The farmers on PEI are busy with their various harvests these days and taking full advantage of the great weather we have been having. I stopped by Matos Winery in St. Catherines, PEI, last Wednesday as they were picking the grapes. I had visited the winery in early September and toured the vineyards but delayed posting the story until harvest time because I wanted to visit the winery when the grapes were being picked and processed.
When I first met Jim and Heather Matos on an early September Saturday afternoon, Jim had just finished the painstaking work of netting all the grapevines in an effort to keep the birds at bay. Despite Jim’s best efforts and the addition of noise maker squawkers, the birds did pose a problem this fall as they figured out a way to still get at the grapes despite the netting. This meant a loss of some of the grape crop.
Matos is a new winery in its second year having opened for business on June 24, 2011. The Matos’ bought the St. Catherines property near Cornwall and prepared the soil in 2006. They then did their first vine planting in 2007 followed by three years of labour-intensive work that culminated in their first grape harvest in October, 2010.
I asked Heather what brought them to PEI to open their winery as the Island is not known as a wine-making region (we currently have only three wineries operating on the Island). She tells me they came to PEI on a holiday in 2004 and fell in love with the Island. When they decided to open a winery, they looked at locations as far away as Europe and the United States but were still drawn back to PEI. In fact, after hearing about the harsh, cold winters (often with a lot of snow) on the Island, Jim came to PEI for a visit in the dead of winter to see if the conditions would be conducive to grape-growing. Finding them suitable, the couple settled on a property in St. Catherines that had a certain slope, angle, and close proximity to a waterway – all conditions Jim was looking for in a location for a vineyard. Jim says grapes require good sandy soil and they do well in hot, dry summer conditions like we had in 2012.
The vineyard itself covers 11 acres and is home to 16,000 grapevines imported from France. The species of grapevines are vitis vinifera which means they are not as hardy as hybrid vines. Vinifera vines are more susceptible to disease and require more care but Jim maintains they produce a better quality of wine than hybrids.
Two varieties of grapes are grown in the vineyard – Chardonnay and Gamay.
From these grapes, Matos produces five kinds of wine – Chardonnay, Gamay-Noir, Rosé, Wildberry Gamay, and Strawberry Chardonnay. The Matos tell me they produced approximately 18,000 bottles of wine last year.
Jim is no stranger to winemaking. He comes from a long history of vintners. His family had a vineyard and made wine in the Acores, Portugal. After coming to Canada, the Matos ran a U-brew business importing wine-making supplies in Ontario for 20 years before deciding to start their own winery.
Walk with Jim through the precise, neat, and meticulously cared for rows of grapevines in the vineyard and it is easy to see and hear his passion for winemaking and dedication to high quality. A perfectionist, he is more concerned about producing quality products versus quantity. The Matos also have a keen eye for different products so much so that they are also distilling a couple of unique spirits, too. Using the skins of the grapes left over from winemaking, Matos is producing Bagaço which is a Portuguese version of Italian Grappa, sometimes referred to as moonshine. They are also producing Anisette, a licorice-flavoured liqueur that is a popular drink in France.
On a beautiful warm October 17th, a small crew was assembled in the vineyard and busy hand-picking the clusters of grapes.
Large blue bins of the grapes were seen throughout the vineyard before being gathered up by the tractor and trailer moving carefully amongst the rows of carefully-tended vines.
After transport to the winery, the grapes were put through the grape crusher destemmer, a machine that uses an auger to remove and discard the stems from the grapes then drops the fruit into the crusher where the grapes are crushed.
Using a peristaltic pump, the crushed fruit is then pumped through a hose into a membrane bladder press which extracts the juice but doesn’t harm the seeds or break the skins of the grapes.
The juice is then transported via hose into the large unoaked stainless steel fermentation tanks and the fermentation process starts with Jim controlling the temperature in the tanks and monitoring the sugar content and status and progress of the fermentation.
Jim tells me the white wine will ferment for 14 days and the red for 7 days but the entire processing and filtering of his white wines take 4-5 months before they are ready for bottling and the red wines take about 6-8 months.
Wine-making is a lengthy process that takes a lot of time, patience, labour, and attention to detail and that’s only after all the painstaking pampering and pruning that has gone into the growing and care of the grapevines and grapes.
Matos wines are fine quality products. After only one year in production, Matos’ Gamay-Noir won the prestigious silver medal at the 2011 Canadian Wine Awards, chosen second from among 1117 entries. Most recently, in October 2012, the Gamay-Noir won bronze at the 2012 Canadian Wine Awards, ranking third out of 1260 entries. Matos Winery was competing with wineries from all across Canada, including the well-known Canadian wine-producing regions of Niagara, ON, and several in BC. That’s not only impressive but a validation of the high quality product the winery is producing in its young days.
Matos’ Chardonnay is a very versatile wine that pairs well with chicken, seafood like PEI lobster, pastas with cream sauces, or vegetarian dishes. The Gamay-Noir goes well with steak and tomato-based dishes, including pizza. The Rosé is a lovely compliment to either turkey or chicken and the Wildberry pairs particularly well with dark chocolate.
The Matos wines are competitively priced between $14.95 – $16.95 and are sold onsite in the winery’s gift shop, in Island liquor stores, and are served in many PEI restaurants.
Tours and wine-tasting are available at the winery which is located at 3156 West River Road, St. Catherines PE, C0A 1H0. Cost is $5.00 per person. In the summer months, the winery gift shop is open seven days a week. During the fall months, the gift shop is open on Saturdays from 10am-5pm and Sundays 1pm-5pm (Oct – Dec).
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