Travellers on the QEW highway who aren’t in the know could be forgiven for having a chuckle. The Niagara Wine Route will soon see an exciting addition between Hamilton and St. Catharines to the signage directing them to wineries. The Dan Aykroyd Winery sounds like funny business. As a comic actor and writer for more than 30 years, Aykroyd’s name has shone on the credits of movies, screenplays, TV shows and, in his persona as Elwood Blues, on CDs. But wine labels?
“My interest in wine really comes through one of my best friends, John Paul DeJoria,” says Aykroyd. DeJoria is owner of the tequila company Patrón Spirits. “We sold a lot of Patrón in the House of Blues and one night he asked me to try it …. He poured me a warm shot of silver and I said, ‘Wow, this chilled would be great.’ I said we can’t get this in Canada, and so we began to work together.” DeJoria introduced Aykroyd to the Canadian wine agency Diamond Estates, and the relationship grew very fruitful.
“When I started working with Diamond Estates to bring Patrón into Canada, I found out they had four wineries,” Akyroyd says. “They proposed the idea of a line of wine and here, two years later, I’ve invested with Diamond Estates one million dollars to own a piece of the distributorship that was supervising Patrón.”
With Toronto-based agency Diamond Estates, Aykroyd has his finger in those four southern Ontario wineries—EastDell Estates, Lakeview Cellars, Birchwood Estate and Thomas & Vaughan—plus a new one that is his namesake. The $12-million Dan Aykroyd Winery will be built where the Birchwood Estate is currently located. Groundbreaking is projected for this fall with the winery operational for the fall 2008 harvest.
Aykroyd, who’s a fan of EastDell Unoaked Chardonnay, offers me a glass as we chat at The VIEW restaurant at EastDell near Beamsville. But first he admonishes me for not eating. “You should have something if you are going to drink. You really should have something. I order food to complement the wine. I don’t order wine to complement the food,” he insists, taking a sandwich and urging me to do so. Then, he sips on his Discovery Series Chardonnay.
The Dan Aykroyd-branded portfolio will all be 100 per cent VQA wines from Niagara. The first released, the Dan Aykroyd Discovery Series, are consumer friendly in price and taste. The chardonnay ($14.95) and the cabernet merlot ($16.95) are already on sale at Liquor Control Board of Ontario outlets.
“I kind of wanted them to go a little more unoaked on this,” he reveals between sips of his chardonnay. “But they said the consumer likes a little bit of oak and they like the fruitiness. So I had to compromise a bit and I’m very happy with it.” Dressed in his trademark black suit jacket, black pants and black shades, he strikes me as part cool dude and part mother hen with a clear business head.
The premium Dan Aykroyd Signature Reserve Series, produced in limited quantities of 300 cases each, will start at about $50 per bottle, with a barrel-fermented vidal icewine as the first release. Also expected to come out this fall are a cabernet sauvignon reserve and a fumé blanc. Diamond Estates head winemaker, Tom Green (no relation to that other famous Canadian comedian) supervises
THE DAN AYKROYD WINE ROUTE
Diamond Estate wineries are within about a 10-minute drive of each other, scattered between the tiny towns of Beamsville and Vineland in Niagara’s Twenty Valley. All have tasting rooms open to the public. Self-tour packages for groups are available, and include visits to the four wineries, plus lunch or dinner at The VIEW Restaurant at EastDell Estates (lunch $36.95, dinner $56.95); call 1-905-563-9463.
4037 Cherry Ave., Vineland
Offering a patio in summer and a fairly large, well-stocked boutique, Lakeview is a popular stop for oenophiles. Celebrating 15 years in wine making, Lakeview also sells older vintages from their “library.” Best bets in whites are the chardonnay musque and riesling; in reds, go for the cabernet sauvignon (Aykroyd’s a fan) or 2000 vintage merlot.
Thomas & Vaughan
4245 King St., Beamsville
This tiny winery is cute as a button. Sample the riesling and the gewürztraminer whites or buy a bottle of the vidal icewine.
EastDell Estates Winery
4041 Locust Lane, Beamsville
The view at The VIEW is spectacular. On a clear day, you can see the CN Tower across glittering Lake Ontario. Enjoy a simple lunch of salads, grilled veggies, burgers or roast chicken while you sample some wines, such as Aykroyd’s favourite EastDell Unoaked Chardonnay. Wines from the other Diamond Estate wineries and neighbouring properties are also available.
Birchwood Estate Wines
4679 Cherry Ave., Beamsville
It’s soon to be the location of the new Dan Aykroyd Winery, but in the meantime, visit the sweet cottage-like building with a small tasting room and retail outlet. See where the footprint of the new winery will be, and sample the fresh mild gewürztraminer-riesling or the firm, spiced gamay noir.
The Canadian firm Moriyama + Teshima Architects—known for such distinctive projects as Toronto’s Bata Shoe Museum and Ontario Science Centre, and the new Canadian War Museum in Ottawa—are the designers of the new Dan Aykroyd Winery, on the site of Birchwood Estate Wines in Beamsville. Groundbreaking is planned for this fall, with the winery open a year from now.
Plans show a multi-level hospitality building that’s sensitive to the environment. Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) features include solar lighting, regionally produced materials for construction and native plants in the landscape; a geothermal heating and cooling system is being considered.
“The next components will be a manufacturing exhibit of the wine, tasting rooms and my museum. I’m going to put some memorabilia in there,” Aykroyd says. “Then we’ll have music and live entertainment.”
“I hope to draw more tourists from the States than usually come up from Niagara Falls,” he adds. “I think with my name on a winery, they’ll be coming into wine country, and it’ll be an annual trip for these American families from states bordering Ontario like Ohio and Michigan.”
For more about Niagara’s wineries, check out 10 Award-Winning Wineries.