Gretzky winery coming to NOTL
It's been in the works for more than five years, but this week it was made official - Wayne Gretzky wines will have a new, permanent home in Niagara-on-the-Lake.
The Gretzky brand was taken over by Andrew Peller Ltd. six years ago, and discussions have been ongoing since about a new winery, but Monday, the site plan application for a 15,000 square-foot facility on Peller property, beside its Trius Winery on Niagara Stone Rd., was submitted to the town.
It will be called the Wayne Gretzky Winery and Craft Distillery, and will include retail and tasting space, as well as fermentation and barrel cellars, says Greg Berti, vice-president of global marketing for Andrew Peller Ltd.
Peller has been making wine in Canada for more than 50 years, and opened one of the first wineries in NOTL 35 years ago. It owns about 300 acres of vineyards, and buys more than 4,000 tones of grapes from 38 local farmers, said Berti.
There will be three or four acres of new grapes planted for Gretzky wines, and more purchased locally, he said.
The site of the new winery, with entrances from Line 3 and Niagara Stone Rd., was once used by a local farmer for raising beef cattle and growing tomatoes, but has not been in production for more than 30 years, said Berti.
It’s taken a while to work out the details, beginning with where and then what style, and nothing is done without Gretzky’s okay - he approves everything from the taste of his wines to the labels.
“He’s a hockey player with a keen sense of style and taste.”
The plan is to begin construction in the fall, and be ready to open in the spring of 2017.
His hands-on approach means “he won’t be in Niagara-on-the-Lake once or twice a year - he’ll be here 10 or 12 times.”
Gretzky’s award-winning wine has been around for a decade, made by the same winemaker, Australian Craig McDonald, who will continue on in the new facility.
Berti, who has travelled across Canada with Gretzky on wine-related business, says the love and familiarity the public show for the hockey player is amazing - and not just because he’s the Great One in hockey, but because of his personal reputation.
“He’s like a pied piper when he walks through the airport. He’s a Canadian icon, but for far more than hockey - for the person he is, the family man, and all he represents.”
And while his name on the bottle certainly helps to sell wine, “you have to like it to buy the second bottle. At least his is an easy name to remember when you go looking for it.”
The facility, designed by Gren Weis, the Oakville architect who designed Peller Estate Winery on John St. in NOTL, will fit into the ‘rural Ontario context’ but with a contemporary vision - while there is lots of glass incorporated into the design, providing “inspiring views of vineyards and the escarpment,” it also has a barn-inspired look to it, reminiscent, Berti says, of Gretzky growing up in Southern Ontario and the time he spent “hitting a hockey puck against the side of his grandfather’s barn.”
He wouldn’t put a price tag to it - just that it’s in the “multi-millions,” saying there are too many details yet to be worked out to pin down how much it will cost.
Gretzky, says Berti, “is very excited about the new winery” and the opportunity to bring new visitors to NOTL.
As a “hockey guy” himself, NOTL Lord Mayor Pat Darte says he’s looking forward to having the winery in town. “It’s absolutely good for NOTL. A brand like that, having a presence in town, will bring a whole new group of people to town just for that. Some of them may want to go further and they can, but others, hockey people, will come to visit and get their photo taken beside that number 99 on the building.”
Town staff have been discussing the proposal for some time, and now, said Darte, “we’re here to help with the process.”