Andrzej Lipinski’s arrival on the Niagara wine scene was unique, and then, it seems, he went from 0 to 60 in the blink of an eye, consulting for Colaneri; Organized Crime; Foreign Affair; Megalomaniac; Rosewood; Fielding; and Cornerstone, before opening his own winery, Big Head Wines.
Beginning with one corner of a vineyard at Vineland Estates in 1998, you have moved on to consult some of the best wineries in Niagara. Why are you in such demand? And how are you in so many places at once?
I think that being at so many wineries over the years I have proved to be consistent in an inconsistent climate. People seem to like my wine. I can be at so many places at once through hard work and dedication, not just from myself but from the help of my team.
What is next on the horizon for you? Any big plans?
The master plan has always been my own place.
There are those winemakers who emphasis terroir; those who believe in creating optimal conditions, and then getting out of the way to let their grapes do the talking; and there is appassimento style where you are really hands-on like a chemist throughout the process. Why do you prefer this method? What is it’s appeal to you?
There isn’t chemistry in appassimento. This is more artwork, you have to know the fruit and drying process. You are emphasizing what happens in the vineyard and coaxing the good out of the fruit that is there. You have to adapt, make quick decisions, be flexible and creative, especially with the natural fermentation. You also have to trust the fruit, you can’t force it to do something it won’t do. I prefer this method due to our tough climate. I understand “terroir”, but unfortunately it is difficult to express that hear. How can you express “terroir” through green fruit. This method can express “terroir” as well. Through appassimento, I am putting the fruit under more of a magnifying glass, focusing on the good qualities.
You also work with Burning Kiln Winery in Norfolk County. How did that come about? And how do you see the development of wine in Lake Erie North Shore?
I came to work at Burning Kiln through Patti and Scott Fixter. I knew them through my work at other wineries and they loved the wines I created. They, along with their friends and partners, wanted to start a winery in that region. They thought I would be a good fit. Lake Erie north shore is a similar region to Niagara-on-the-Lake. It has a sandy soil, so the wines are fruit-forward but slightly lacking in structure. This is where the appassimento method helps out.
What are some of the challenges of selling Ontario wine in Ontario–at Toronto restaurants and at the LCBO?
I wish we had more help from the LCBO. They don’t make it easy on us. We are limited to one store on our property and if we want more exposure, we have to go through them. The process is a headache. Don’t ask how much they take. As for Toronto restaurants, we are trying to get them on board and believe in what we are doing here. We have to compete with the $10 bottles, for a boutique winery producing 5000 cases that isn’t easy.
It’s been twenty-five years since you began picking grapes in Niagara, and in that time you have tuned and established your techniques, and also watched–and contributed–to the growth of Niagara’s wine industry. Looking back, how has your perception of Niagara’s potential, and the reception of Niagara wines changed?
The experience of winemaking in Niagara has changed exponentially. Many wineries are producing world-class wines every year. This region is one of the most challenging in the world to cultivate grapes and produce good wine, yet we do. 20 years ago, we didn’t take this seriously. We picked grapes, made wine, and never thought that the world could be drinking the end-result. We just made wine and that was that.
If you were stranded on a desert island and could choose to have one bottle of your own wine with you, what would it be, and what would you wish to pair with it?
Vineland Estate Winery Chardonnay Reserve 1998. My first. You never forget your first. What I would pair with it? Nothing.
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