A Gentleman Farmer
Established in the 1860’s at the head of the Don River by the Patterson family, Don Head Farms is purchased by William Redelmeier (current owner Bill Redelmeier’s grandfather) in 1941. At its peak, Don Head Farms maintains the largest herd of Jersey cattle in Canada on hundreds of acres of fertile land north of Toronto.
A Popular Farm Market
Bill evolves the family business from a roadside stand in the 1980’s to a thriving farm market. Bill upholds his grandfather’s credo: To celebrate the excellence of fresh, local products and value the heritage and beauty of the land. The market’s commitment to supporting Ontario producers foreshadows the locavore movement yet to come.
What’s in a name?
As Bill gets ready to register a name for the new farm market, he looks to the land, or at least to a map. The individual parcels comprising Don Head Farms each have individual names such as South, North, East, West, Home, Mitchell and Brook. Bill goes to the registry office with several combinations prepared in case he finds the name already registered. He submits “South” and “Brook,” they are available, and Southbrook Farms is born.
The Birth of Southbrook Winery
An appreciation of gourmet foods and wines lead the Redelmeiers to create a boutique winery and unique special event location, housed in the farm’s century-old barns. In 1991, having sourced some of the Niagara region’s finest grape varietals, Southbrook produces the first 2,000 cases of wine. They are ably assisted by the craftsmanship of Derek Barnett.
Necessity is the Mother of Framboise
It rains nearly every weekend in the summer of 1992. Customers of the pick-your-own raspberry patch stay away in droves. Staff pick the ripe fruit during the week with the idea they will make jam. Yield exceeds three tons. Bill’s love of fortified wines sparks a different idea. He decides to make a dessert wine he names Framboise. Intense, “just-picked” fruit flavour is a hit at home and abroad. Major awards ensue.
Food and Wine Destination
The winery grows; annual production climbs to 5,000 cases using VQA grapes from growers in the Niagara Peninsula. The combination of farm market, winery and event location becomes a big success, regularly attracting 125,000 visitors per year. Pick-your-own berries and school pumpkin tours are a specialty.
Ontario vs Bordeaux tasting
“A Niagara red few people have heard of edged out an illustrious lineup of Bordeaux, including Château Lafite Rothschild 2001 ($349) and Châteaux Margaux 2001 ($339), two trophy labels venerated the world over by people with apparently more money than time to do comparison shopping.” So writes Beppi Crosariol in the Globe and Mail on Feb. 24, 2007. The little-known red he mentions is Southbrook’s 2002 Triomphus Cabernet Merlot (later re-christened Poetica).
The event was an Ontario versus Bordeaux contest, judged by 12 respected wine writers. The wine has since sold out, with only a few library bottles being shared from time to time at Poetica tastings.
Southbrook Vineyards in Niagara: the dream realized
Southbrook has always sourced grapes from Niagara-on-the-Lake, so Bill is excited about operating his own vineyard there. Brought on as a winemaking consultant in 2005, Ann Sperling introduces Bill to an excellent opportunity. A 74-acre parcel in the warm Four Mile Creek sub-appellation of Niagara-on-the-Lake is on the market, complete with 36 acres of ideally planted, well-selected varieties and top-notch clones. The couple realizes its potential, and decides on the new location to build the winery of their dreams.
Expansion of the vineyard is planned and planting starts. The design of a winery with associated facilities and a hospitality building are entrusted to Jack Diamond of Diamond and Schmitt Architects of Toronto. Bill commences creation of a fully biodynamic, organic and environmentally responsible winemaking operation.
The wine shop move is undertaken in the fall of 2007, while the family’s Richmond Hill presence lives on in the form of the Pumpkin Patch and Country Store until it was decided to close it in early 2013. An adjoining 75-acre parcel is purchased to provide an area for pasture and for future vineyard expansion. The new enterprise is re-named Southbrook Vineyards to reflect Bill’s new role as vineyard steward. The opening celebration of the Hospitality Pavilion takes place on the Summer Solstice of 2008.
Pictures of an Evolution
Southbrook’s history speaks thousands of words in pictures. From Jersey cattle farm to vineyard, it’s all there to share.