?
Being a winery with some of the best icewines in Niagara-on-the-lake takes a considerable amount of effort. Producing icewine takes 20 times more grapes than regular table wine does – yet Pillitteri Estates Winery produces 70% of the world’s icewine. The staff at Pillitteri wait for three consecutive nights of -10 degree weather before venturing out in the coldest hours of the night to pick enough completely frozen grapes to supply their icewines.
Sometimes it’s the year it was produced that makes an icewine the best in Niagara-on-the-lake. 2015 was a very good year for Pillitteri Vidal Icewine – and the winery’s professionals told me that it depends on everything from the temperature, to the weather throughout the seasons, to the quality of the fruit itself. The red grapes that go into the Reserve Cabernet Franc Icewine or the Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Icewine are extremely delicate, making these icewines more difficult to make.
Innovation defines Pillitteri’s winery just as much as quality icewine does
The Pillitteri Estates Winery brand is multi-faceted and innovation defines them. In addition to their celebrated icewines and late harvest wines in Niagara-on-the-lake, Pillitteri is also known for pioneering the implementation of the Appassimento technique in the Niagara area.
At our recent tasting in July 2021, we sampled a Chardonnay, Pinot Rose, Cabernet Merlot, and a Syrah – all representing a variety of aromas, tastes, and aftertastes. After sampling the 2015 Reserve Vidal Icewine’s silky sweetness at the end, we just had to take some of that honey-like smoothness home for an upcoming family birthday event. Here are some initial impressions of the fruits and elements conjured by some of the other wines:
2019 Racina Barrel Aged Chardonnay
Aroma: pear, stones
Taste: creamy, rich, fruity
2019 Pinot Rose
Taste: dark raisin, tart apple
2019 Cabernet Merlot
Taste: dark berry, vanilla, oak bark, nutmeg
2016 Carretto Syrah
Aroma: sweet, berries, sweet and fruity strawberries
Taste: blueberry, caramel, tart apples, nuts
High quality Pillitteri wines offered at every price point
It is understandable that time-intensive processes that produce the best quality wines have prices that reflect the special fruit and care that’s gone into them. But Pillitteri doesn’t just grow and produce fabulous 2015 Exclamation Cabernet Franc and high-end 2015 Riserva Famiglia Fruttaio. The quality doesn’t drop in their affordably-priced Team Canada White It has a kick at the beginning that surprises you, but a good balance of fruit and acidity leave it with a clean, solid finish.
Pillitteri Estates Winery’s cherry orchards are a motif that permeates every aspect of their brand. The red colour defines the passion and warmth of the friendly, family-operated business. Maybe it makes you remember Chekhov’s famous play. Maybe it’s the Neil Young songs wafting across the vineyard, or maybe it’s the live acoustic guitar accompaniment that lets you know summer really is back.
The well-organized operation encompasses the winery production facility, tasting room, retail shop, outdoor tasting area and outdoor restaurant, and it hums all day and evening. Then there’s the hospitality. The multi-generational Pillitteri family members heap generous portions of cherries onto plates as they move from table to table.
The Pillitteri cherry orchard lives on
At night when you drive by the huge, red barn-style complex at xx Niagara Stone Road in Niagara-on-the-lake, your eye is drawn to the semi-hidden outdoor dining area lit up by strings of tiny white lights hanging above, and sometimes you can catch the melodies of your favourite folk songs sung live, accompanied by a live guitar.
Freshly picked cherries are offered for sale the minute you walk in the winery door. It’s hard to remember the last time anyone got to try quality Niagara wines outside on a warm summer night, surrounded by a beautiful vineyard. Not everyone is brilliant enough to beckon patrons into a cherry orchard to enjoy some of the best icewines in Niagara-on-the-lake.